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Domain Name 101: What Are the Different Types of Top-Level Domain (gTLDs, ccTLDs, sTLDs)

domain name

If you’re looking to start your own blog or website, a domain name is an essential factor to prepare. Domain names are like website addresses – users type them into their browsers, and the site’s web server will respond to the request.

The domain name system (DNS) enables website owners to create unique domain names for their sites. Without this system, users will need to memorize random strings of numbers, called IP addresses, to access different websites. 

The TLD domain is one element that’s often overlooked when searching for the perfect website address. This guide will cover everything you need to know about top-level domains so that you can choose the best fit for your online project.

What Is a Top-Level Domain?

Another name for a top-level domain (TLD) is a domain suffix or extension. It’s the element to the right of a domain name, following the dot symbol. For example, .com is the TLD of the DroitThemes second-level domain name.

Used by over 50% of all websites, .com is the number one choice for top-level domains. However, with 252,000 new sites created daily, finding a good domain name that is available with the .com extension can be challenging. 

Thankfully, website owners can choose from more than a thousand TLDs as alternatives to .com.

Some of the most popular top-level domains are .org for organizations and .biz for commercial websites. Newer TLDs are also great options if you want to be more specific. For example, use .design or .photography with your desired domain name for a portfolio website.

As you can see, not only is a top-level domain a vital element of a domain name, but it can also help communicate to visitors what a website is about. 

Types of Top-Level Domains

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) have assigned three main types of top-level domains – gTLD, ccTLD, and sTLD. Let’s dive deeper into each of these categories. 

Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD)

Generic top-level domains (gTLDs) contain some of the most recognizable domain suffixes. Typically, generic top-level domains have three or more characters and can be used for general purposes. They include:

  • .com – is short for commercial, but is found on almost every type of website.
  • .org – was created for nonprofit organizations. Nowadays, this domain extension is commonly used for community sites. Powering 4.4% of all websites .org is the second most popular TLD after .com.
  • .net – stands for network. This domain suffix was created for tech companies, including service providers and internet corporations. As of June 2022, .net is ranked fourth as the most-used top-level domain. 
  • .xyz – was the first domain extension introduced with no inherent meaning. It’s gained popularity, and many use the .xyz top-level domain as an alternative to .com.
  • .info – is short for information. It’s a great option for news sites, although it has no usage restrictions. 
ORG TLD

Apart from the above domain extensions, IANA and ICANN have also delegated generic top-level domains with usage restrictions. The extensions from this subcategory can only be registered for specific purposes.

  • .biz – is exclusively for business or commercial purposes. Get the .biz TLD from its official registry, Neustar.
  • .name – provides a namespace for users wanting to use their names, nicknames, or screen names for their portfolio sites or blogs. The .name domain extension is available via its registry operator, Verisign.
  • .pro – is a domain extension for professionals. Website owners can register their .pro websites through the TLD’s registry manager, Afilias.

Last but not least, there is an infrastructure TLD with just one extension – .arpa. Short for Address and Routing Parameter Area, this top-level domain exists for operationally-critical infrastructure purposes. The .arpa domain extension is exclusively operated by the IANA.

Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD)

Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), based on ISO codes, indicate a geographical location like a country, state, or autonomous territory. This type of domain suffix usually consists of two letters. For example, .us for the United States, .fr for France, and .eu for the European Union. 

US TLD

Using a country code top-level domain helps website owners attract local traffic. It’s also suitable for creating a multilingual website and localizing content.

Some ccTLDs are open for registration to people worldwide, which is why they are often used for branding purposes for different website types. Domain names like paint.er, hair.do, and are.pa all use ccTLDs and are highly memorable. 

Popular open ccTLDs include:

  • .tv – the country code for Tuvalu. This domain extension is available to anyone and is a great option for sites in the television, film, and streaming industries.
  • .cc – belongs to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. This TLD is also suitable for niche markets using any “cc” abbreviation like a country club, city council, call center, or community college.
  • .me – is Montenegro’s ccTLD, but it is also widely used for blogs and digital resumes. 
  • .ws – the ccTLD for Samoa. However, this domain extension can also be used as the abbreviation of a website or world site.

However, note that many ccTLDs have restrictions. Therefore, website owners should check the registration requirements before deciding on a domain name. 

Restricted ccTLDs include:

  • .br – top-level registration requires a legal presence in Brazil. That said, registration as a second-level domain is generally permitted.
  • .ca – requires a Canadian presence, which is regulated by CIRA.
  • .de – is managed by DENIC. Registering this top-level domain requires a German postal address for administrative purposes.
  • .jp – site owners are required to have a physical address in Japan.
  • .sk – is administered under SK-NIC. This domain extension is only for Slovakian companies, organizations, and citizens.

Sponsored Top-Level Domains (sTLD)

Sponsored top-level domains (sTLD) have managing sponsors, such as governments, private businesses, and treaty organizations. 

Website owners should only use a sponsored top-level domain if their sites fall under the associated industry. Some of the most common sTLD examples are .edu, .gov, and .coop. 

For instance, if you want to register a domain name using .edu, your website must represent an accredited educational institution. 

To date, website owners can choose from 14 sponsored top-level domains. These include:

  1. .aero – exclusively reserved for air transport industry members, this domain extension is sponsored by SITA.
  2. .ASIA – restricted to the Pan-Asia and Asia Pacific community and is sponsored by the DotAsia Organisation.
  3. .coop – available for any cooperative association, this domain suffix is sponsored by DotCooperation LLC.
  4. .edu – for post-secondary institutions accredited by the US Department of Education and is sponsored by US EDUCAUSE.
  5. .gov –  exclusive for the United States government. The US General Services Administration sponsors this domain extension.
  6. .int – sponsored by IANA, the .int TLD is exclusively reserved for entities and organizations established by international treaties.
  7. .jobs – intended for human resource managers and is sponsored by the Society of Human Resource Management.
  8. .mil – restricted to the US military and is sponsored by the US Department of Defense Network Information Center.
  9. .museum – reserved for museums and is sponsored by the Museum Domain Management Association.
  10. .post – sponsored by the Universal Postal Union, .post is exclusive to sites in the global postal industry.
  11. .travel – reserved for businesses in the travel industry. Tralliance Corporation sponsors this domain extension.
Museum TLD

How Do TLDs Affect SEO?

TLDs don’t directly impact a website’s position on search engine results pages (SERPs), but they can be an indirect influence. To understand why this is the case, let’s review how SEO works.

Search engine optimization (SEO) involves any effort to improve a site’s visibility. This includes conducting keyword research, creating high-quality content, improving site speed, and generating backlinks from high-authority websites.

Ultimately, these efforts are made to achieve a higher click-through rate (CTR) and a better user experience, which also affects a site’s positioning on SERPs.

With domain names, user perception is a key factor that can boost a site’s CTR. For that reason, website owners should opt for short and simple domain names. You can leverage a name generator to help brainstorm ideas. 

The same goes for the domain extension. Choosing a popular TLD like .com and .net can help users remember a domain name correctly and see it as a credible resource. Regarding .com, here are some findings from GrowthBadger:

  • Domain names using .com are 33% more memorable.
  • .com is the number one most trusted domain extension.
  • Users are 3.8 times more likely to assume a domain name ends in .com.

Since a top-level domain can influence people’s perceptions of a brand, using a less popular TLD may make users question its credibility, ultimately harming your SEO efforts

Often, such websites can trigger suspicions of spam, fraud, and social engineering. Unsurprisingly, malicious parties have also abused some top-level domains, including .surf, .link, and .live. 

However, this does not mean that site owners must always opt for .com. Many new top-level domains are excellent at making domain names more industry-specific to help boost the branding effort. A growing number of users are also becoming more accustomed to them. For instance, .dev, .club, and .tech are three popular new TLDs.

On top of that, using a new top level-domain can set your website apart from the competition. New TLDs also enable website owners to secure their first choice of second-level domains without pursuing the .com extension. That’s why many organizations register multiple TLDs and simply redirect them to the main site.

Conclusion

Thanks to the domain name system, website owners can translate their IP addresses into domain names. At the core, domains consist of second and top-level domains. The former is often referred to as the website address, while the latter is called the domain extension.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) categorizes TLDs into a few classes, including:

  • Generic TLDs – include some of the most popular extensions like .com, .org, and .xyz.
  • Country code TLDs – like .es, .in, and .au are based on ISO codes. Some have no usage limitations, and some are restricted.
  • Sponsored TLDs – have managing sponsors. The .gov, .travel, and .museum domains are examples of sTLDs.

When it comes to SEO, TLDs have no direct impact. However, website owners can use popular domain extensions to improve website branding and increase the site’s CTR.

We hope this guide helps you better understand what a top-level domain is and why it’s an important consideration for your website. Good luck on your online journey!

Saasland
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