A top-level domain (also known as a domain suffix or domain extension) is the last part of your domain name. It comes after the right dot in a web address and it represents the location or the type of organization associated with the website. The most popular top-level domain is the .com.
Your top-level domain is a small part of your overall website. However, it affects your brand and online success in huge ways. Once you have built your website and found the best web hosting for it, the next item you should focus on is the TLD. I’ll show you why it is important and how to pick the perfect top-level domain for your website.
- Top-level domains are the last part of your domain name such as .com, .uk, and .net
- Generic TLDs, Country-code TLDs, Infrastructure TLD, Sponsored TLDs are some of the most common types of top-level domains available today
- Popular generic top-level domains include .com, .org, .net, .biz, .info, and so on
- Before choosing a TLD, consider the purpose of your website, your brand image, your target audience, and SEO
- New gTLDs, registry services, and Internationalized domain names are some of the recent developments in the world of top-level domains
What Do You Mean by Top Level Domains (TLDs)?
The top-level domain (TLD) refers to the rightmost segment of your domain name. It usually comes after the last dot and it reflects the brand or location associated with the website. TLDs might seem like a small part of your website but it usually plays a big role in your online success. How?
Most web users are familiar with the .com TLD and websites with this extension are often easier to find in organic searches. However, specific TLDs can also be a massive advantage. For example, the most appropriate TLD for a non-profit organization is .org. Also, if you only serve customers in the United States, your TLD can be .us to reflect that it is a country-specific website.
What Is the Importance of Top Level Domains in Website Addresses?
Before you opt for a TLD, you should understand the importance of a website’s address. Their primary purpose is to help people identify the purpose of a website without opening the link. You can also pick out scam/phishing websites through their strange TLDs. Here are a few reasons why TLDs are important;
TLDs Help Identify the Purpose of a Website
You can know the purpose/objectives of a website just by looking at its TLD. The most common TLD is .com and this is because it represents a commercial organization. Popular social media platforms, E-commerce giants, banks, and most websites use the .com TLD. Other popular examples include;
- .org – mostly used by non-profit organizations
- .net – mostly used by network providers
- .biz – mostly used by small businesses
- .club – mostly used by social clubs and memberships
- .ai – mostly used by tech/AI startups
- .gov – exclusively used by governments
- .mil – exclusively used by the US Department of Defense
- .edu – exclusively used by educational institutions
Also, location-specific businesses often use the country’s initials as their website TLD. For example, businesses and website administrators located in the US can use a .us domain. United Kingdom residents use .uk, Israeli residents use .il, Nigerians use .ng, and so on.
TLDs Impact SEO
Search engines are focused on content quality and value therefore TLDs don’t have a direct effect on your SEO rankings. However, complex TLDs may lower organic traffic. When users search websites on Google, the input suggestions are usually .com, .org, and other popular TLDs. This may lead users to abandon their search for your website if they can’t find it immediately or early enough.
Your best bet is to make your TLD as simple and as recognizable as possible. If users don’t recognize your TLD when they browse your website, they may lose trust and leave. This leads to higher bounce rates and lower rankings on search engines.
TLDs Affect User Trust and Perception
If users don’t trust your website, they will bounce. Most people have had one or more cases of being scammed on the internet which means they are extra careful. Having a recognizable TLD puts you on the safe side. If your site has questionable TLDs like .cc or .xx, users may leave to avoid sad stories.
However, if you use a .com or .org TLD, users are naturally moved to trust the website and interact with it. This will help your branding, improve your SEO, drive up traffic, and even rake in more revenue. This is why I say TLDs are a small but important part of your business.
TLDs Enable Effective Branding
An appropriate TLD allows your brand to shine through and positions your business for success. If you have developed a new AI solution, your TLD should naturally be .ai. This will help people recognize what your website is about and bring you organic, quality traffic. If you plan to sell bandwidth or white-label hosting to customers, you can use a .net TLD to stand out fast.
What Are the Common Types of Top Level Domains?
There are different types of TLDs available today. Most of them are split into multiple categories based on their purposes and certain features. Here, we will discuss the categories and the popular TLDs under them.
Generic TLDs (GTLDs)
Generic TLDs (as the name suggests) are multipurpose TLDs used for different types of websites. They are the most popular TLDs and you don’t require any special license to register and use one. Generic TLDs often contain 3-4 characters and some popular ones include .com, .net, and .org. We will discuss them in detail later.
Country-Code TLDs (CcTLDs)
Country-code TLDs are TLDs unique to specific countries, territories, and geographical locations. Only brands and businesses within that location can register their websites with a Country-code TLD. Some of the examples include;
- .us – for the United States
- .uk – for the United Kingdom
- .au – for Australia
- .il – for Israel
- .ng – for Nigeria
- .jp – for Japan
- .ca – for Canada
- .fr – for France
- .io – for British Indian Ocean Territory
Businesses can also leverage ccTLDs for branding purposes. For example, some businesses in the tech industry use .io for their websites probably because it sounds cool. There are over 316 country-code TLDs and you can take advantage of them to stand out to the target audience in your region/country.
Sponsored TLDs are top-level domains that are proposed, supervised, and exclusive to private organizations and governments. Before you apply for a sponsored TLD, you must meet certain criteria. These TLDs are reserved for specific institutions and regular website owners cannot use one without the necessary approval from the sponsoring agencies.
Sponsored TLDs are few but they are effective in helping internet users recognize website purpose. For example, the .app TLD is sponsored by Google and is exclusive to developers and software engineers. Likewise, .gov is sponsored by the US government and it is reserved for approved government agencies in the country. Some examples of sTLDs include;
- .edu – for educational institutions
- .mil – for the military
- .travel – exclusive to travel agencies
- .museum – for museums
- .gov – for government agencies
- .cat – for Catalan linguistic and cultural community
- .app – for developers
New generic top-level domains came into existence in 2013 to reduce the pressure on regular .com, .net, .org, and others. The ngTLDs provided a larger pool of options for brands and website owners looking to stand out through their domain names. Some examples of ngTLDs include;
- .blog – for new blogs
- .shop – for e-commerce stores, retail brands, and shopping platforms
- . news – for independent news channels
- .tech – for SaaS and tech companies
- .online – is a multipurpose gTLD
New generic top level domains are a perfect option for new website/business owners that want a unique brand identity. If you own an online store, using a .shop TLD will allow customers to trust your website faster. Also, .tech is perfect for SaaS companies looking to build authority.
Infrastructure TLD (.ARPA)
The infrastructure TLD contains only one domain known as .arpa. ARPA stands for Address and Routing Parameter Area and it is used to manage the infrastructure of the internet. This TLD was the first ever to be created and it is not available to the public.
Test TLDs are reserved for development, documentation, and local testing only. Web developers often use test TLDs to run their code and they cannot be used in a live DNS. Some examples of test TLDs include .example, .localhost, .invalid, .test, .tld.
ICANN stands for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This body is directly responsible for managing identities (domains, trademarks, etc.) on the internet. However, some domain names are not managed by ICANN. They are called unofficial TLDs.
Unofficial TLDs are mostly found in the web3/crypto/decentralization space. Since the whole concept of blockchain is avoiding supervision, I guess this makes perfect sense. The most popular unofficial TLD today is .eth which represents the Ethereum blockchain network.
What Are Some of the Most Popular Generic Top Level Domains (GTLDs)?
Generic top level domains are the most common TLDs available. They are not associated with any state or region and they fit into most websites and brands. Here are some of the most popular gTLDs out there;
The .com TLD is the most popular domain extension in the world and the most widely used across the board. It represents commercial organizations and also serves as a multipurpose TLD. The major benefit of using a .com domain is user trust. Most people are familiar with .com websites and are more likely to trust brands with that extension.
Some popular .com websites include facebook.com, youtube.com, upwork.com, and hostadvice.com among others. The average price of the .com gTLD is $10 to $30. However, it can go as high as $50 if the domain registrar is expensive and the demand for the DNS is high.
In the past, the .org gTLD was used by only non-profit organizations, volunteer groups, community forums, and open-source projects. Recently, businesses, companies, and individuals have begun adopting the .org TLD too. The .org gTLD also has high user trust as most users feel safe on websites with this extension.
Some popular .org domains include wikipedia.org, .amnesty.org, redcross.org, greenpeace.org, and unicef.org among others. The average price of the .org gTLD is around $8 to $20 per year. It can go lower or higher depending on the domain registrar and main domain name.
The .net gTLD was created primarily for network providers and businesses in the telecommunication space. Today, many websites with different purposes use the .net gTLD. It is easy to recognize and is more affordable than both .com and .org TLDs.
.Info gTLDs are used for informational websites and are often considered a good alternative to the .org TLD. You can register a .info domain extension anywhere in the world.
You should know that .info websites don’t have as much user trust as .com and .org TLDs. If you plan to sell on your website, you are better off with a .com or .biz domain extension. The major advantage of a .info TLD is its affordability. You can register a domain with this extension for around $2 to $8 a year.
If you run an online business or an e-commerce store, a .biz gTLD will be perfect for your website. Users coming to your website already know what to expect and you can position your brand better. You can register a .biz domain from anywhere in the world and launch your website.
A .biz domain extension is more expensive than a .info gTLD but cheaper than .com. You can get it for around $8 to $15 per year. However, that number may be much higher (or lower) depending on the demand for the DNS.
Desktops, laptops, and mobile phones have different screen sizes and brands must optimize their websites for these variations. A .mobi TLD is usually used for mobile-friendly websites and its main purpose is to show users that the website is optimized for a smooth mobile browsing experience.
Although this gTLD is not very popular or common, it is still widely used around the world. You can register a .mobi domain extension from anywhere. Also, note that .mobi gTLDs don’t command that much user trust. The average price for the mobi TLD is around $10 to $15 per year.
Websites that primarily allow for movie downloads or push visual content often use the .tv gTLD. Out of all the gTLDs available, I think this one fits its purpose the most. Users know exactly what they are getting from the site without visiting it. The .tv gTLD is available for registration worldwide.
Media companies, content creators, and entertainment businesses should opt for a .tv domain extension. Interestingly, they are more expensive than the regular.com or .org TLDs. You can expect to spend an average of $25 to $60 a year on a .tv domain.
Clubs, societies, fraternities, and social groups may decide to register on a website. When they do, the .club gTLD is the perfect domain extension for a website. With a clear domain name and .club domain extension, it is easy for members and non-members to identify the site when they search the web. The average price for a .club domain is around $15 to $25 a year.
How to Choose the Right TLD for Your Website?
Like I said earlier, a top-level domain may seem like a small part of your online brand but it plays a huge role. So the question is, how do you pick the right one? Before choosing a TLD and registering the domain, here are a few factors you should consider.
The first step to selecting a TLD is to identify the purpose of the website. When you know exactly what you want to achieve with your website, you can pick a TLD that aligns perfectly with that objective. If you want to sell products, a .com, .biz, and .shop are all perfect TLDs for you to use. If you want to run a charity foundation, a .org TLD will serve you best.
If your website is advertising SaaS, tech, or AI products, you may want to use a .tech, .ai, or .net TLD. Movie review websites or comedic websites will profit more from using a .tv TLD. The point is, there is always a TLD that represents your brand better and can help users identify with your business faster. Search for the right one and use it accordingly.
The internet is a vast pool of 3B+ people. If you want your audience to find you, you have to make it easy for them. Identify your target audience and choose a TLD that will resonate with them. If you own a finance or a cooking website, a .blog TLD might be just what you need. If you own an online store, using a .shop TLD will tell your customers all they need to know.
Everybody trusts a .com website so you can use that if you are targeting a broad category of people. However, if your website is targeting charitable institutions and donors for developmental programs, you should opt for a .org TLD. Your audience matters. When choosing a domain extension, make sure you select one that improves user trust and gets you noticed ASAP.
Once you have chosen the right TLD and incorporated it into your preferred DNS, you need to check if it is available. Chances are you are not the first to think of creating that website and you want to be sure it is available. To check if a particular DNS and its TLD are available;
- Log on to a domain registrar like Namecheap
- Input your chosen domain name and TLD
- Click on search and it will give you the results
If the domain name and extension are already chosen, the registrar will suggest alternatives for you. However, don’t just jump at it. Make sure you have backup options from your previous research and input those too. If you have compiled 5 to 7 different DNS, at least one of them should be available.
Branding refers to the overall image of your business. Every part of your website should reflect your business and what you do. Choosing the right TLD can be very vital to your branding. If you want to play it safe, you can opt for the good old .com TLD. However, you can take it a bit further for more branding effects.
For example, a restaurant based in the UK should use a .uk ccTLD. This will tell customers that they only serve customers in the UK and help streamline traffic. Similarly, a company that is developing a cutting-edge ai tool should use .ai for their website and not the regular .com or .net. TLDs can add a lot to your brand image if you know how to play them right.
TLDs affect SEO – but not directly. While TLDs will not feature in the Google ranking algorithm, they influence other parameters that do feature. Users stay in digital spaces they can trust. If you are using a .cc or .xx TLD on your DNS, most people will not open your website. Others that do open will leave almost immediately leading to a higher bounce rate.
Higher bounce rates and lower traffic mean Google will send fewer people your way (if they send at all). Your TLD influences user perception and you should choose one that people are comfortable with. The TLDs we outlined are perceived as legitimate and you can use any of them on your DNS.
Recent Developments in the World of Top Level Domains (TLDs)
The internet has grown over the last 30 years and that growth includes every aspect. TLDs have seen several developments over the years and some of them were truly significant. Here are some of the recent developments in the world of TLDs;
New generic top-level domains were introduced to the mainstream internet in 2013. The initiative was launched by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and it featured a general expansion of the GTLDs. Before 2012, only .com, .net, and .org were recognized as GTLDs.
The introduction of new GTLDs brought about domain extensions like .app, .blog, .shop, .tech, and so much more. It was a general expansion move to allow more people to register for domain names and key into the growing power of the internet at the time. These new GTLDs have become quite popular a decade later.
Internationalized Domain Names (Idns)
Good domain names must come in a language that the target audience can understand. Therefore, an Internationalized domain name was the solution to this problem. Internationalized domain names are foreign language DNS that contain non-ASCII (a-z) characters. They are not registered in the regular Latin script and they contain other languages in part or whole.
The introduction of IDNs allowed people to register domain names in their native languages. For example, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, and Cyrillic languages will now have their special-use domain names for native citizens. Although the IDNs are not yet in full motion, the introduction by ICANN is a good development and is sure to see more adoption in the coming years.
According to ICANN, the primary role of the TLD registry operator is to keep the master database of all domain names registered in each top-level domain and generate the “zone file” for traffic routing on demand. They also manage the domain registration process and enforce rules regarding domain name use. However, their roles have expanded over the last decade.
Registry operators now market and promote new GTLDs to new registrants through popular domain registrars like Namecheap. You can trust them to manage and administer the back-end infrastructure for your gTLD. They also provide technical support and maintain DNS servers. All these new, innovative services make it easier to register and use TLDs.
Security and Privacy
Security and privacy are important for websites. For the TLDs, we have regular domain name security from the domain registrars to protect them. Two-factor authentication, prompt domain renewal, HTTPS, and firewalls are also part of the security apparatus. This is good but not enough. Now, there are newer and stronger security features that protect domain extensions.
One of these security features is the Domain Name System Security Extensions. This extra layer of security will prevent bad actors from hijacking your DNS and its TLD. Also, the WHOIS Privacy will protect you as a domain owner from malware sites looking to access your private information. I can assure you TLDs are safer than they’ve ever been.
Acquisition and Sales
You can sell a DNS through a domain registrar if it is registered to you as the website owner. However, this is not the same with TLDs. TLDs are usually administered by registry operators (who were previously authorized by ICANN) Selling them involves a more complex process and the sales process is subject to tight regulations and requirements.
As a registry operator looking to sell a TLD, you need to find a willing buyer first. The buyer needs to get approval from ICANN and then work out a new registry agreement. The TLD will then be transferred to the new backend registry provider before finalizing the paperwork.
Top level domains may not seem like much. However, they play a very important role in shaping your online brand image. If you pick the right TLD for your website, you can reduce bounce rate, drive traffic, and improve SEO rankings. You can enjoy all these benefits by following certain steps and working towards your goal.
Next Steps: What Now?
- Design and build your website
- Choose a reliable hosting provider
- Understand the domain name system
- Choose a memorable domain name
- Create content for your website
- Optimize for SEO
- Enjoy your ROI