What Is a TLD? All You Need to Know About Top Level Domains

Choosing a perfect domain name is one of the main challenges when establishing a solid online presence.

Besides picking the right name, you need to choose a suitable extension from many available options. Such as extension is called a top-level domain (TLD) and it plays a much more crucial role than it may first appear.

In this article, we will uncover the basic concept of a TLD, from its definition, type, and function in search engine optimization (SEO).

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A top-level domain (TLD), also known as a domain extension, is the rightmost part of a domain name. In hostinger.com, for example, hostinger is the domain name, while .com is the TLD. Other common TLDs include .org and .net.

Closer Look at the Domain Name Structure

In short, a domain name is your website’s address. It is associated with the domain name system (DNS) – a hierarchical naming system that translates domain names into IP addresses.

Screenshot of the structure of a URL

The domain structure starts from left to right, containing:

  • Subdomain – is on the left side of a second-level domain and acts as an extension to the primary domain. A subdomain indicates a different website section, such as blog.site.com. Note that not every domain has a subdomain.
  • Second-level domain – sits in the middle of a domain name. It is usually the most memorable part of the domain structure as people often use their personal or business names.
  • Top-level domain – a URL ending located after the final dot (such as, .com or .net).

There’s also the fully qualified domain name (FQDN), which is the complete version of a domain name that also constitutes the hostname.

Now that you have learned the definition of what a top-level domain means and its position in a URL, let’s look at a list of available top-level domains, their primary purpose, and role in search engine optimization (SEO) practices.

What Is the Purpose of a Top-Level Domain?

The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) developed the domain name system, including a TLD, to make memorizing IP addresses and organizing internet addresses easier.

The first TLD was .arpa. Subsequently, seven new domain extensions were created to provide domain space for other institutions, such as .edu for schools and .com for commercial businesses.

Now, a TLD can represent specific elements of a website, including its purpose, owner, or geographical location.

Therefore, people can sometimes get a clue what the site is about without seeing its content. For example, a .gov TLD means that it is one of the United States government sites, while .online domains suggest that your business is available online now.

TLDs are also useful for distinguishing different websites with the same second-level domain. WordPress would be one example.

There are two WordPress domains – WordPress.org and WordPress.com. Each has a different extension, indicating what the site is about:

  • WordPress.org – is for the open-source WordPress software, including themes, plugins, and community support. As the site’s owner is the non-profit WordPress Foundation organization, it uses the .org as this is the TLD associated with non-profit organizations.
  • WordPress.com – offers paid WordPress software handled by a for-profit corporation named Automattic, Inc.

Domain endings are also helpful for website localization. Some companies use a country code top-level domain (ccTLD), like a .us or .co.uk domain, to localize their business sites and adjust the content for every geographical segment.

Some ccTLDs may also be applicable for general use. For instance, .io was previously a ccTLD for the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), but now it is a commonly used extension among tech companies.

Before starting your domain registration, check whether your desired domain is available. If not, use the domain name search tool to see available domain names that use different TLDs.

Domain Name Checker

Instantly check domain name availability.

Let’s say you search for www.useddomain.com and find out that it’s already registered. Usually, the domain checker will offer alternative options with the same second-level domain name but different TLDs, such as www.useddomain.net or www.useddomain.org, for example.

Different Types of Top-Level Domains

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has established five categories of original top-level domains:

  • Generic
  • Sponsored
  • Country-code
  • Infrastructure
  • Test

Let’s take a deeper look at these types of TLDs.

Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD)

gTLDs are the most commonly used domain extensions when buying a domain name. Some of the most popular generic TLDs include:

  • .com – originally used for commercial sites. Nowadays, it’s the most widely used TLD available.
  • .org – primarily associated with various nonprofit organizations or charities.
  • .net – originally used by companies working with networking technology. Nowadays, it’s widely used by all sorts of organizations and businesses.
  • .xyz or .icu – general use, from eCommerce websites to agencies.
  • .biz – generally used by various businesses.
  • .tech – widely used by tech companies.

After ICANN has changed its policy and opened registration for new gTLDs, around 1,200 new extensions were added to the top-level domain list in the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Root Zone Database.

Recent top-level domains include:

  • Industry-specific extensions – .news, .flights, and .finance.
  • Popular brand names – .google, .bmw, and .calvinklein.

These generic TLDs help users associate website addresses with the industries and brands. For example, registry.google URL address makes it clear that this domain name belongs to Google.

There are also lots of new gTLDs with generic words, such as:

  • .name – individuals and personal use.
  • .info – informational platforms, an alternative to .org or .com.
  • .store and .shop – eCommerce stores platforms.
  • .agency – business agencies, such as travel or advertising.
  • .club – various groups, organizations, and communities.

Despite the generic association of gTLDs and their usage, most of them do not always serve those types of purposes.

ICANN does not strictly regulate domain registration with gTLDs as the internet evolves. Anyone can use a top-level domain extension whenever it is available.

For example, domainname.org would usually be associated with non-profit organizations. However, as .org is one of the unrestricted gTLDs, any site can use this top-level domain example.

Sponsored Top-Level Domain (sTLD)

An sTLD is a TLD restricted to a specific entity or owner. There are private organizations sponsoring sTLDs, and registering them requires formal authorization to prove that a person has the right to use them.

Unlike a huge number of gTLDs, there are only 14 sTLDs on the IANA’s list, including:

  • .gov – US-based government agencies, sponsored by the General Services Administration.
  • .edu – educational institutions, created by EDUCAUSE.
  • .int – treaty-related purposes, international organizations, governed by IANA.
  • .mil – US-based military, sponsored by the Defense Information Systems Agency.
  • .tel – internet communication service websites, supported by a private company named Telnames Limited.
  • .asia – websites based in the Asia-Pacific region, operated by the DotAsia Organization.
  • .cat – Catalan linguistic and cultural community, managed by the dotCAT Foundation.

Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD)

A ccTLD represents a geographical area from which an internet address originated. This is a two-letter code defined by ISO 3166-1 alpha 2.

There are more than 300 ccTLDs in the IANA’s list. That is more than the number of countries available because ccTLDs also represent sovereign states and dependent territories. A few examples include:

  • .us – United States
  • .ca – Canada
  • .nl – Netherlands
  • .de – Germany
  • .fr – France
  • .jp – Japan

In 2010, ICANN announced the first ccTLDs with non-Latin characters, known as internationalized ccTLDs (IDN ccTLDs). These new TLDs include Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, and Hebrew languages.

Most of the ccTLDs are available only to the corresponding countries’ residents, but some are public and available to purchase anywhere.

Screenshot of RadioGuide.fm homepage

One of the examples is .fm a ccTLD for the Federated States of Micronesia. As it is usually associated with radio broadcasting format, radio-related websites may also use domain names with extensions .fm. The same applies to .tv domain which is an official extension for the Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu but is popular among sites with a media focus too.

Infrastructure Top-Level Domain

The only infrastructure TLD is ARPA. It stands for Address and Routing Parameter Area, and IANA reserves it for Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Therefore, only management of network infrastructure is allowed to use such a TLD.

Test Top-Level Domain (tTLD)

These extensions are dedicated for local testing and documentation purposes only and cannot be installed into the global DNS.

The four tTLDs include:

  • .test – reserved to testing different scenarios or software.
  • .example – placeholders and documentation purposes only.
  • .invalid – shows invalid domain names and used only when necessary.
  • .localhost – testing local networks.

Do TLDs Affect SEO?

Search engines rank websites based on content relevance regardless of their TLDs. Therefore, a TLD does not have a direct impact on SEO.

However, a TLD can affect SEO by influencing visitors’ actions. If a person uses an unusual TLD, people may not remember or mistype the domain, resulting in fewer inbound links or landing on a different site.

A TLD can also impact a click-through rate.

Each TLD has a different level of trustworthiness, and it may affect people’s decision to visit a website. For example, if people use a .xyz domain for their sites, visitors might perceive it as less credible even though the sites rank well.

For this reason, consider choosing popular TLDs, such as a .com, .net or .icu domain.

Meanwhile, ccTLDs can help with international SEO when it comes to geo-targeting.

A ccTLD tells the search engines what country or region the content is targeted. Then, search engines can prioritize these locations and display the content to the most relevant audience, ranking the site higher on SERPs for that area.

Can I Change Website TLD?

It is possible to change a TLD by setting up a URL redirect. This process will redirect all traffic from the old TLD to the new one and tell search engines that the change is permanent.

Use a plugin like Redirection or a redirect feature in your hosting provider’s control panel to add a redirect.

Screenshot of redirect feature in your hosting provider’s control panel

Pro Tip

Be careful when migrating your WordPress site to a new address. Ensure that you back up the site data to avoid errors and traffic loss.

An alternative is to use multiple TLDs that direct traffic to the primary domain name. For example, Microsoft purchases several domain names, like microsoft.shop and microsoft.sucks, and leads the visitors to microsoft.com.

Conclusion

A top-level domain (TLD) is a suffix located after the final dot of a domain name. TLDs help people identify the site’s purpose, owner, and geographic location without seeing the content, such as .com for commercial websites and .us domain name for American sites.

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an organization maintaining TLDs, divide the extensions into five categories:

  • Generic top-level domain (gTLD) – covers a thematic field, like .org for non-profit organizations and .biz for commercial businesses.
  • Sponsored top-level domain (sTLD) – supported by an organization or a community, like the United States government for .gov.
  • Country Code top-level domain (ccTLD) – indicates a geographical area, like .us and .fr.
  • Infrastructure top-level domai – consists of only .arpa TLD.
  • Reserved top-level domain – are for local testing and documentation scenarios, such as .test and .example.

Choose the type of TLD that suits your site best, provides credibility to your business, and helps your SEO efforts.

What Is a Top-Level Domain FAQ

This section will answer most common questions people have about a top-level domain (TLD).

Who Manages Top-Level Domains?

The ICANN is responsible for managing top-level domains across the internet. Then, it delegates the responsibility to specific institutions, like Verisign for .com and Public Interest Registry (PIR) for .org.

Can I Get Any TLD I Want?

Anyone can use common extensions, like .com and .net, but only certain organizations can apply to sponsored TLDs, like .gov and .edu, or country-code TLDs, such as .us and .jp. It is also possible for organizations with specific requirements to make and operate new generic TLDs.

Why Is a TLD Important?

A TLD can indicate a site’s purpose, such as .store domain names for eCommerce businesses. It also gives you more brandable and creative domain names with over 1,200 options. For example, Taco Bell uses ta.co, and Papa John’s chooses pj.pizza.

What Are The Most Popular Top-Level Domains?

.com is the most common TLD, accounting for 54% of the global share, and other popular TLDs are .ru and .org with a global share of 5% and 4.3%. Due to its popularity, .com is the most trusted TLD – making it easy to remember a URL better.

Author
The author

Leonardus N.

Leo is a WordPress fanatic and contributor. He likes keeping up with the latest WordPress news and updates, and sharing his knowledge to help people build successful websites. When he's not working, he contributes to WordPress documentation team and pampers his dogs.