A TLD, short for top-level domain, is the last segment of a domain name – the part that comes after the final dot. The most common example is .com, but there’s a whole wide world of different TLDs, which we’ll dig into in this article.

We’ll cover:

What is a TLD? Explained in More Detail

In order to understand what makes it the “top-level”, it’s helpful to dig into the full structure of your domain name.

If you look at any domain name, you’ll see a series of words, letters, or numbers connected by dots. For example, the Kinsta hosting dashboard is located at my.kinsta.com – three words separated by two dots.

Each “dot” represents a different segment and helps computers (like a web browser) find the proper content. Furthermore, each segment is a different “level”. You start at the top-level (hence TLD) and move up in numbers. For example, going back to the URL of the Kinsta hosting dashboard, you’d get:

  • .com – top-level
  • .kinsta – second-level
  • my – third-level, also called the subdomain in this case

In theory, you could have even more levels than that, though you’ll rarely see that.

So when you register your domain name at a domain registrar, you’re choosing both the second-level domain (e.g. “kinsta”) and the top-level domain (e.g. “.com”). Then, from your hosting dashboard, you can add additional levels (like the third-level subdomain “my”).

In addition to helping you brand your website, your TLD plays an important role in the Domain Name System (DNS).

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There Are Three Different “Types” of TLDs

Up until this point, we’ve been referring to TLDs as a single unified category. However, there are actually three types of TLDs, as assigned by the IANA/ICANN.

The IANA officially recognizes these three types of TLDs:

  1. gTLD – Generic Top-Level Domains
  2. sTLD – Sponsored Top-Level Domains
  3. ccTLD – Country Code Top-Level Domains

In the past, the selection of TLDs was much more limited. But thanks to some recent changes in policy, there are now well over a thousand TLDs to choose from across these three core groups, with the vast majority fitting into the gTLD category.

1. gTLD – Generic Top-Level Domains

The gTLD category contains all the most recognizable TLDs. That is, this is the category with common options like:

  • .com
  • .org
  • .net

Beyond these well-known names, you’ll also find other fairly popular generic options like:

  • .xyz
  • .biz
  • .info

While these generic domains are supposed to be loosely tied to the purpose of a website – for example, .org is for organizations – anyone can register most of these domain names.

Around ~2011, ICANN opened the door for companies and organizations to register their own gTLDs, which greatly expanded the list of gTLDs and explains why we now also have gTLDs like:

  • .oldnavy
  • .google
  • .oracle
  • .mitsubishi

In addition to registering gTLDs for business names, organizations also registered more “generic” niche gTLDs like:

  • .mom
  • .money
  • .motorcycles
  • .realestate
  • .republican
  • .democrat

And you’ll also find gTLDs for specific geographic areas. These are sometimes called GeoTLDs, though they’re really just a subset of gTLDs. Examples here are:

  • .nyc – only available to residents of New York City
  • .paris
  • .berlin
  • .istanbul

Prior to this change in ICANN policy, there were only 22 available gTLDs. Now, at the time that we’re writing this post, there are over 1,200 different gTLDs available. You can view them all at the IANA website.

2. sTLD – Sponsored Top-Level Domains

The sTLD group contains TLDs that are sponsored by a specific entity, which could be a business, government, or other groups.

Some of the most common examples here are:

  • .gov – for use by the US government.
  • .edu – for post-secondary institutions that are accredited by the US Department of Education.
  • .mil – for use by the US military.

However, you’ll also find smaller sTLDs like:

  • .museum – reserved for museums.
  • .jobs – reserved for human resource managers and sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management.
  • .post – sponsored by the Universal Postal Union.
  • .travel – reserved for travel agencies and similar businesses.

In contrast to the huge number of gTLDs, there are only 14 sTLDs at the time that we’re writing this article.

3. ccTLD – Country Code Top-Level Domains

ccTLDs are top-level domains that represent specific countries. A partial list of common examples is:

  • .us – USA
  • .uk – United Kingdom
  • .eu – European Union
  • .de – Germany
  • .fr – France
  • .cn – China
  • .es – Spain
  • .ru – Russia
  • .ca – Canada
  • .nl – Netherlands
  • .in – India
  • .ch – Switzerland
  • .jp – Japan
  • .cn – China
  • .br – Brazil
  • .id – Indonesia
  • .vn – Vietnam

In total, there are ~312 different ccTLDs. Some enforce residency restrictions in order to purchase a domain in that area, while others are public and can be purchased by people from anywhere in the world.

This latter fact has led to the “off-label” use for some attractive ccTLDs. For example, the .io TLD is especially popular with tech companies and startups. However, despite the tech-sounding name, .io is actually a ccTLD assigned to the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Side note – we would not recommend purchasing a .io domain name at the moment, because there’s a chance that this TLD might be going away.

In addition to helping you tell human visitors what country your website serves, Google can use ccTLDs to help geotarget your site.

Because of this, you’ll find many large brands using ccTLDs to localize their sites for different markets. For example:

  • Amazon.com
  • Amazon.co.uk
  • Amazon.de
  • Etc.

Don’t worry, though, Google is also smart enough to figure out that your .io domain name doesn’t only serve the Indian Ocean! In fact, because there are some ccTLDs that are commonly used for non-geographic reasons, Google has a specific list of ccTLDs that they treat as gccTLDs (Generic Country Code Top-Level Domain).

In addition to the .io domain, Google’s list of gccTLDs includes other options like:

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  • .fm
  • .me
  • .tv
  • .co

What is the Purpose of Having Different TLDs?

The general idea is that having all these different TLDs can help you communicate information about your website through your domain name.

Let’s look at an example that’s near and dear to our hearts – WordPress.

There are actually two different WordPress sites, which has been a source of eternal confusion for new WordPress users. Each has a different TLD, which actually does a pretty good job of indicating what the site is about:

  • WordPress.com – this is the site for the commercial, for-profit venture from Automattic.
  • WordPress.org – this is the site for the open-source WordPress software managed by the non-profit WordPress Foundation organization.

In the real world, things don’t always fit so neatly.

For example, we already talked about how startups and tech companies use .io domains, despite .io actually being a ccTLD for the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Who’s Responsible for Managing TLDs?

ICANN – short for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – is a non-profit organization that’s responsible for managing the TLDs via the IANA – short for Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

That is, the IANA is a division of ICANN.

Additionally, ICANN/IANA delegate responsibility for some TLDs to other organizations.

Does Google Care Which TLD You Use? Does TLD Affect SEO?

The short answer is that, no, the TLD you choose does not affect SEO. According to Matt Cutts, Google just tries to find the best content, regardless of TLD.

With that being said, the TLD you choose might have some indirect effects on SEO. For example, if you choose an odd, unknown TLD, visitors might have trouble remembering your site, which could lead to fewer inbound links. GrowthBadger conducted a study comparing top-level domains and found that .com domains are 33% more memorable.

Similarly, if you use an unfamiliar TLD, visitors might be less likely to click on your site in the search results due to a perception of spam, which could lower your CTR rate.

For example, in a survey of 1,000 people in the UK, VARN found that 70% of respondents didn’t trust newer, less well-known TLDs as much as popular TLDs, like .co.uk.

So unless you have a good reason for choosing a lesser-known TLD, you’re probably better off sticking with one of the popular options. That’s why we use a .com domain at Kinsta.

.com TLD

.com TLD

Can You Change Your WordPress Site’s TLD?

Yes, you can change your TLD by setting up something called a 301 redirect. This essentially redirects all traffic from your old TLD to your new TLD and tells Google and other crawlers that the change is permanent.

However, we’d recommend trying to avoid this if at all possible as it will likely have some negative effect on your SEO and traffic, at least in the short term.

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