What Is a Top-Level Domain?

If you have a website, you already use a top-level domain. It’s an important element that makes your website accessible and visible, and it’s one of the most immediate reflections of your online brand.

What is a Top-Level Domain?

A top-level domain (or TLD) is the last section of a root domain. For us at Semrush, that’s the .com that comes after our name.

Every website has an extension like this, and it can vary from something simple like .com or .net to something more customized like .dog or .nyc.

The kind of TLD you have can offer users an idea of the services your website provides, where you are based, and the sector in which you work.

Do TLDs Have an Impact on SEO?

This is probably the most frequently asked question by SEO professionals that (for once) doesn’t have a lengthy answer!

No, TLDs do not have a significant impact on your rankings.

Google confirmed in 2015 that using a custom TLD with keywords would “not give any advantage or disadvantage in search.”

It’s a matter of trust. To users, some top-level domains seem more legitimate than others.

Studies have shown that .com and .net, for example, are among the most trustworthy TLDs to use for your website.

top level domain

This means you could get more clicks with a generic top-level domain name like .com than you could with a less common one.

So, even if TLDs don’t directly impact your rankings, they can impact people’s perceptions of your website and lead to a higher or lower click-through rate.

Types of Top-Level Domains

We mentioned there are different TLDs types. These will be important to know when you’re selecting the right TLD for your website.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (or, the IANA) groups TLDs into into three official categories: gTLDs, sTLDs and ccTLDs. You can find a list of all active top-level domains in the IANA Root Zone Database.

Let’s have a closer look at these TLD types:

Generic Top-Level Domain (gLTD)

These are probably the TLDs you’re used to seeing. Generic top-level domains are also what users expect to see. Some popular gTLDs are:

  • .com
  • .net
  • .org

While these might be known as “generic,” they can still tell you a lot about what kind of site you’re visiting. “.com” is a stand-in for “commercial, “net” stands for “network,” and org is short for “organization.”

Some companies have made their gTLDs even more specific. In 2011, companies and organizations were allowed to register their own gTLDs for the first time, which is why you can now visit sites under:

  • .google
  • .amazon
  • .apple

We’ll cover country-based top-level domains further in the ccTLD section, but we’ll note here that geographic gTLDs (or GeoTLDs) do exist. These gTLDs are associated with a particular geographical area. They aren’t geotagged automatically like ccTLDs are. GeoTLDs include extensions like:

  • .berlin
  • .amsterdam
  • .paris

Geographical gTLDs are handy because they indicate the city you’re based in or the area you serve. They can also make you more appealing to a local readership.

Sponsored Top-Level Domain (sTLD)

Sponsored top-level domains are TLDs that have been specifically sponsored by groups like businesses and governments. Some examples include:

  • .gov
  • .museum
  • .edu

There are far fewer sTLDs out there than gTLDs. The IANA database currently lists over 1200 TLDs as “generic” and only 14 as “sponsored.” This is partly because there are some fairly strict criteria you must meet to use an sTLD.

Much like generic top-level domains, sponsored top-level domains will often give you an indication of the industry in which the site operates. For example, “.edu” is short for “education,” while “mil” is short for “military.”

Generally speaking, websites with sTLDs can help users find official information quickly and are considered trustworthy for this reason.

Because of this, not every website can earn a sTLD. You have to apply for a sponsored top-level domain and ensure you meet the criteria before you can use one for your site.

Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD)

Our last category is country code top level domains. These are two-character top level domains that are specific to countries. Examples include:

  • .ca (Canada)
  • .br (Brazil)
  • .de (Germany)
  • .fr (France)
  • .ie (Ireland)
  • .in (India)
  • .uk (United Kingdom)
  • .us (United States)

We counted over 300 ccTLDs currently in operation, which puts them neatly between gTLDs and sTLDs in the frequency of their usage.

A big benefit of using a country code top-level domain is that it enables customers to see the country you’re based in and serve. It can help Google geotarget your site.

However, country code top-level domains only target countries, not languages (and even then, languages are only targeted one at a time.)

This can get complicated quickly. For example, if a company based in the United States has a .us TLD but wants to serve a Spanish speaking audience in addition to their English speaking one, they’ll need to do some additional work to create and optimize content in multiple languages.

Selecting the Best TLD for Your Site

Top-level domains indicate your site’s purpose and can help attract your target audience. If you want to target users by country, you may need a country code top level domain. If your audience is global, then a generic top-level domain might be the way to go.

You can measure whether your site’s TLD works for your business with a site audit. Site audits help you understand the technical SEO errors that are causing you to lose out on organic traffic.

You can also identify what might be causing you to drop in Google’s rankings, including (if applicable) your site’s TLD.

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