Beginner’s Guide to Top-Level Domains

When you look at a URL, you’re actually looking at the domain assigned to your website’s IP address. Web browsers take the long and complicated list of numbers that make up your website’s IP and convert it to a recognizable URL that can be used to direct people to your site. There’s a lot that goes into play when your URL is concerned, but possibly the most crucial factor is your top-level domain. There are over 1500 top-level domains available to use in your URL, and every domain registrar has access to them. With so many options on the market, it can be hard to know which to use.

What is a Top-Level Domain?

Although most people read URLs from left to right, the Domain Name System (DNS) reads them from right to left. The highest level of the domain hierarchy is at the end, usually one of the three most commonly used top-level domains:

  1.  .com
  2.  .net
  3.  .org

The top-level domain tells the web browser and users what kind of website they are visiting. Although only four are used for the majority of websites, branching out to a different top-level domain can increase your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) score and help users find your site.

How to Make Good Use of a Top-Level Domain

No two websites can have the same URL. Otherwise web browsers wouldn’t be able to properly direct users to the right site. This is where top-level domains come into play. If two companies have the same idea for a website name, whichever one buys the domain first usually wins. However, the second company can use the same name with a different top-level domain. That way name.com and name.net can be two different websites.

This can, however, work to a company’s disadvantage as the two sites will be competing against each other in a search engine. It can be tempting to simply utilize a different top-level domain if you really need the website name you’re after, but sometimes it’s best overall to try and come up with a new name. And if you’re the winning company that snagged the URL first, it’s a good idea to back yourself up by buying the URLS with the top three top-level domains as well to prevent a dip in your SEO.

Top-Level Domain Guidelines

Although the DNS isn’t as regulated today by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) as it was when browsers were getting started, there are still some general rules and guidelines you should follow when assigning a top-level domain. For example, you can’t use .gov if you are not a government-associated company, and you shouldn’t use .cafe if you don’t run a café.

Choosing the right top-level domain can be the difference between a good site and a great site. With the right domain, you can improve your SEO score and help users find, and understand, your company. If you’re having trouble deciding on a top-level domain to use, check in with your domain registrar company for suggestions.

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