We type them into our web browsers constantly, but we rarely stop to think about how domain names work. As well as containing abbreviations for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and the World Wide Web, addresses include a domain (UK2, for instance) and a top level domain (net, .com, etc). Also known as TLDs, these top level domains are either generic or country code-specific, identifying the nation where that website is based or hosted.
Here are ten things you probably didn’t know about domain names, concluding with something every UK website owner needs to be aware of…
#1. They’re shorthand for a website’s real address.
Domain names are English-language shorthand for internet protocol (IP) addresses. Our site’s official location is at 188.8.131.52, but UK2.net is far easier to remember and type into your browser. DNS management software handles these translations on behalf of web browsers.
#2. Until 1998, the domain market was completely unregulated.
It’s twenty years since the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers started regulating a lawless market, where bulk-buying was causing chronic shortages of available domains. Since 1998, ICANN has released over a thousand new generic TLDs. And yet…
#3. Some gTLDs have been blocked or blacklisted.
Although domain availability has improved immeasurably, some gTLDs have been banned. Amazon’s bid to register .amazon was halted when South American countries complained, while ICANN’s refusal to promote violence means there’s no .bomb, .gun or .war TLDs.
#4. The vast majority of new gTLDs sink without trace.
In 2014, ICANN released hundreds of new gTLDs into the marketplace. The vast majority haven’t been seen or heard of since, despite being very cheap to acquire. The public is wary of visiting unfamiliar gTLD addresses, creating a vicious circle that’s difficult to break.
#5. It’s possible to buy a domain name someone else has registered.
Before regulation in 1998, speculators mass-purchased domains and immediately advertised them for sale to make a profit. This still happens today. Some domain names are parked and listed for sale, while others expire after a period of five or ten years. They can then be re-sold.
#6. Exact match domains perform extremely well in search results.
In 2012, Google introduced a filter to prevent poor-quality sites performing well when their domain name exactly matched a search string. Nonetheless, half-decent sites still rank highly in this scenario, so try to choose a domain that describes what you offer – or where you are.
#7. Companies often apply to register their own gTLD.
Blue-chip brands like Volkswagen and KPMG have already registered their names as TLDs. This looks very impressive in search results, building brand presence. However, an estimated three quarters of company-specific TLDs haven’t been used to launch a single website.
#8. Search engines are biased towards their home country’s ccTLD.
People prefer ccTLDs over gTLDs for their superior performance in domestic search engines. A .uk gTLD will always rank more highly in Britain than a .fr or .de site. As a result, spelling out a word or phrase out using a gTLD is inadvisable – most of the time, at least…
#9. One ccTLD has been converted into a gTLD.
There’s always an exception to the rule. The British Indian Ocean Territory’s .io gTLD was barely used until IT companies pounced on the chance to register a domain representing the input/output abbreviation. ICANN eventually reclassified .io as a gTLD.
#10. The co.uk ccTLD is going to be gradually phased out.
India recently transitioned from using co.in to the simpler .in, matching global gTLD habits. The UK is undergoing a similar process, and firms with a co.uk address have until next year to buy the related .uk domain. After that, anyone can take the .uk version of your domain…