You’re about to launch your website, all that’s left to do is select your domain. “It’s not that important, it's only a URL”, you might be thinking.
Well, as it happens, your domain (and resulting URL) is a much bigger deal than you may have anticipated. There’s a whole lot of reasons why you should take this seriously and make sure you have the strongest domain possible.
What’s a domain name?
The long and short of it is that a domain name is an identifying address that’s used to access your website – just like how you use a home address to find a house, your domain is the digital address for your site.
Domains are made up of different parts, like the subdomain, the domain name itself and the extension (e.g. .com, .uk etc.). You can dive deeper into domains with our post on What is a Domain Name.
So, how do domains work?
Domains work by giving your website its own unique online address, which you need in order for your site to be found online. In the same way that you’d type a street address into a sat nav, users type your domain name into a browser's search bar to get to your site.
And just like your home address, no two can be the same because every existing domain has a unique set of data tied to it – once a domain is taken, it’s no longer available. This data includes the address of a computer or device, the name and address of the DNS server, and the service on the domain, whether that’s www, email, or FTP.
Types of domains
The different types of domain name all come down to the extensions you choose. Each one is used for different purposes – some are reserved for a certain type of site, some can only be used in a specific country and some have their own connotations to keep in mind. It all really depends on what your business does, where you’re based and which extension is best for your brand - for example, a charity that helps the LGBT community could even choose a .lgbt domain name.
You might not have heard of TLDs, but you have certainly seen them – ‘.com,’ ‘.net.’, ‘.org’ are all top level domains. You can easily identify a top-level domain's position in the URL, as it comes straight after the primary domain name.
The likes of ‘.com’ and ’.co.uk’ once dominated the web but TLDs have become increasingly diverse in recent years. Today there's a wide range of alternative extensions for you to choose from if you can’t secure your ideal domain name.
There are several types of top-level domains...
Generic top-level domains (gTLD)
Generic top-level domains will be the ones that you're most used to seeing like:
They're classed as international extensions that can be used and recognised across the globe. gTLDs offer huge creative possibilities and with more being introduced regularly, your options are always increasing. Popular new gTLDs include:
And that's just a snippet of what's available. If you're a blogger you could choose .blog, if you're a developer you could go for a .dev domain and if you're a coffee shop you could opt for .coffee or even .cafe!
Country code top-level domains (ccTLD)
As you can probably guess, a country code top-level domain is where a country of origin is referenced in the URL. For example, a British business might choose to use ‘.uk’, whereas a French business could choose ‘.fr’.
There are positives and negatives to country-specific domains. They'll likely resonate more with those within the country you’re referencing, but simultaneously it can also potentially alienate those outside of the country. If you're going to choose a ccTLD, it wouldn't be a bad idea to also register a domain with a gTLD that'll appeal to international audiences as well.
Sponsored top-level domains (sTLD)
Sponsored top-level domains are a very small collection of domains that are sponsored by groups like governments or organisations. You'll probably recognise ones like:
They're each sponsored by a specific community or group and usually come with a lot of criteria boxes to tick if you want one. For example, if you apply to register a .travel domain, the Tralliance Registry Management Company (the domain's sponsor) will make sure that your company is a legitimate service provider within the travel industry.
So far we’ve covered types of domain extensions but in your search for a domain you may have come across the term ‘subdomain’. While not technically a type of domain on its own, it’s a very important part of your URL that can help you create different versions of your domain.
It comes before the domain name (before the first dot), the most common one used being ‘www’. But you can get creative and use subdomains to signify different sections of your site, like a blog, or help section.
A good example that a lot of big companies like Netflix use is ‘help’:
In this example, help is the subdomain and .com is the TLD.
Let’s say you’re about to launch your business, and all that remains to be done is set up your site. You’ve thought of a short, snappy and memorable domain and you’re ready to register it. But you find you're out of luck and your ideal domain name has already been snapped up by someone else. You’ve just encountered a premium domain.
Premium domain names are domains that are highly sought after for being easy to remember therefore minimising the risk that potential customers won’t be able to find you.
But don’t despair, because that doesn’t necessarily mean that your perfect domain is gone forever. Premium domains can be bought and sold like anything else, so, depending on whoever has already bought it, that domain could still be attainable.
Will there be new types of domain names?
The internet is an ever-evolving world, so there’s a good chance that there may eventually be new types of domains. But as we know them now, there won’t be new ones so to speak.
The good news is that there are plenty of new top-level domain extensions being launched regularly to widen the range of options for a huge variety of businesses around the world.
You could grab a domain like .design, .biz, .expert or even .gifts. Ones to look forward to from ICANN include .organic, .music and .web!
ICANN, or International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is a non-profit organisation that is responsible for governing things across the internet like domain names. They supervise registrars, help keep users safe on the web, maintain domain databases, are responsible for the introduction of new TLDs and more.
Which domain should I use?
It can be hard to know which route to go down when it comes to domains. What may at first seem like a small and insignificant choice can quickly become a headache. Your choice of domain will have different advantages for your business, so it's important to understand the differences between the different types before you go rushing in to grab yours.
The bottom line is, stick to your brand, be memorable and keep in mind any restrictions that might come with the domain extension you want.
Did you know that you can get a 1-year domain free with some of our products? Why not check out our Web Hosting, Website Builder or even our WordPress Hosting products and manage your site and domain all from one place?