Introduction to Top Level Domains (TLDs) - What they are and why they matter

Tijesunimi Jegede
Tijesunimi Jegede

SEO tech content writer; Articles and blog posts on technology and online marketing

A top-level domain (TLD) is everything that comes after the last dot in a domain name. It helps to identify, organize, and classify websites based on content, purpose, or location. Five main types of TLDs serve different purposes for websites. Although TLDs don’t affect SEO, they matter in terms of overall website marketability, and with the right tips, you can choose the best fit for you.

What is a Top-level domain?

Credits: smashingstocks

A top-level domain (TLD) refers to the last part of the text in a domain name. Putting this into context, in the domain name ‘expireddomains.com’ , the ‘.com’  is the TLD. However, TLDs aren’t just limited to ‘.coms’ , essentially everything that comes after the final dot in a web address is a top-level domain. Some other popular TLDs include  ‘.net’,   ‘.org’ , and ‘.edu’.

TLDs play a significant role in the seamless use of the internet, they do so by helping to identify, organise, and classify websites based on their content, purpose, or location. With the different variations of TLDs used to for various industries, they play a major part in the online marketing strategies of diverse organisations. For example, a .gov TLD is used for U.S. government websites, a .com TLD is mostly used for commercial websites, and a .edu TLD is used for educational institutions.

However, TLDs are not just cherry-picked by websites at will, they are controlled by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — the Internet’s regulatory body. ICANN has authority over all the TLDs in the world and is responsible for their appropriate use.

In the rest of this article, we will be looking at the different types of TLDs, and their importance to search engine optimization (SEO), and we’ll be giving you tips on how to choose the best domains and TLDs for your business. But before we get into that, let’s take a detour to find out what a domain name is all about.

What is a Domain name?

A domain name is a unique, easy-to-remember string of text used to access a website. To further simplify that, it means the words you input in your browser when you want to visit a particular website on the internet.

However, the actual address of a website is a complex string of numbers known as the IP address (e.g. 192.2.2.1) that’s used to identity the website’s host servers, but thanks to the domain name system (DNS) — which translates these words into an IP address that browsers use to load internet resources, you can search a website using easily recognizable web address names.

But a domain name is more than just a combination of words, it is made up of different components. Keep reading.

Domain name structure

A domain name has a structure comprised of three components. Starting from the left is the machine or hostname (computer name) such as ‘www’ , followed by the name of the website just like ‘expireddomains ’, and lastly the top-level domain (.com or .org) . Each of these parts is separated by a dot and put together, they make up a complete domain name. (e.g. www.expireddomains.com).

NOTE: A lot of people mistake a domain name for a uniform resource locator (URL), and although the URL contains the domain name, they are not the same. A URL consists of the domain name and many other parts like the internet protocol (e.g. HTTPS), and other specific texts that could be used to point browsers to a specific web page. With that out of the way, let’s look at the different types of TLDs.

Types of Top-Level Domains

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) which is a subsidiary of ICANN is the body responsible for the global allocation of IP addresses, domain names, and many other internet-related symbols and numbers. The IANA officially recognizes five main types of TLDs which are:

Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD)

Generic top-level domains (gTLD) are the most familiar TLDs users find when they browse the internet. They can be registered by anyone and are called generic for historical reasons — because they were created in the early development of the domain name system. Amongst this early group of TLDs are:

  • .com — for commercial websites
  • .org — for unspecified organizations
  • .net — for network infrastructures
  • .edu — for educational institutions

Although they were initially created with specific intentions in mind, all gTLDs are now unrestricted and can be registered by anyone.

Due to the changing times, some variations of gTLDs have sprung up. Since 2011, big companies have been allowed to apply and register their own generic top-level domain names. This has given birth to websites having TLDs like .google , .apple , and  .amazon .

Hundreds of generic new extensions have been launched in the last decade (so called nTLDs or new TLDs), .xyz, .online, .shop, .site and .store being the most popular TLDs among them.
Name Link WBY MDA SAT SEV CPC END
garden.salon
Backorder 2021 1 6 289k 1.4 2024-05-21
brother.promo
Backorder 2017 3 6 172k 0.35 2024-05-21
curious.gifts
Backorder 2022 3 7 69k 4.4 2024-05-21
asa.tax
Backorder 2022 6 83k 0.93 2024-05-21
language.news
Backorder 2021 1 6 388k 1.7 2024-05-21
emerge.city
Backorder 2022 7 104k 1.1 2024-05-21
launchpad.careers
Backorder 2014 1 7 395k 0.57 2024-05-21
happy.forsale
Backorder 2016 1 7 337k 1.9 2024-05-21
flight.creditcard
Backorder 2022 7 5M 2.5 2024-05-21
ginger.school
Backorder 2022 11 6 213k 0.4 2024-05-21
  • garden.salon
    Backorder
    2021
    1
    6
    289k
    1.4
    2024-05-21
  • brother.promo
    Backorder
    2017
    3
    6
    172k
    0.35
    2024-05-21
  • curious.gifts
    Backorder
    2022
    3
    7
    69k
    4.4
    2024-05-21
  • asa.tax
    Backorder
    2022
    6
    83k
    0.93
    2024-05-21
  • language.news
    Backorder
    2021
    1
    6
    388k
    1.7
    2024-05-21
  • emerge.city
    Backorder
    2022
    7
    104k
    1.1
    2024-05-21
  • launchpad.careers
    Backorder
    2014
    1
    7
    395k
    0.57
    2024-05-21
  • happy.forsale
    Backorder
    2016
    1
    7
    337k
    1.9
    2024-05-21
  • flight.creditcard
    Backorder
    2022
    7
    5M
    2.5
    2024-05-21
  • ginger.school
    Backorder
    2022
    11
    6
    213k
    0.4
    2024-05-21
Best nTLD domains expiring soon

In 2014, geographic top-level domains (geoTLD) were introduced with websites now associated with a particular geographical, linguistic, or cultural community. Despite their obvious ties to a particular region, geoTLDs are considered as gTLDs because of their unrestricted registration process. Some examples are .london  (for London businesses), .asia  (for Asia), and .cat  (to highlight the Catalan language).

Then there are generic-restricted top-level domains (grTLDs) which are like a locked-up version of gTLDs. To register one, you need to prove to the registrar that you are eligible to use them. Depending on the grTLD you want, the registrar will permit it so long as you satisfy certain criteria.

Domain statistics show that there are about 300 million generic top-level domains as of 2023, with the .com as the most used gTLD in the world.

Sponsored Top-Level Domains (sTLD)

A sponsored top-level domain is an exclusive TLD that is sponsored by a specific community or group that shares a common interest (like government or businesses). It mostly comprises private agencies or organizations that establish and enforce the criteria required to use the TLD. Some popular examples are:

  • .gov
  • .edu
  • .travel

sTLDs provide information about websites in a related industry, when you come across a website with a  .travel TLD, that immediately informs you that it is related to the travel industry.

sTLDs also help users locate reliable and accurate official information quickly. For example, .edu  and .gov  are reserved for websites of U.S accredited schools and the U.S. government respectively.

To register for one, you must apply to an ICANN-accredited registrar and fulfil the required conditions.

Country-Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLD)

Country-code top-level domains are TLDs specifically created for countries and territories. They can be easily identified with a two-letter string and are not constrained to local businesses and individuals alone, but are also used by big organizations with independently operating regional websites.

ccTLDs also help Google geotarget websites, so when a user searches from a particular region or country, more accurate results pop up. However, ccTLDs only work for countries and territories, not languages. So if you’re looking to make your website multilingual, you will require a lot more.

Some of the most commonly seen ccTLDs include:

  • .us — for the United States
  • .uk — for the United Kingdom
  • .in — for India
  • .it — for Italy
  • .fr — for France
  • .es — for Spain
  • .ca — for Canada
  • .io — for British Indian Ocean Territory

Lately, websites have devised a clever means to use ccTLDs for branding purposes. For example, .io  is being used in the tech industry to optimize complete domain names. According to the IANA database, there are currently 316 country-code top-level domains.

Test Top-Level Domains (tTLD)

Test top-level domains are TLDs reserved for local testing and development purposes. Because they are not available for general registration, you can use these tTLDs to freely test software changes without worrying about conflicts with other domain names.

According to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) —the body that defines standard operating internet protocols, tTLDs were specifically reserved to reduce the chances of confusion and clashes while carrying out software tests.

The four main tTLDs are:

  • .example — used for place holding
  • .test — used for testing purposes
  • .invalid — used for invalid domain names
  • .localhost — used for usage in local networks

Infrastructure Top-Level Domain

An infrastructure top-level domain is a peculiar category that contains only one TLD— the address and routing parameter area (ARPA). ARPA was the first top-level domain ever to exist and is managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) for IETF.

Note:  It cannot be registered by the public and is typically only used for internet infrastructure designs.

Do TLDs Matter?

Yes, your choice of a TLD matters. However, it does not directly influence your SEO performance, the only exception being country-code top-level domains such as .uk  which helps with local SEO.

Google has also confirmed that having a custom TLD that includes keywords does not give any advantage or disadvantage in search, but TLDs work their magic in other important areas that include:

User trust

To many users, seeing a TLD they are familiar with adds a little bit of legitimacy which will most likely result in more clicks to your site. For example, a user is more likely to trust a website domain name that ends with .com, as opposed to one that ends with .loan.

Credibility

With people being afraid of cybercrime, it’s best to stick with a popular TLD. Popularity translates to credibility on the internet, you stand a chance of gaining more organic traffic when go with what users know.

Marketability

Although Google has said having a custom TLD that includes keywords doesn’t help SEO, having one helps your website’s marketability. Imagine you have a travel business, having a website domain name that has a .travel TLD instantly grabs the attention of your prospective customers.

If what they are looking for is related to traveling, they will feel comfortable clicking on the domain name because it indicates what your business is all about. With TLDs potentially affecting your overall marketing strategy, choosing the best fit for your business could prove tricky. But no worries, I’ve got you covered.

Credits: Mah Mudi

Tips for Choosing the best TLD for you

- When trying to pick out a suitable TLD, you should consider your target audience and what their expectations are. For example, if your website is related to education, having a domain name that ends with .edu will significantly improve your chances of reaching your target audience.

- Do not fall for the temptation of trying to be too clever, when it comes to TLDs, simplicity is key. Avoid the use of hyphens, numbers, and obscure names, rather stick to a TLD that is simple and easy to remember.

- If your website is targeted at a particular geographic area, then you should consider using ccTLDs like .uk to narrow down your audience.

- They say copying your neighbors is bad, but in the TLD world, it is a smart idea. You can save a lot of time and energy by taking a peek at what your competitors are using, since you’re in the same industry it’ll work for your website too.

- When choosing a TLD, make sure it doesn’t infringe on any trademarks or copyrights. You can save yourself the uncertainty by conducting a trademark search on it.

- Pay attention to the length of your domain name, shorter domains are easier to type and remember.If you’re working on a budget, you will need to research the best TLD that fits your business and is affordable.

- And lastly put your friends, family, and colleagues to good use. You can share with them the domain name you’ve chosen for your website, their feedback will give you a better understanding of what to expect from the general public.

Final Thoughts

Top-level domains are an important part of a domain name, they are like the final piece of a wordy puzzle. Understanding them and choosing the right ones could be the key to the success or failure of your website.

We’ve learned about the different types of top-level domains, from the historic gTLDs, and the ever-exclusive sTLDs, to the indigenous ccTLDs, each fulfilling different roles for various websites.

We now realize that although TLDs don’t affect SEO, they are very important in the aspects of user trust, credibility, and marketability of a website. In the end, choosing the right one might seem difficult, but with the tips you’ve learned in your pocket, you are well on your way to digital success.

Name Link Price BID EAP WBY MDA END
newscafe.com
GoDaddy 2 000 58 36 680 1996 50 2024-05-21
somethingnavy.com
GoDaddy 9 600 69 10 219 2010 48 2024-05-21
nzone.com
Backorder 7 354 1996 56 2024-05-22
voltra.com
Backorder 6 802 1997 3 2024-05-22
bedbug.com
GoDaddy 9 999 128 6 714 1998 27 2024-05-21
buddyloans.com
GoDaddy 6 605 43 5 943 2005 48 2024-05-21
bridgersteel.com
GoDaddy 3 931 146 4 040 2003 44 2024-05-21
assurances.com
Backorder 3 498 2000 17 2024-05-22
expono.com
Backorder 2 453 2004 38 2024-05-21
naturalcure.com
GoDaddy 3 350 68 2 319 2001 5 2024-05-21
  • newscafe.com
    GoDaddy
    2 000
    58
    36 680
    1996
    50
    2024-05-21
  • somethingnavy.com
    GoDaddy
    9 600
    69
    10 219
    2010
    48
    2024-05-21
    Screenshot
  • nzone.com
    Backorder
    7 354
    1996
    56
    2024-05-22
    Screenshot
  • voltra.com
    Backorder
    6 802
    1997
    3
    2024-05-22
  • bedbug.com
    GoDaddy
    9 999
    128
    6 714
    1998
    27
    2024-05-21
  • buddyloans.com
    GoDaddy
    6 605
    43
    5 943
    2005
    48
    2024-05-21
    Screenshot
  • bridgersteel.com
    GoDaddy
    3 931
    146
    4 040
    2003
    44
    2024-05-21
    Screenshot
  • assurances.com
    Backorder
    3 498
    2000
    17
    2024-05-22
  • expono.com
    Backorder
    2 453
    2004
    38
    2024-05-21
  • naturalcure.com
    GoDaddy
    3 350
    68
    2 319
    2001
    5
    2024-05-21
    Screenshot