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What is a TLD? An introductory guide to top-level domains (with examples)

What Is a TLD? Top-Level Domains Explained, with Examples

Your site’s TLD is meant to serve as a summary of your site’s main characteristics, and can have a huge impact on the way visitors perceive your brand. With this in mind, once you've got a basic understanding of what is a domain name, you should get familiar with the concept of top-level domain and understand the different types of TLDs in order to identify the best match for your website.

One of the most crucial challenges of building a successful online presence is choosing the perfect domain name. A close second in terms of difficulty comes shortly after, as you’re presented with a long list of choices to pair with your idea. These short strings of text are known as top-level domains (or TLD), and play a more significant role than you may think.

What is a TLD?

A top-level domain (TLD) is the rightmost segment of a domain name, located after the last dot. Also known as domain extensions, TLDs serve to recognize certain elements of a website, such as its purpose, owner or geographical area. For example, a .edu top-level domain allows users to immediately identify that site as a higher educational institution.

The concept of TLDs was created by ARPANET in the 1960s with the goal of easing the process of memorizing IP addresses. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the earliest top-level domains were developed and the structured categorization you’ll come across when registering a domain name today was introduced. Each top-level domain has an independent registry managed by a designated organization under the guidance of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

what is a TLD example showing protocol, subdomain, domain name and TLD

Different types of top-level domains

The ICANN classifies top-level domains into different categories depending on the site’s purpose, owner and geographic location.

There are 5 official types of TLDs:

Additionally, there are a number of unofficial TLDs organized by individual companies that are not managed by ICANN.

01. Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD)

Generic top-level domains, commonly known as gTLD, are the most popular and familiar types of domain extensions. They are open for registration by anyone and, while the maximum length of top-level domains is 63 characters, most of them are composed of 2-3 letters. The origin of their categorization title dates back to the 1980s, when TLDs were simply differentiated between those related to the geographical location of a site and those that weren't—hence, generic.

Over time, the use of certain generic top-level domains became more strictly controlled to ensure they met certain standards, leading to the creation of a new category known as sponsored top-level domains. Of the initial seven available gTLDs only three can still be registered without restriction: .org, .com. and .net.

The most common usages of generic top-level domains include (and this list includes new top-level domains and popular domain extensions as well):

  • .com - for commercial sites

  • .org - for organizations

  • .net - for networks

  • .info - for information platforms

  • .biz - for businesses

  • .co - for companies & businesses

  • .store - for eCommerce businesses

  • .shop - for online shopping stores

  • .me - for personal sites

  • .digital - for digital related services

  • .design - for graphic designers and creative industries

  • .blog - for blogs

  • .tv - for content and entertainment related sites

  • .photos - for websites related to photography and visual content

  • .site - for a wide range of websites

  • .website - for a wide range of sites

  • .company - for businesses and companies

  • .tech - for any tech related site or business

  • .fitness - for sports and wellness businesses

  • .email - for websites related to email services

  • .me - for personal websites or personal branding

  • .live - for websites with live streaming content

  • .land - useful for real estate or property sites

  • .top - for a unique and memorable name

  • .fun - to convey the true vibe of your site and business

  • .studio - designed for studios, design, photography or fitness

  • .email - for websites providing email and communication services

  • .directory - for businesses that categorize content

  • .solutions - for problem solving service websites

  • .space - for innovative websites that offer a wide range of services

In mid-2011, ICANN approved a change to the domain name system that expanded the original gTLDs from 22 to over 1,200. These innovative options, aptly named New gTLDs, saw the incorporation of official domain extensions such as .berlin, .contact and .wow. You can see the complete top-level domain list on IANA’s database (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, a subdivision of ICANN).

Some more examples include:

generic top-level domains examples

02. Sponsored Top-Level Domains (sTLD)

As the name suggests, sponsored top-level domains are those proposed and supervised by private organizations. These entities can be businesses, government agencies or other types of organized groups, and they have the final word on whether an applicant is eligible to use a specific top-level domain based on predefined community theme concepts.

Unlike with gTLDs, the sponsored top-level domain list only includes a small, limited number of options. Some date back to the original 1980s domain extensions (including .edu, .gov and .mil), whereas others have been created in recent years.

Among them, some of the most popular sTLDs are:

  • .edu - for higher educational institutions

  • .gov - for United States governmental agencies

  • .cat - for Catalan linguistic and cultural community

  • .museum - for museum organizations

  • .travel - for travel industry businesses

sponsored top-level domains examples

03. ccTLD – Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLD)

There are 312 country code top-level domains established for specific countries and territories, identifying them with a two-letter string. These domain extensions have dedicated managers who ensure each ccTLD is operated according to local policies and meets the cultural, linguistic and legal standards of the region.

Besides local businesses and individuals, ccTLDs are widely used by large corporations with regional sites that operate independently. In these cases, domain extensions serve the same purpose as a subdomain. If you plan on using a country code top-level domain on your site, make sure to take this into account when searching for the best domain registrar, as not all platforms offer ccTLD registration.

In 2012, the ICANN announced the addition of the first ccTLDs using non-latin characters to the domain name system root zone. These domain extensions, known as internationalized country code top-level domains (IDN ccTLD) include languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew and Cyrillic.

Some of the most well-known ccTLD include:

  • .us - for the United States

  • .es - for Spain

  • .fr - for France

  • .it - for Italy

  • - for Brazil

  • .de - for Germany

  • .ca - for Canada

  • .nl - for the Netherlands

  • .ch - for Switzerland

  • .mx - for Mexico

  • - for the United Kingdom

  • .be - for Belgium

  • .in - for India

country code top-level domains examples

04. Infrastructure Top-Level Domain (ARPA)

This special category contains only one TLD: the Address and Routing Parameter Area (ARPA). The .arpa domain extension is managed directly by the IANA for the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) under the guidance of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and is only used for technical web infrastructure purposes.

05. Test top-level domains (tTLD)

Test top-level domains are reserved for documentation purposes and local testing, and cannot be installed into the root zone of the domain name system. According to the IETF, the reason for reserving these specific domain extensions is to reduce the possibility of conflict and confusion.

There are four tTLDs:

  • .example - for place holding

  • .invalid - for invalid domain names

  • .localhost - for usage in local networks

  • .test - for testing purposes

06. Unofficial top-level domains

Unofficial top-level domains are those which are not regulated or managed by the ICANN. This type of TLDs are sold and administered by private companies, and as such they aren’t in the domain name system and can only be used within a certain network or using a private DNS.

One of the most well-known examples of unofficial TLDs nowadays is .eth, which serves as a user accessible address to the Ethereum ecosystem. Other popular cases include .metaverse, .moon, .token and .chain.

The rising popularity of these not-quite-domains is heavily due to the evolution of Web3 and blockchain technology, and the general search for a decentralized network.

Domain name generator tool to buy and register domains

What is the purpose of the different TLDs?

Early on, top-level domains were limited and had a very specific purpose. Over time, however, the top-level domain list has surpassed three digits and most restrictions have long been abandoned in favor of creativity and branding.

While you’ll still need to meet certain principles if you are planning to register your site with a sTLD or ccTLD, choosing a gTLD will most likely come down to the domain name cost and your personal preference. See how the different options pair with your brand name and whether there are any that can particularly strengthen your message.

How do top-level domains affect SEO?

While top-level domains have no direct impact on your site’s SEO performance, unusual or complex domain extensions can lead to fewer inbound links and direct traffic.

To avoid this, while planning how to build a website, make sure to pay attention to how easy your TLD is to pronounce and remember when it’s combined with your domain name. Furthermore, keep in mind that when browsing on mobile, most smartphones display a button dedicated to domain extensions whose default option is set to .com.

What are the most popular top-level domains?

Here is a list of the top 10 most popular top-level domains (TLDs) in the world:

  1. .com

  2. .net

  3. .org

  4. .cn

  5. .de

  6. .uk

  7. .in

  8. .jp

  9. .fr

  10. .ru

These TLDs are popular for a variety of reasons. .com is the oldest and most well-known TLD, and it's often used for commercial websites. .net is often used for technical websites and .org is often used for non-profit websites. The other TLDs on the list are country code TLDs (ccTLDs), which are used for websites that are targeted to a specific country.

Are TLDs important?

Yes, top-level domains are important for a website's branding, user perception and search engine optimization (SEO). While TLDs are not a direct ranking factor for SEO, they can indirectly influence search rankings and user trust. Here are some reasons why TLDs matter:

  • Recognition: TLDs contribute to a website's branding and recognition. A well-chosen TLD can enhance brand identity, make the website more memorable and convey the website's purpose or target audience.

  • User perception: TLDs can influence how users perceive a website. Familiar TLDs like .com and .org instill a sense of trust and credibility, while newer TLDs may require more effort to establish recognition.

  • SEO relevance: TLDs can signal relevance to search engines, particularly for country-code TLDs (ccTLDs). For instance, a website with a .de TLD is likely to be more relevant for German users and may rank better in German search results.

  • Trustworthiness: Certain TLDs, such as .com and .org, are generally perceived as more trustworthy and established, which can indirectly influence SEO. These TLDs can be a good choice when creating a fundraising website for particular types of sites that involve users submitting their financial information, since they require a greater degree of trust and security. However, this perception is evolving as newer TLDs gain recognition.

  • Memorability: A memorable TLD can improve brand recognition and make it easier for users to find your site, especially if your website name is less common.

How do you choose the best TLD for your website?

When choosing a top-level domain for your website, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Your target audience: Who are you trying to reach with your website? If you're targeting a global audience, you may want to choose a generic TLD such as .com or .net. If you're targeting a specific country, you may want to choose a ccTLD for that country.

  • The purpose of your website: What kind of website are you creating? If you're creating a commercial website, you may want to choose a TLD such as .com or .store. If you're creating a non-profit website, you may want to choose a TLD such as .org.

  • Your brand: What is your brand identity? If you have a well-established brand, you may want to choose a TLD that matches your brand name. For example, if your brand name is [Brand Name], you may want to choose the TLD [Brand Name].com.

  • Your budget: Some TLDs are more expensive than others. For example, .com domains are typically more expensive than .net domains.

Who's responsible for managing TLDs?

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for managing top-level domains (TLDs) at the global level. ICANN is a non-profit organization that oversees the coordination of the Domain Name System (DNS), the internet's naming system that translates domain names into IP addresses.

ICANN delegates the responsibility for managing specific TLDs to registrars, which are organizations that sell domain names to individuals and businesses. For example, Verisign is the registrar for the .com TLD, while Public Interest Registry (PIR) is the registrar for the .org TLD.

ICANN also establishes policies for the domain management of TLDs, such as the rules for creating new TLDs and the procedures for resolving disputes between registrants.

Here are some of the specific responsibilities of ICANN in managing TLDs:

  • Creating new TLDs: ICANN has a process for evaluating and approving applications for new TLDs. This process helps to ensure that new TLDs are not harmful to the internet or its users.

  • Delegating TLDs to registrars: ICANN delegates the responsibility for managing specific TLDs to registrars. This process helps to ensure that TLDs are well-managed and that domain names are registered in a fair and consistent manner.

  • Resolving disputes between registrants: ICANN has a process for resolving disputes between registrants over domain names. This process helps to protect the rights of registrants and prevent domain name abuse.

  • Protecting the internet from harmful TLDs: ICANN has a process for suspending or revoking TLDs that are found to be harmful to the internet or its users. This process helps to protect the stability and security of the internet.

ICANN's role in managing TLDs is essential for ensuring the smooth operation of the internet. By creating and delegating TLDs, establishing policies and resolving disputes, ICANN helps to ensure that the internet is a stable, secure and accessible platform for everyone.

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