Although the term might be unfamiliar to many people, top level domains are a cornerstone of the internet. We use them every day, usually without noticing or realising. TLDs are vitally important for identifying a website’s location or purpose, but what are they, and why do they matter?
A website’s internet protocol address is a series of four numbers, ranging from 0 to 255. For instance, UK2.net’s IP address is 188.8.131.52. However, that’s rather tricky to remember. Instead, addresses can be entered in easier-to-remember words – like our own address of https://www.uk2.net. The first part describes the hypertext transfer protocol being used, with the ‘s’ suffix indicating a secure connection. The World Wide Web part is quite self-evident, while UK2 is our chosen company name.
Finally, there is the top level domain – the last part of a web address, yet often the most revealing. At UK2, we chose .net to reflect our network expertise. Alternatively, we could have selected co.uk to demonstrate our British origins, or .com or .biz to make it clear we’re a company or business. We could even have used .info, launched in 2001 to challenge .com’s market dominance.
In truth, we were spoiled for choice. There are now over 1,500 TLDs, almost all of which have been introduced by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This non-profit organisation was founded in the late 1990s, to manage domain names and regulate who buys and owns particular domains. A steady trickle of new generic TLDs is released every month, with the likes of .book and .hotel scheduled for general sale later this year.
Top Level Domains
There are several types of top level domain, including country codes such as .fr and .ie – the online equivalent of international dialling codes. The most popular, however, is the generic TLD. This is a top level domain which loosely identifies a product (.vodka, .yachts) or service (.pharmacy, .radio). It might appeal to a certain industrial subsection (.plumbing, .repair), or even an activity (.film, .hockey).
The introduction of new top level domains was deemed necessary to alleviate pressure on the modest number of non-country code TLDs released in the early 1990s. Yet licensing a TLD also involves administration, with each one overseen by a domain name registry. Any TLDs ending in .uk are governed by a company called Nominet, who manage sales of available TLDs and maintain searchable databases of .uk domains. They also have the job of arbitrating ownership dispute regarding web domains.
Benefits of Top Level Domain Choices
So why does the choice of top level domains matter? Firstly, if you’re setting up a new company, there’s a high chance that its .com address has already been registered. The official owner may be very reluctant to surrender their online presence, so selecting an alternative may be necessary. It’s almost inconceivable that every possible TLD relating to your proposed brand name will already have been claimed. Even if you choose a very common name like Astra, UK2.net can sell you domain names like www.astra.family.
A generic TLD often speaks volumes about your company. It might identify a particular industry, service or even location – .scot and .wales debuted in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Some brands are using TLDs to spell words, like online streaming platform rad.io. This reflects the fact that shorter domain names are easier to type and remember. If your business is called Spectrum, www.spectrum.computers is a simpler address than www.spectrumcomputers.co.uk.
Spy Before You Buy
A good rule for any new business contemplating website addresses is to investigate competitors. If rival companies have all adopted .com addresses, you might want to do likewise. As the generic TLD for a company, .com is seen as especially trustworthy. However, this means .com addresses are frequently taken and generally command a high price. If your rivals are using quirky TLDs like .ooo or .xyz, you’re probably safe to be equally unconventional.
Finally, the .uk domain is presently on sale exclusively to existing website owners. For instance, only UK2 could currently register uk2.uk as a domain name. By 2019, the .uk suffix will be released to the general public, and anyone can acquire any address ending in .uk (as opposed to the long-established co.uk). The potential for confusion is obvious, and we’d recommend all new customers buying a co.uk domain reserve the .uk domain as well.