A Generic Top-Level Domain, or gTLD for short, is something you’ll come across all the time when browsing the web. The vast majority of websites are organised under gTLDs, so if you’re shopping for a shiny new domain name for your own website, it’s worth knowing more about your options.
This post will explain what generic TLDs are, why they exist, and what the best gTLD is for your project. But first – let’s cover the basics.
What is a domain name?
Before we dive into the world of generic top-level domains, we will briefly run through what a domain actually is. A domain name is a chain of textual elements that’s used to identify and establish a website’s online location. Think of a domain as your online identity, and deciding what yours should be is often one of the first decisions you will need to make when launching your business.
If you want to know more about the ins and outs of a domain name, check out our post ‘What is a Domain Name?’.
The components of a domain name
Domain names can be made up of numerous components, including two essential parts, the top-level domain, and the second-level domain.
Let’s use the following domain to demonstrate: www. exampleaddress .com
The top-level domain, or TLD, is the final section of a URL. This can be a generic TLD like .com in our address above, or a country code TLD (ccTLD) such as .co.uk. As a rule of thumb, a TLD always follows the final ‘.’ in any URL, and plays an important role.
A TLD is part of what’s called a DNS hierarchy, which refers to the order in which the elements of a URL are arranged. A top-level domain is the final element of this DNS hierarchy, and it allows the DNS resolver to communicate with the TLD server in order to establish the IP address of the origin server.
Second Level Domain
The second-level domain, or SLD of a URL, refers to the text to the left of the final full stop, or exampleaddress from the URL above. Arguably the most important component of a domain name, your SLD is your chance to let site visitors know who you are and what you’re all about.
An additional component you may want to add to your domain is a subdomain. This component sits to the left of your SLD, and is connected by a full stop. The main reason people decide to acquire a subdomain is to create separate sections of their site. For example, we have a ‘help’ subdomain: help.fasthosts.co.uk, and this is technically a separate site but it’s still connected to our main domain. And as subdomains are an extension of a site, they’ll also rank on search engines separately.
Learn more: A guide to subdomains
What is a generic TLD?
Generic TLDs are the most common category of TLD in use today, managed and maintained by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. These include titans such as .com, .org, .net, .co, and more. They’re called generic because they don’t give much information away about the website they’re attached to. Although they’re called generic, don’t mistake that to mean boring - gTLDs such as .com remain some of the most respected and sought after TLDs to this day.
The original six gTLDs
The first set of gTLDs was defined by RFC 920 and released in October 1984 to serve as “general purpose domains”. Despite their age, the original six gTLDs remain some of the most popular for new domains released today.
- .com: Derived from the word commercial, originally intended for commercial organisations but now open to all.
- .edu: Derived from the word education, intended for institutions such as universities.
- .gov: Derived from the word government, intended for use by U.S. government offices and agencies.
- .mil: Derived from the word military, intended for use by the U.S. Department of Defense and any affiliated organisations.
- .net: Derived from the word network, intended for use by organisations such as internet service providers, but now open to all.
- .org: Derived from the word organisation, intended as a catch-all for websites that didn’t fit into the other categories. Now open to all, but commonly used by non-profit organisations.
Domain names ending with gTLDs are often chosen by businesses due to their history and prestige.
What is DNS?
DNS, or the Domain Name System, was developed in 1983 to help simplify the process of organising all the domain names across the web. According to a July 2022 survey by Netcraft, there are 1,139,467,659 sites across 271,728,559 unique domains – that’s a lot of websites! So you can see why we need a way to keep them all organised.
The DNS is a bit like the phone book of the internet. Whilst you may see a nice human-friendly URL like examplewebsite dot com, its true identity in the DNS is a numerical code known as an IP address. The DNS helps translate these IP addresses into more pleasant domain names, and keeps them accurately logged.
What is the difference between a generic TLD and a country-code TLD?
As you might be able to guess, country-code top-level domains (or ccTLDs) throw some geography into the mix. This category of top-level domain can refer to a country, an autonomous territory, or sovereign state. A gTLD on the other hand is not geographically specific, but they do include some of the most popular domain extensions to date – such as .com.
ccTLD or gTLD? Which is best for me?
When picking a top-level domain it’s important to explore your options. As gTLDs and ccTLDs are two fan favourite extensions, let’s run through which would be best for you.
The main advantage of ccTLDs is targeting users in a specific area, and this is great for businesses based in a certain country or area. Using a ccTLD will give you a small boost when trying to rank organically in its respective country. However, it’s important to note that some ccTLDs such as .co.uk or .de have restrictions on who may register them for their website.
You really can’t go wrong with a gTLD, and they’re a popular choice for a reason. A gTLD will add credibility to your domain, and most users will probably expect your site to be associated with one. For this reason, we recommend registering a generic top-level domain alongside any other TLDs, such as a ccTLD.
Interested in finding out what else a ccTLD has to offer? Why not take a look at our post ‘A guide to country-code top-level domains’ for more information.
How to register a domain with a gTLD
The best way to register a new domain name with a gTLD is to go through an accredited registrar like us. We offer all of the main generic TLDs as well as plenty of exciting new options, all you need to do is search for your domain name, and our handy tool will tell you what’s available.