When you first think of a website, you probably think of the brand name or keywords before the period. However, an underrated yet crucial part of any website name comes at the very end of the address — the top-level domain. We typically assume most businesses will utilize a “.com” ending, but a closer look reveals this is far from the truth. Small business websites around the world employ a variety of top-level domains to round out their web addresses.
Here’s more on top-level domains: what they are, how they work, and how to choose a fitting one for your endeavors.
Types of Top-Level Domains
The simplest way to describe top-level domains (TLD) is whatever occurs to the right of the final period in a web address.
While there are more than 1,000 TLDs in existence today from which to choose, a helpful way to think of them is by type. According to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), TLDs fall into two main categories: generic and country-code. Within these two primary types, there are subtypes to explore, such as:
- original genericTLDs: .com, .info, .net, etc.
- sponsoredTLDs: utilized by industry-specific organizations
- geoTLDs: pertain to geographical areas other than countries
- ccTLDs: two-letter suffixes specific to the country within which a business operates
Another helpful distinction between subsets of generic top-level domains is sponsored versus unsponsored. As Verizon Small Business outlines, a sponsored top-level domain (sTLD) is more restrictive, requiring specific community rules to obtain. By contrast, an unsponsored top-level domain (uTLD) is less restrictive, though still functions under policies established by the internet to regulate the usage of these TLDs.
What the Experts Say about Choosing a TLD
Some of choosing a TLD involves a choice; part of it involves the luck of the draw. Namely, the TLD you’re able to secure depends on availability and pricing.
As Techopedia points out, some TLDs are simply easier to secure than others. As you can imagine, hyper-popular suffixes like “.com” can be both costly and competitive to get. There’s a very real possibility another entity has already reserved the “.com” version of a brand name or keyword combination — meaning you’ll have to update your domain name or try another suffix to successfully reserve it.
Experts generally offer a mixed bag of advice on whether small businesses should hold out for the most popular business suffix of “.com” or choose an alternative for the sake of their budget and ability to find an available domain name.
For instance, marketing expert Neil Patel says that “.com” is likely the way to go based on the fact that it’s consistently ranked the most trustworthy suffix by visitors. Since it’s so popular, many shoppers have direct experience with it — and therefore associate it with legitimacy. The downside of its popularity is that entrepreneurs may have a harder time getting their first-choice domain name with the “.com” ending due to overcrowding. This leaves you with the choice of trying to buy the domain name from its current owner or changing some part of the domain name until you find an unused variation.
Other sources, like Search Engine Journal, advise at least checking out newer TLDs like “.agency,” “.online,” etc. Why? Because much of traffic generally comes from search engine results anyway rather than visitors typing your address directly into the address bar. So, choosing an alternative to “.com” may not hurt your traffic metrics — while also allowing you to secure a more available and reasonable TLD for your brand.
This primer on top-level domains offers an introduction to different types of TLDs and how to go about choosing one — whether you ultimately opt for the popular “.com” or a more niche suffix.