The World Wide Web was publicly launched back in 1991, though it was the late 1990s before most of us ventured online. Over the following two decades, we’ve all become accustomed to typing in website addresses without even thinking about what we’re doing, or what the various abbreviations actually mean.
The influence of top level domains might not be obvious, but it resonates with our subconscious – and also with search engines. There are several types of TLD, including the little-used sponsored or test domains. However, the principal choice is between generic or country code domains (ccTLDs). The latter identifies a country or principality where a website is hosted, while the former can be used to identify a particular type of business. For instance, .au is the ccTLD for Australia, while.gov is only available to government agencies operating at regional or national level.
Certain top level domains speak volumes about a particular business. In America, however, the .us ccTLD never gained widespread adoption. Because our businesses dominated the internet’s early years, the .com gTLD was regarded in some quarters as being suitably American. In reality, most countries have made more effective use of their ccTLD than we have, particularly in Europe.
Even so, quirks have developed. The United Kingdom is dominated by co.uk ccTLDs, instead of the obvious .uk suffix. This was belatedly introduced three years ago, but it’ll be 2019 before anyone can buy a .uk address if it already exists with a different domain. The owners of a co.uk site have until then to claim the related .uk domain name for their business or enterprise. India has already gone through a similar transition, and co.in is gradually being replaced by the simpler .in suffix.
Both .in and co.in are clearly Indian in origin, and either will perform better in domestic search engine results than foreign ccTLDs. This is because search engines prioritize websites with a country-specific TLD when displaying results to audiences in that country. A .fr website will be of more relevance to a Google or Bing user in France than a .ru or .it site, and as a consequence, there is real value to selecting a ccTLD when registering a new website.
If you decide to pick a gTLD, there’s never been so much choice. As the body responsible for domain name ownership and management, ICANN has introduced over 1,500 gTLDs to the market since its inception in 1998. This has alleviated demand for the handful of non-geographic top level domains originally created, which included .org, .com and .net. Far greater availability has driven up availability while pushing down prices, and WestHost is currently offering .site and .online domains for a remarkably low $1.49 a year.
More recent gTLD releases can be divided into several distinct categories:
- Industry specific. Suffixes like .accountant or .surgery help to indicate which industry a domain name belongs to. That means the address’s main section doesn’t have to reference this sector or service. Since shorter web addresses have greater public recall and more appeal to search engines, oaklane.pharmacy offers a credible alternative to oaklanepharmacy.com. Since almost half of the world’s websites use a .com suffix, it’s unsurprising that the latter address is already in use. Yet oaklane.pharmacy remains unassigned at the time of writing.
- Object-oriented. ICANN has launched numerous product or item-related TLDs, such as .hockey or .photo. The latter could be used for websites as diverse as an online wedding album, a picture framing store or a freelance photography service.
- Service-oriented. In a similar fashion, domains like .vet or .flights appeal to specific industries. Take-up has been unexpectedly slow, but it’s easy to see why a movie company might want their website to end in .film or .studio.
- Quirky. These are more controversial, with some observers wondering why ICANN has bothered releasing domains such as .fail or .ooo. It takes any domain roughly ten years to become established and widely recognized, though obscure gTLDs like .ninja and .sucks probably won’t enter the mainstream at any point. These domains don’t aid the credibility of sites hosted on them, and they should be registered with caution, except to avoid them falling into the wrong hands..