Top-Level Domains Explained
TLD or top-level domain is the ending segment of a domain name or component implemented directly after the "dot" symbol. For instance, if the domain name is example.com, .com would be the TLD of that particular domain. However, TLDs are not just limited to .com; plenty of others are available and could be utilized by the applicants. This article discusses the most popular and effective top-level domains available in the market.
What is a TLD?
Whenever a domain name is registered, it generally has two levels of domains and also includes one or more subdomains. When you observe a website, you notice letters, words, or numbers connected by dots.
For example, the KeyCDN dashboard is located at app.keycdn.com - each of the three segments is a different "level":
- Top-level: .com
- Second-level: .keycdn
- Third-level (or subdomain): app
Also known as domain extensions, TLD is the segment present on the extreme right of a domain name, located immediately after the "dot." TLDs provide hints about a few elements of the website to visitors. These elements include the purpose of the site, its owner, or its location. For example, .gov informs the user that a government authority owns the website.
The concept of TLDs was created in the 1960s by ARPANET. The goal of creating TLDs was to ease the process of memorizing IDs and passwords. But it was not till the mid-80s that the earliest form of top-level domains was created, and structured categorization was introduced. Every top-level domain has an independent registry managed under the guidance of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) by a designated organization.
Types of TLD
Top-level domains are classified into different categories by ICANN, depending on the purpose of the sites, their owner, and the geographical location.
The top five official categories of TLDs include:
- gTLD - Generic Top-Level Domain
- sTLD - Sponsored Top-Level Domain
- tTLD - Test Top-Level Domain
- ccTLD - Country Code Top-Level Domain
- ARPA - Infrastructure Top-Level Domain
Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD)
Commonly known as gTLD, generic top-level domains are one of the most popular domain extensions, familiar to every internet user. They include at least three characters and are available for anyone who wants to register. These domains originated in the 1980s when the only differentiation criteria were the geographical locations, hence the name generic top-level domains.
With time, the use of a few specific generic top-level domains started to get strictly controlled to ensure that they met certain standards. This led to the origin of a new category called sponsored top-level domains. Originally, there were seven gTLDs available, out of which only three are still available for registration without any restrictions: .net, .com, and .org.
The most generic usage of these top-level domains includes:
- .net - for networks
- .info - for information platforms
- .com - for commercial sites
- .biz - for businesses
- .org - for organizations
In the mid of 2011, ICANN approved an update to the domain name system, which expanded primal gLTDs from 22 to 1200. The innovative options implemented, suitably named New gLTDs, witnessed the inclusion of official domain extensions such as .berlin, .wow, and .connect.
Sponsored Top-Level Domains (sTLD)
As suggested by the name, sponsored top-level domains are proposed and managed by private organizations. These entities include: private businesses, organized groups or government agencies, and they are the final authority that checks the applicant's eligibility for a specific top-level domain. The eligibility criteria are based on already-defined community theme concepts.
The sponsored top-level domains include very limited options. Some options date back to the 1980s original domain extensions, along with a few recently created domains.
Some of the most popular TLDs include:
- .edu - for higher educational institutions
- .gov - for United States governmental agencies
- .cat - for Catalan linguistic and cultural community
- .museum - for museum organizations
- .travel - for travel industry businesses
Test Top-Level Domains (tTLD)
These domains are specifically reserved for local testing and documentation purposes. Therefore, test top-level Domains cannot be included in the domain name system's root zone. As per IETF, the reason for such a measure is to eliminate the possibility of conflicts or confusion.
Only four tTLD are currently available:
- .localhost - for usage in local networks
- .example - for place holding
- .test - for testing purposes
- .invalid - for invalid domain names
Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLD)
There are more than 190 countries present on Earth, and more than 300 country code top-level domains have been established for a particular country and territory and are identified by a two-letter string. All these domain extensions have a dedicated manager. The manager's duty is to ensure that every ccTLD is operated strictly according to local policies and meets their region's linguistic, cultural, and legal standards.
Apart from local individuals and businesses, large corporations that possess a regional site also utilize ccTLDs, if their websites operate independently. In such cases, the domain extensions serve the subdomain's purposes. If you plan to utilize a country code top-level domain for your site, consider this when researching the best domain registrar, as all platforms do not offer ccTLD registration.
The ICANN announced in 2012 that the first ccTLD, which used non-Latin characters, would be added to the system root zone of the domain name. These domain extensions use Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, and Cyrillic languages and are known as internationalized country code top-level domains (IDN ccTLD).
Some of the most prominent ccTLD include:
- .fr - for France
- .us - for the United States
- .br - for Brazil
- .es - for Spain
- .it - for Italy
Infrastructure Top-Level Domain (ARPA)
This special category consists of only a single TLD: The Address and Routing Parameter Area (ARPA). The domain extension .arpa is first hand by the IANA for the IETF (IANA for the Internet Engineering Task Force), which strictly works under the guidance of IAB (Internet Architecture Board), and is utilized solely for technical infrastructures.
SLD vs TLD
People tend to get confused between TLD and SLD and make terrible decisions. So, let's erase this confusion once and for all.
TLD- This is the most important domain name you'll come across around the web. There are far too many TLDs to choose from, but only a few of them rank globally. Some of the most demanded TDLs include: .org, .com, .net.
SLD- The uniqueness of the second-level domain in combination with the top-level domain (and the third-level domain) is determined by the fact that it can only be assigned once. It, therefore, serves the purpose of identification, and for every user, it is thus directly recognizable who operates an Internet address. Domain providers like Namecheap and Godaddy sell these types of domain names.
How to choose the best SLD?
One of the toughest decisions an applicant must make is choosing the right SLD for his website. The second-level domain can be chosen freely, whereby one of the biggest challenges is that the desired name is still free.
When selecting the SLD, some points should be considered:
This might not directly affect your site's ranking, but they increase relevancy and could help your website get crawled better.
While choosing a domain name, it is always recommended to choose a name that your audience can easily memorize. Hence, try to fit your brand name in the SLD.
Always choose an SLD that speaks to your audience, i.e., what they could expect from your site.
Keep it short
Communicating your domain name to your audience becomes difficult if it's too long. Hence, try to keep your domain name short and easy to remember.
How to choose the best TLD?
Now comes the most crucial part, which could decide the entire future of your website, choosing the right TLD.
Here are a few tips which could be taken into consideration before choosing a TLD:
Using a geographical suffix or an extension is best recommended if you aim to target a specific geo-location. For instance, if your target location is India, .co.in is the right thing to do.
A geo-specific extension will help you rank your website in that region better. The best example is Amazon: It tends to have a region-specific extension like amazon.co.uk (United Kingdoms) and amazon.co.in (India).
There is no shortage of TLDs. Hence, you also have the liberty to make your domain name industry-specific. For example, if you sell bakery products, you can go for extensions like .bake.
The best part about choosing such TLD is that your visitors and search engines will better understand your website.
.com is still king
No matter how many TLDs have been launched in the market, the most popular TLD is still .com. Hence, before trying any other TLD on your site, first ensure to check the availability of .com; the rest of everything is just an alternative method.
Apart from being industry-specific and geo-specific, it is always recommended to stick to the basics.
How do domain names and extensions affect SEO?
Now comes the real question, do domain names have any effect on the SEO of a website? The straightforward answer is that SEO is affected by the domain name. Although it is not the only factor, it does help in ranking your website better. So, let's take a look at all elements your domain name can help you with:
If you have a well-optimized domain name, i.e., relevant to your niche and properly spelled, it will surely help you with your authority and reputation.
Also, getting your hands on all the counterparts of your domain name will greatly help your company from facing any sort of reputation damage. So often, competitors try to hurt your reputation by creating a duplicate website of your company with TLDs like .bad.
As we already mentioned for SLD, the same goes for TLD. Adding an industry-specific or geo-specific does help to increase your site's relevancy. Search engines like Google find it easier to crawl a website that is clear about what it has to offer. So, take your time and never hustle in choosing a TLD; try choosing a domain extension as relevant as possible.
Reach the right audience
This is the reason why geo-specific TLD is so important. If you have clarity about the location of your target audience, it would be easier for you to drive in more impressions. And with continuous efforts of Google to improve its local search, geo-specific domains become even more crucial.
Can you change your WordPress site's TLD?
Yes, it is possible, and it's also not as hectic of a task as you might think it is. You also don't lose any of your website's traffic when you switch to the new TLD. Additionally, WordPress informs all the crawlers, including Google, that the changes you made are permanent, and they should not crawl the old TLD anymore.
Let's check out the steps you must take to change your domain name in WordPress:
1. Step one is obviously to log into your WordPress account.
2. Once you are logged in, go to the settings section
3. Get into the general tab
4. Inside the site address (URL) field, enter the domain name of your choice.
5. Inside the home address (URL) field, enter the domain name of your choice.
6. Click on the button named "Save Changes."
7. After your changes have been saved, you will be required to re-login to your WordPress account.
8. Once again, get into the setting section
9. Click on the tabs called Permalinks.
10. Enter the new domain name into the Permalink Structure field
11. Click on the save changes button
And boom, you have successfully changed the domain in your WordPress.
When registering for a new domain, an applicant can get overwhelmed because of so many domains available. For years ".com" was the only option available for businesses that wanted the audience to take them seriously. But as predictions made by experts, the supply of ".com" domains is getting restricted due to the scarcity of availability. This is the reason why new TLDs are growing in power, and a major shift will be witnessed in the near future.