Have you ever noticed that some website domain names end with “.com” while others have “.org” or “.gov”? These website suffixes are also called top-level domains (TLDs).
TLDs are more than just random suffixes, though. They serve a couple of notable functions for your website, including playing a hand in your search engine optimization (SEO). It’s important to understand what TLDs are and to pick one that works for you.
So, what is a TLD, and how should you choose one? Keep reading for a full TLD explanation. We’ll cover:
- What are top-level domains (TLDs)?
- Types of top-level domains
- Choosing top-level domains
- How to obtain a TLD
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What are top-level domains (TLDs)?
To start, what is a TLD?
Top-level domains are the second part of any domain name — the part that comes after the dot. They usually consist of two or three letters, though some have more.
The original purpose of TLDs was to help categorize domain names. For example, .com domains were exclusively reserved for commercial websites, while .gov was reserved for government websites. Some of those distinctions still exist, though others have faded over time.
Types of top-level domains
There are a few different types of TLDs. ICANN — the organization in charge of regulating domains — officially recognizes three types. We’ll cover those three types below.
Keep reading for a breakdown of each type of TLD!
Generic TLDs (gTLDs)
Generic TLDs (gTLDs) cover the vast majority of TLDs, as well as the most common ones. Most of these TLDs are available to anyone. They include:
Initially, ICANN only offered a handful of options in this category. However, they eventually opened doors for domain registrars to offer a wider variety of gTLD options, causing many creative options to enter the mix. Today, viable gTLD options include:
- And more!
In all likelihood, this category of TLDs is the one your business will use. Though there are countless gTLDs in existence, “.com” is by far the most common.
Sponsored TLDs (sTLDs)
Sponsored TLDs (sTLDs) aren’t as common as gTLDs, but you’ve still no doubt seen your share of them before. Whereas gTLDs are usually open to everyone, sTLDs are specific to a particular organization.
For example, let’s say there’s a site with the domain developpeople.tech. While that site owns that specific domain name, it doesn’t own the gTLD — if another company wants to use “.tech” as the TLD for their own site, they can.
On the other hand, with a site like fafsa.gov, it’s not just the first part of the domain name that’s off-limits. You also can’t use the sTLD “.gov,” because that TLD is specific to the government.
On that note, some of the most common sTLDs include:
- And more!
It’s worth pointing out that just because a TLD is sponsored doesn’t mean you can’t use it — it depends on who you are. For example, if you run a university, you’re eligible to use the sTLD “.edu” — you’d just need to seek out the proper permissions.
Country code TLDs (ccTLDs)
The third main category of TLDs is country code TLDs (ccTLDs). These TLDs are intended to be specific to different countries, and consist of two letters each. For instance, you may have seen websites ending in .ca or .uk, which refer to Canada and the United Kingdom, respectively.
While you might think these TLDs are restricted to organizations based within those countries, that’s not always the case. In theory, you can use whatever country code you want as your TLD. Of course, you’d probably have no reason for using a foreign country code, but it depends.
For example, many tech-based sites have latched onto the TLD “.io” because it evokes a techy sound. In reality, though, “.io” is a ccTLD intended for the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Choosing top-level domains
When you choose a TLD for your company website, it’s important to think about what the best fit is for your business and how it can affect your SEO.
To start, avoid restricted TLDs like “.gov” or “.mil.” If you qualify for a specific sponsored TLD, you could consider using it. Otherwise, it’s best to stick to gTLDs.
It can be tempting to choose a highly unique TLD for your company, but think about it first. Consider whether it will fit well with your brand. If your branding is all about thinking outside the box and seeming different, it might be a good choice.
If not, though, it’s sometimes better to go with something generic. There’s nothing wrong with simply using the standard “.com” — on the contrary, it can help users trust your site more. If users see a strange TLD that they don’t recognize, they can be wary of visiting the site.
TLDs don’t affect your search rankings directly, but using one that will deter your audience is a surefire way to keep people from coming to your website. For that reason, be sure to choose something that fits with your branding and appeals to your audience.
How to obtain a TLD
Obtaining a TLD of your choice is simple — it’s part of the standard domain-buying process. When you purchase and register your domain name, the TLD is included.
So, how do you get a domain name? Just use a domain registrar like GoDaddy or Bluehost. You can visit their website, type in the domain name you want — including your preferred TLD — and see if it’s available. If it is, you can then buy it.
The exception to this rule is if you want to use a restricted TLD for which you feel you qualify. In that case, you’ll have to find the appropriate registrar and go through them, verifying your eligibility as part of the process. For example, all “.edu” sites must be registered through Educause.
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