What is a top-level domain? If you’re looking to develop an online presence, particularly for the first time, cutting through all the web-related jargon can sometimes be frustrating. What does it all mean?

Well, you can relax. In this article, we’ll explain exactly what a top-level domain is and how it relates to your website. We’ll also take a look at why choosing the right one is important and how it affects things like your SEO performance.

What Does TLD Stand For? Let’s Begin!

TLD stands for top-level domain. But what is a top-level domain exactly? And what is a top-level domain name? When you look at a full web address, what is the top-level domain in a URL? Is it easy to identify?

All good questions. Fear not; we’re about to explain it all. Here’s a simple top-level domain definition:

It’s the bit on the end of a web address, like .com or .org.

That’s it. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, yes and no. The fact is, there are a huge number of TLD options if you want to register a domain name. So many that the choice can feel a little bewildering, in fact.

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) keeps a record of all of them, and as of 2023, there are 1,603 different TLDs available.

It’s all very different from the early days of the Web. Back then, there were only a handful of options. Over time, more and more were added, and there was a particularly big explosion in numbers in 2011.

That was when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)—the non-profit organisation that regulates the Internet domain namespace—invited applications for new ones and got a huge response.

Of course, not all TLDs are equally popular. The dominance of .com is undisputed, and this shows up in places you might not expect. For instance, if you enlist help from ChatGPT to suggest potential domain names, you may find it will usually suggest .com as your top-level domain.

Regardless of popularity, every TLD essentially serves the same purpose. It’s all about how the servers that do the heavy lifting connect you to the web pages you want.

What Is The Purpose of a TLD? Top Level Domain Explained

To understand how this works, we need to talk about something called the Domain Name System (DNS).

The DNS acts like an online directory. It translates human-friendly domain names into IP addresses that machines understand. IP addresses are strings of numbers or characters that look like this:

Each computer or other device connected to the Internet has its own IP address. These can be private or public.

The private type is used to tell the difference between multiple devices on one server (e.g. so your router can distinguish between your laptop and your smartphone). On the other hand, public IP addresses specify a particular network.

When you want to visit a website, your computer first checks to see whether it already has the right IP address stored. If it doesn’t, your browser sends a request to the DNS system. It looks for the IP address of the web server the website is hosted on, and forwards your request to it.

Essentially, this involves a series of steps where, at each stage, the server dealing with the request checks to see whether it already has the IP address stored in its cache. If it does, it sends it to your computer and that’s the end of the process. If it doesn’t, it passes the request on to a different server. (It’s a bit like escalating a support query to a supervisor.)

If there’s no progress, eventually the request will land in the in-tray of something called a root name server. The root server doesn’t know the IP address for specific domain names either. But what it can do is direct the query to TLD name servers based on the TLD of the domain. So if the website you want has the TLD “.com”, the root name server will contact the .com name server.

The TLD name server won’t hold the IP address itself, but it will be able to look up where to find it. It then directs the request to that server, which delivers the right IP address.

As you can see, it’s quite an involved procedure. But of course, it all happens in fractions of a second, so you’re never aware of it. The point is that TLDs constitute a crucial element of the process of looking up the right IP address so you can visit the website you want.

Here’s a Top Level Domain Example: Making It Clearer

So, what is an example of a top-level domain, and how does it fit together with the rest of the domain name?

Let’s suppose you fancy watching some great new drama, and you decide to see what’s on Netflix.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll assume you type “netflix.com” into your browser.

Within this domain name, “.com” represents the top-level domain, and “netflix” represents what’s called the second-level domain (SLD).

As we’ve seen, the TLD serves as the highest level in the DNS hierarchy, helping to organise and categorise the vast expanse of the internet.

The SLD is the unique identifier for the Netflix domain. In combination with the TLD, it provides the complete address used to access the site.

Of course, in practice, companies like Netflix often use multiple domains or subdomains to separate out different aspects of their offering. In some cases, you’ll also see organisations using domains with different TLDs since the wide range available can be useful for purposes like marketing to different target audiences.

Top Level Domain List: 10 Most Popular TLDs in the World

As we said before, though, not all TLDs are equally popular. So, which are the standout stars?

Well, as of June 2023, these were the top ten:

As you can see, this list features a mixture of generic TLDs and those that signify specific country domains. In fact, TLDs are categorised by type. Let’s explore that in a little more detail.

What Are the Different Types of TLDs?

All TLDs fall into a number of different categories according to what they represent and how they’re regulated. Here’s the breakdown:

Generic top-level domains (gTLDs)

These are TLDs meant for general use. This category includes the big performers .com, .org, and .net from the top ten list. These TLDs are not associated with a particular geographical region, and anyone can register them.

By convention, some are more likely to be used by particular entities than others. It’s unusual to see the .org TLD, for instance, being used by a commercial enterprise. But in theory, it would be possible for a company to register and use it if they wanted to. In practice, the .com TLD is overwhelmingly popular, though, so most businesses aim to secure that for their domain name.

Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs)

TLDs like .jp, .fr, .us, and so on are ccTLDs. They’re mostly reserved for use by people and organisations resident in the country in question. All ccTLDs are two letters long, so they’re easy to spot.

If your business operates mostly within the country you live in, it’s a good idea to get a country code TLD. That’s because it can help in reaching your target audience. You’ll get an SEO boost because search engines will immediately be able to ascertain where you are in the world and be more likely to serve your pages to local users.

One quirk of ccTLDs is that there are a few that can be registered worldwide, usually because the letters in them suggest something else. Examples of this include the ccTLD for the island nation of Tuvalu, which is .tv, and the .co top-level domain name, originally for Colombia.

TLDs like this have such wide-ranging appeal outside of their official country that search engines usually treat them as an extra type of generic TLD.

Sponsored top-level domains (sTLDs)

Some TLDs are “sponsored”, which basically means regulated and administered, by organisations. The use of these is heavily restricted to specific communities.

One example you’ll probably know is .gov, which can only be used by US governmental institutions. But there are a few others you may not be as familiar with. For instance, did you know that the TLD .museum is sponsored by the Museum Domain Management Association? Only museums can use it.

Geographical top-level domains (geoTLDs)

If your organisation is very focused on one geographical area, it might be worth exploring whether there’s a suitable geoTLD for it. These are TLDs named for places.

It’s a bit hit or miss whether you’ll find the one you want, though. In the US, you could have .nyc and .miami; but if you’re hoping to use .chicago, you’re out of luck: it doesn’t exist.

Internationalised top-level domains (IDN TLDs)

For a long time, all domain names were spelled in the Roman alphabet. In an increasingly globalised world, that’s become untenable. So we’re beginning to see more TLDs that use non-Roman script, such as .닷컴 (the Korean equivalent of .com).

The other one

Just so you know, there’s one more TLD called the infrastructure TLD. It’s .arpa, and it’s only used for network infrastructure purposes. You can’t register a .arpa domain name, but we’ve included it here for a complete guide.

Do TLDs Affect SEO? Is There Any Impact?

The question of whether using specific TLDs or subdomains affects your SEO score is a little complex.

Using a popular TLD like .com will have little impact on your search rankings. It’s certainly nowhere near as important as elements like the quality of your content or backlinks.

On the other hand, there are some TLDs that have become associated with spammy sites, and you should probably avoid using those. Examples of these are .fyi and .live.

As we mentioned earlier, using a country code TLD can be helpful when it comes to localised SEO. Search engines use them as a signal to identify the geographic target of the website, which can have a positive impact on the site’s ranking within that country.

Beyond those specifics, most of the impact your chosen TLD has on your SEO performance will be indirect. So, for example, some TLDs might enhance brand recognition and trust. This can affect visitor behaviour and potentially influence your SEO outcomes.

It’s worth including a word about subdomains here. These are extra areas that you add and administer within your existing site. So, for example, if your homepage has the address:


you might choose to put your blog on a subdomain like this:


There are a couple of indirect SEO advantages you can gain from doing this. First, if you have a lot of, say, blog content, it can be a good idea to separate it out from your main business pages so they don’t clutter it up. It’s a useful approach if you want to keep all your content on one site.

On top of that, it helps you have a well-structured website. That’s good because search engines love sites that have a clear structure so they can understand how the content and pages relate to each other. It means your pages are much more likely to rank well.

How to Create a Top-Level Domain Easily That Will Help Your Business Succeed

When you’re looking to secure a domain name, considering the top-level domain to choose may not be foremost in your mind. But as you can see, it pays to be strategic about that choice.

It’s vital to get the right guidance because the domain you register can have a big impact on your digital presence.

At OnlyDomains, we provide everything you need to get up and running. From helping you to register your first domain name, to website builder tools, hosting plans, and excellent customer support, you can rely on us to deliver it all.

So why not get in touch with one of our expert team today to find out what we can do for you?  

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