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What Is a TLD? Top-Level Domains Explained for Beginners

WRITTEN BY
Juan Villarba
UPDATED
April 23, 2024

 

You’ve probably heard of top-level domains (TLDs) in your IT class back in high school and wondered what they are. For webmasters, bloggers, and businesses, a TLD is super important because it affects a website’s credibility, visibility, brand identity, and search engine ranking.

 

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about TLDs:

 

 

You’ll learn how they work and who manages them, the different types available, and why it’s important to choose the right one for your website.

 

We also provide tips on selecting a domain name that suits your business/website best. So let’s get started!

 

three elements of TLD

Three elements, two dots—one TLD to rule them all!

 

What is a Top-Level Domain (TLD)?

 

A top-level domain (TLD) is the last part of a website’s address. It comes after the dot and refers to the type of organization or website associated with that domain name.

 

Stalwarts such as:

 

  • .com for commercial websites
  • .org for organizations
  • .net for networks

 

… and so on.

 

Think of it as the country code in your zip code. It tells you where the domain is registered and regulated. Choosing the right TLD is crucial because it can affect how an audience perceives your website.

 

Fortunately, some web hosting providers can help guide you in choosing the right domain name. The most recognizable and widely used TLD is .com. So if you want to establish credibility and visibility for your business, you can’t go wrong with this timeless classic.

 

 

How Do TLDs Work?

 

TLDs function much like postal codes. They help categorize domains and websites so it’s easier to find specific websites on the internet. But who manages the world’s TLDs?

 

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) does. ICANN is a nonprofit organization created to manage the domain name system (DNS) of internet-connected computers.

 

Quick Refresher

The DNS is what translates URLs into IP addresses, which makes it possible for you to visit websites on the internet. When you type a website address into your browser, the DNS will look up its IP address and direct you to the correct page.

 

In a way, ICANN keeps the internet organized and avoids confusion by preventing multiple sites from using the same domain name. Users can locate the websites they want to visit much quicker, thanks to TLDs and ICANN’s hard work.

 

 

What Types of TLDs Are There?

 

When TLDs first appeared, .com was the only option. But over time, new TLDs emerged for different purposes. Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of TLDs.

 

We’ll focus on the three main types of TLDs:

 

  1. Generic Top-Level Domains (.com, .net, .org)
  2. Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs) (.uk, .us, .ca)
  3. Sponsored Top-Level Domains (sTLDs).

 

They mostly work in the same way, but there are some important differences between each type.

 

examples of TLDs

A .com was and is still a common TLD among an ocean of other TLDs.

 

1. Generic TLDs (gTLDs)

 

These are the most common and widely used TLDs. They were originally intended to categorize websites by their purpose: .com for commercial sites (amazon.com), .net for network organizations (microsoft.net), and .org for nonprofit organizations (redcross.org). Generic TLDs, they’re used for any purpose and don’t necessarily have to fit into the original categories.

 

For small to medium-sized businesses, .com is the go-to choice. However, if your business operates in a specific country, then it’s better to choose a ccTLD (see below).

 

2. Country code TLDs (ccTLDs)

 

These are TLDs that are specific to a certain country or region. For example, .uk for the United Kingdom, .us for the United States, .ca for Canada, etc. ccTLDs are used to indicate the geographical location of a website or domain name. According to a 2022 study, here are the leading ccTLDs:

 

Country/Region ccTLD No. of Users
(in millions)
Tokelau (a territory of New Zealand) .tk 26.13
China .cn 25.15
Germany .de 22.88
United Kingdom .uk 19.6
Russian Federation .ru 10.63

 

Choosing a ccTLD for your business or website can be beneficial if you’re targeting an audience in that particular country. It gives the impression that you’re local and, thus, easier to trust. It also helps with SEO since search engines tend to prioritize local websites in their search results (more on this later).

 

3. Sponsored TLDs (sTLDs)

 

These are TLDs that an organization or company sponsors, such as .edu for educational institutions, .gov for government agencies, and so on. They’re usually restricted to a certain type of business or organization and require an application process. Some organizations that use sTLDs you might have come across include:

 

  • cancer.gov (US National Cancer Institute)
  • harvard.edu (Harvard University)
  • who.int (World Health Organization)

 

When applying for an sTLD, organizations must submit an application with ICANN that includes proof of eligibility as well as other relevant information and documents. The application process itself is stringent and requires applicants to provide evidence to prove their legitimacy.

 

Organizations must demonstrate they’re a qualified applicant according to the sTLD’s criteria. Once approved, the organization will be granted access to use its specific TLD.

 

illustration of four people in a meeting

Consult with your web host to discover the ideal TLD for your business.

 

 

How Do I Choose the Right TLD for Me?

 

When choosing the right TLD for your website, there are a few things you should consider. The most important factor is to make sure it aligns with your business and its goals. Here are the other elements that should influence your TLD choice:

 

  • Brandability
    Choose a TLD that’s widely recognized. If you want to establish credibility, .com is the go-to choice. It’s the most popular and recognizable TLD on the internet.
  • Target audience
    Consider your target audience and where they’re located. This helps you decide if a ccTLD or gTLD is more appropriate for you. Targeting a global audience means setting up a .com, but if you’re targeting a more localized audience, ccTLD is the right way.
  • Geographic location
    Speaking of ccTLDs, this is your best bet if you’re targeting a specific geographic area. If your business is located in the United Kingdom, it won’t make sense to use anything else but .uk.
     
    If you have physical locations in different countries, separating domains for each location with the relevant ccTLDs is a wise move. Unique domains for your different offices help customers find your business locally and more easily and increase customer trust.
  • Trust
    If you want to establish trust and credibility with your audience, opt for a TLD that’s widely recognized like .com, .net, or .org. You won’t want to use one that looks suspicious or unreliable.
  • Unique TLDs
    If you want to stand out, look into unique TLDs like .tech, .shop, etc., and see if they’re right for your business. Some trendy TLDs make it easier for your customers to find you online. Too unique and you’ll look suspicious.

 

Once you’ve chosen the right TLD, you can register your domain and start building your website. Depending on your web host, they should also be able to help you with the registration process.

 

brand marketing mind map

Know your brand to create a website (and a TLD) that’s uniquely you.

 

 

Does Your TLD Affect Your SEO Ranking?

 

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an important part of running a website. It’s the process of optimizing your website so it can be found in search engine results pages (SERPs).

 

For businesses with a digital footprint, ranking higher on SERPs is their lifeblood, and SEO is the method by which they consume blood? Jokes aside, a website’s ranking is determined by a number of factors, and – yes, the TLD you choose is one of them.

 

Google has stated that having a ccTLD helps your website rank better in the local searches of that country or region, as it signals to Google that your site is relevant to those locations. When considering a TLD for SEO purposes, try using a gTLD or ccTLD that’s related to your target audience or geographic location.

 

For example, say you’re a business owner in the United States but recently created a following in the UK. Perhaps part of your expansion plans is to set up shop there. Once you’ve established yourself, your next step is to create a website that’s tailored specifically for the UK market. In that case, you would want to get a .co.uk ccTLD to give your website a better chance of ranking higher in the local UK searches.

 

In short, when it comes to SEO, TLDs do have an effect. Top-level domains are a factor for ranking, but your domain isn’t the only one that contributes to your ranking. Still, if you have the right TLD and relevant content for your target audience, you’re only doing your SEO campaign some good.

 

 

Can I Change My WordPress Website’s TLD?

 

Short answer: yes. Long answer: you’ll need to be aware of the potential risks involved in changing your domain name.

 

It might impact your SEO rankings and website traffic, as search engines will need time to re-index your new domain. Re-indexing can take a few weeks, so you have to plan ahead and be prepared to wait.

 

Changing your WordPress website’s TLD also requires some technical know-how. This includes changing your domain record, updating the WordPress installation, and updating internal links on your website. It’s best to seek the help of your web host or an experienced web developer if you don’t feel comfortable handling the changeover process yourself.

 

person typing

Changing your WordPress site’s TLD requires back-end work but not impossible.

 

You’ll also need to make sure you have a 301 redirect setup, which will help in the transition process. This helps search engines understand that your domain has changed, without affecting your website rankings.

 

If you do decide to change the TLD of your WordPress website, the easiest way is to work with your WordPress hosting provider. They should be able to help you through the process, taking care of all the technical details and providing a smooth transition for your website.

 

 

Top-Level Domains: Critical to Your Website’s Success

 

TLDs are a crucial part of any website. They tell visitors where you’re from, provide credibility and trust, and help you stand out online. TLDs also play a role in SEO rankings, giving you the chance to gain more visibility and reach more of your target audience.

 

When you’re ready to get your website up and running, make sure you take the time to pick the right TLD for you. Doing this ensures your website is successful and your audience can find you online. Good luck!

 

 

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