Whether you’re building a website for your business, your online portfolio, or just for fun, you’ll need to start by choosing your domain name. A domain name is the unique address that identifies your website on the internet. It consists of one or more labels separated by dots, such as mynewsite.com.
Before you select your domain name, you should understand the basics of domain name structure, including top-level domains (TLDs) and generic top-level domains (gTLDs).
If all those terms and abbreviations have your head swimming, don’t worry. We’re going to cover everything you need to know about TLDs and gTLDs, including the most effective TLDs to get traffic coming to your site, and how to choose the best domain for your intended purpose.
Understanding Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs)
You might think that once you’ve come up with that catchy website name, the hard part is done. Not so fast—you still need to choose your domain extension.
What is a domain extension? It is a set of letters after the period of your domain name or web address. Typically, you’ll find that several variations of your chosen name will be available, each with a different ending—.com, .org, .net, and so on. Each of those variations is what’s known as a generic top-level domain, or gTLD. A few of the most common gTLDs are:
Originally, there were just 7 gTLDs available. However, this list began expanding in 2010, and now there are over 1,200 gTLDs registered with the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA). These days, you can make your domain name creative and hyper-specific with niche extensions like .consulting, .art, or even .wtf.
Understanding domain name structure
Before we dive deeper into gTLDs, let’s take a moment to review how domain names are structured. We’ll use the example www.blog.mynewsite.consulting.
- Top-level domain – So, what is a top-level domain? As we’ve covered, the rightmost part of a domain name is the TLD. In this case, we’ve gone for one of the newer gTLDs, .consulting. Now searchers who come across our site in a search can get an idea of what we’re about before they even click through.
- Second-level domain (SLD) – This is the label to the left of the TLD. It’s usually the name of your website or business. In our example, mynewsite is the SLD.
- Third-level domain – This is the label to the left of the SLD. It’s often called the subdomain, because it’s a subsection of your main site or domain. In our example, blog is the subdomain. Domain names don’t have to include a subdomain, but it’s helpful to remember this is an option for organizing your site. Using this kind of naming convention gives search engines and visitors to your site a good idea of what each page is about.
A closer look at generic top-level domains
History and evolution of gTLDs
The first wave of seven TLDs were released in the 1980s, shortly after the internet was created. They were intended to categorize websites based on their function or purpose—.com domain name for commercial sites, .edu domain name for educational sites, and so on. Originally, TLDs were restricted to specific types of registrants, but over time, most became open to anyone who wanted to use them.
Throughout the 2000s, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) introduced new gTLD options to expand the availability and diversity of domain names. Some new gTLD examples include:
- .biz for businesses
- .info for informational websites
- .name for personal names
- .pro for professionals
- .travel for the travel industry
- .xyz for miscellaneous websites
Most popular gTLDs
The top three gTLDs worldwide as of 2022 are still the old standbys:
Newer and niche gTLDs
In 2012, ICANN launched a new gTLD program to allow anyone to apply for their own custom gTLD (provided they could afford a hefty price tag for the gTLD application and registration). This resulted in a massive expansion of gTLDs, with over 1,200 new extensions being delegated since then.
These new gTLDs cover a wide range of topics, categories, industries, interests, communities, brands, and locations. Some of the most popular are:
- .xyz – 5.05 million domains
- .online – 2.5 million domains
- .top – 1.93 million domains
- .shop – 1.25 million domains
- .site – 1.22 million domains
- .icu – 1.12 million domains
- .club – .91 million domains
How to choose the right gTLD for your business
With all these options, how do you know which gTLD to use for your site? Here are three steps to ensure that you choose the right domain name from beginning to end:
- Identify your target audience. Think about the type of customer you’re looking for and the message you want to convey. For example, if you’re targeting a global audience, you might want to use a generic TLD that is widely recognized and trusted, such as .com or .net. But if you’re targeting a market that’s more niche or cutting-edge, you might want to use a more up-to-date gTLD that reflects your industry or brand, such as .shop, .io, or .fitness.
- Align your gTLD with your brand and industry. A generic TLD can help you stand out from your competitors and communicate your value to your customers. For example, a travel agency might want to use a gTLD like .travel or .vacations. A creative professional might opt for a gTLD that aligns with an online portfolio, such as .design or .photography.
- Consider search engine optimization (SEO). Last but not least, remember that your gTLD will affect your SEO strategy. Some gTLDs may have more relevance and specificity for certain keywords and queries. Popular gTLDs may also have more competition and saturation than niche gTLDs.
Registering your gTLD with Name.com
Whether you want to go with a tried-and-true gTLD like .com or .net, or target a specific audience with one of the new gTLDs, Name.com can help you find the right fit for you and your business.
Buy a domain name and get started now by exploring your options with our domain name search tool. Once you’ve found your dream domain, you can use our website building tools and the best web hosting resources to create the user-friendly, up-to-date website your business needs.
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Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers. Delegated strings. https://newgtlds.icann.org/en/program-status/delegated-strings
IANA. Root zone database. https://www.iana.org/domains/root/db
Statista. Most popular top-level domains worldwide as of June 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/265677/number-of-internet-top-level-domains-worldwide/
Statista. Leading new generic top-level domains (gTLD) as of June 2022, by number of domains. https://www.statista.com/statistics/569300/gtlds-by-number-ob-domains/
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TechCrunch. ICANN to expand top-level domain names, applications start Jan 12, 2012. https://techcrunch.com/2011/06/20/icann-to-expand-top-level-domain-names-applications-start-jan-12-2012/