The .com extension is by far the king domain – if you are in any situation where you can choose between .com and any other extension it’s a no-brainer, go with the .com. Why you ask? I’ll explain with a sexy bulleted list:
People are used to .com’s. Try having a conversation with someone who’s not so web-savvy about what they think about domains. More often than not you’ll get a response similar to “you mean dot com’s?” People recognize .com as domains over anything else, .net, .org, .co.uk, and especially ccTLDs.
Usually .com is the first thing people try when they try to revisit a site they saw earlier. You know you’ve done it, we all have. You visit a site, you think you remember the name of it, so you type in “somename.com”. Then if it takes you to something you don’t remember THAT’s when you Google it.
.com’s get the most type-ins, period. For the reasons listed above more people are likely to type in “[keyword].com” over any other extension.
So there’s no doubt in my mind that .com is always the way to go. But what about .net? I would put .net on the same level as .org and possibly .co.uk (just because there’s so many UK-based web users and the stress they put on the .co.uk extension over there).
When is it OK not to go with Them?
I would say always go with .com when you get the chance. Even if you’re setting up a non-profit organization (which most people associate with .org) I would suggest getting the .com and simply redirecting it to the .org. If you absolutely have to have a keyword that has already been registered as a .com but is available in another extension you might can make it work. But I would always suggest branding your logo and site name with the extension included (if it’s not a .com). Just to make sure people know what the URL is.
Another time using a less desireable extension can work is if you’re doing a niche minisite or abitrage site. Domain extensions matter, but much less when doing these types of sites.
However another problem these days is that very often the .com is simply not available. In that case it might just be best to go for something else instead and still get the name you want.
What’s More Important to You? SEO or Branding?
That’s an extremely tough question to answer. I’m a big fan of finding SEO-friendly domains, but I appreciate the brandability factor as well; after all, it’s an important part of domain valuation. Let me use a couple of examples in the Internet marketing world. Have you heard of Jeremy Shoemaker? He runs a blog called Shoemoney. That’s definitely a brand domain (yet it has money in the domain name which is great!). It’s easy to remember right?
On the other hand something like makemoneyonline.com of which there are a zillion variations just doesn’t stand out, even if it ranks well. What is more likely to get the click?
At the end of the day it’s the content that makes the most difference. If you can grab an SEO-friendly domain, that’s good, but it’s not the end of the world.