different types of domain names

Choosing a domain name is vital for anyone who’s building a new website. 

Your domain name will be the face of your brand, and if you want to increase the chances of your website succeeding, then you’ll take the time to find a brandable and memorable domain name.

But, there’s a lot more that goes into a domain name than you might think. In fact, there are five different types of domain names you’ll have to choose between. Now, not every style of domain name will be right for your website, which actually makes things easier.

Before you can register a domain, you have to have a strong knowledge base on domains as a whole. Below we take a deep dive into what a domain name is, how they work, and highlight the five different types of domains so that you can choose the right domain for your next business or online project.

register domain name

What Is a Domain?

Every home has an address. Your domain name is the equivalent of this physical address, but for the web. Your home’s address allows people, or your GPS, to find and navigate to your home, while your domain tells web browsers where to go to display your website.

Domain names are often synonymous with the name of your website and will be the face of your website.

Think of domains like Amazon.com, Google.com, Facebook.com, even HostGator.com.

As you’ll soon learn, there are many different types of domains available that you’ll find when you go to register a domain, beyond the standard ‘.com.’

How Domain Names Work

Essentially, domain names are a shortcut to remembering complicated IP addresses. Without a domain name, you’d have to enter a full IP address into the browser address bar. So, instead of being able to type in ‘hostgator.com’ you’d have to use a string of numbers like Talk about confusing. Having names that are easy to remember will help potential visitors find your website faster through a search engine. 

But, you can’t just type that string of numbers into your browser and expect that to send you to a website either, because it only points to the server where the site is stored. There need to be specific server settings in place as well. For the majority of people using the internet, this is too complex and time-consuming. 

Luckily, domain names act as the middleman and make this process incredibly simple. 

ICANN Oversees the Domain Name System

Domain names are managed by an organization known as ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). This organization will specify what domain names and domain name extensions are available. They also maintain a massive database of every location that domain names point to. 

The domain name system (DNS) essentially maps your domain name to a specific server where your website is located. If you’ve ever migrated hosts, then you’ve probably had to play around with your domain DNS records before. 

Overall, the DNS system makes for a more usable and user-friendly web. 

How Domains and Web Hosts Work Together

To visit a website, two things need to be in place: a domain name, and a web server

The web server is where you’ll store all of your website’s files, databases, media elements, and more. This space is what you’re renting from a hosting company when you purchase web hosting

By choosing a high-quality web host, you’ll improve your website’s performance, search engine rankings, and a lot more. Your choice of web host will either enhance your chances of success, or be nothing more than a detriment. 

Your domain name is what people will type into a web browser to access your site. The moment someone types your domain name into their web browser, the web browser communicates with the server used to store your website’s files and displays them. 

5 Different Types of Domains Available

Now that you have a better understanding of what domain names are and how they work, let’s dive into the types of domain names that are available for you to register. 

When most people think of a website, they usually think of the standard ‘.com.’ Even though this is the most common extension, there are multiple different types of extensions available. 

In fact, there are five different types of domains available to you. Some won’t be available to you unless you’re running a particular kind of website, but we cover this in detail below.

1. Top-Level Domains

Top-level domains are at the top of the internet hierarchy of domain names. You’ll see these commonly referred to as TLDs. There are over thousands of different TLDs available. In recent years ICANN opened up new TLD registration and approval, so companies and individuals could pitch and register unique TLDs. This sent the number of TLDs available soaring.

Here’s a full list of the top-level TLDs currently available to register, and here’s just a few of the ones we offer for registration here at HostGator:

examples of top level domains

Keep in mind that when you’re choosing a top-level domain for your domain, you’ll want to choose one that’s in alignment with, or enhances, your brand and overall domain. Just because a particular TLD is available, it doesn’t mean you should register it. A lot of TLDs are more like vanity extensions vs. something you should use for the foundation of your site. 

2. Country Code Top Level Domains

Next, on the list, we have country code top-level domains (ccTLD). As the name suggests, these are technically tied to different countries. Each country has its own ccTLD, but you don’t have to use one, just because you live in a specific country. 

For example, the ccTLD .co is technically for websites based out of Colombia, but it’s commonly used by internet startups, like AND.CO.

These domain extensions can be useful if you’re building a website in a specific country and want to signal to your visitors that they’ve come to the right place. For example, websites based out of the US can use the ‘.us’ extension, while companies from Japan can use the ‘.jp’ extension. 

3. Generic Top-Level Domains

Next, we’ve got generic top-level domains (gTLDs). This is more of a definition than an actual type of domain. As the description suggests, it’s just a different variation of a TLD. So, you could technically classify this type of domain as a TLD as well.

The generic aspect of this domain extension refers to the types of use-cases that these domains are intended for. 

Let’s look at an example. Military organizations can use the ‘.mil’ extension, while educational institutions can use the ‘.edu,’ and ‘.org’ is intended for use by non-profit organizations.

A lot of gTLDs can be registered even if you don’t satisfy the requirements, but for some like ‘.mil’ and ‘.edu’ you must fit the requirements.

Here’s a full list of the current gTLDs that are available to register

4. Second-Level Domains

Second-level domains are below the TLDs highlighted above in terms of hierarchy. This doesn’t mean they’re any less authoritative, or valuable. Rather, this describes the second piece of the domain name, such as the ‘hostgator’ in ‘www.hostgator.com.’

There are also country code second-level domains, which might look like the following:

  • .co.uk – Companies in the United Kingdom commonly use this.
  • .gov.uk – This is used by government agencies throughout the United Kingdom.
  • .gov.au – Government agencies across Australia use this. 

5. Third Level Domains

Third level domains are below second-level domains in the domain name hierarchy. They aren’t a full domain name in and of themselves, but merely a portion of a domain name.

For example, in the domain name “www.hostgator.com,” ‘www’ would be the third level domain. Or, if you’re using a subdomain to build an additional section of your site, this would be a third-level domain as well.

To have a fully functional domain name you don’t need to have a third-level domain name. For example, ‘hostgator.com’ would function just perfectly. Even the ‘www’ that used to be a requirement of domain names is no longer necessary.

The only real reason you’ll be using a third-level domain is when you’re adding a subdomain to your existing domain. Subdomains can be used for a variety of purposes, but here are some of the most common:

  • Adding a blog. You can host your blog on a subdomain like ‘blog.mysite.com,’ to create a separate content hub.
  • Creating a resource section. If you have a resource, tutorial, or support section, you can host this on a subdomain like ‘support.mysite.com.’
  • Hosting an app. If you have a web-based app, you can use a subdomain like ‘app.mysite.com.’
  • Creating an online store. Online stores require different software, programs, and security protocols. Instead of applying this to your entire site, you can use a subdomain like ‘store.mysite.com’ to run your storefront. 

How to Choose the Right Type of Domain Name

Now that you’re well versed in the different types of domain names available, we’re going to dive into how you can choose the best domain name for your needs.

This section isn’t about choosing the name part of your domain name, but instead the right type of extension for your site.

If you’re still stuck on choosing the perfect name, then check out our resources for finding the best domain name for your website or blog

Now, here’s how you can choose the right domain name extension:

1. It Should Align With Website Goals

Different domain name extensions cater to different types of websites. For example, you wouldn’t try to choose the ‘.mil’ extension if you’re creating a blog about cats. Or, if you have a website based in the US, you wouldn’t want to go with the ‘.co.uk’ extension either.

Think about what kind of website you’re building and choose an extension that aligns with your topic and overall goals. See what other sites that are in your niche are using for their domain name extensions. 

2. Go for Something Common First, Fun Second

If you’re busy exploring the entire list of TLDs available, you’re probably overwhelmed with options. Even though some might be a perfect fit for your site, it’s not always the best option to go with a unique extension.

If this is your first site, it’s usually better to go with a common domain name extension, rather than one that’s more niche.

Think about it this way, if someone can remember your domain, but not your extension, they’ll probably try common ones like, ‘.com,’ ‘.net’, ‘.org’, or even’ .co. If you have a crazy extension, they might not ever make it to your site.

You can always pick up different extensions later, or even migrate your site to a new extension once you’re established and have an existing audience. 

3. Pick Up Related Extensions

Let’s say you found the perfect domain name with the ‘.com’ extension. You can register this domain and also pick up all of the related extensions. Then, forward all of the different extensions to your primary domain. 

That way if someone guesses the wrong extension they’ll still be taken to your website. Plus, you make it impossible for any competitors to swoop in and pick up your domain under a different extension. 

The best way to find the perfect domain name is to come up with a list of potential options, and run them through a domain name checker to see if any are available. There’s nothing worse than getting excited about your dream domain, only to find out later that it’s not available. 

Types of Domains: More Than Meets the Eye

As you can see, there are a variety of different types of domains available to you, and there’s a lot more that goes into a domain name than what meets the eye.

Choosing the right kind of domain for your new website is incredibly important. Your domain is the face of your website and what you’re going to build your brand around. Choose the wrong domain, and you’ll either have to switch later or scrap your project altogether.

Ready to choose a domain? Hopefully, the data above has given you the knowledge base that will help you choose the right type of domain for your site and improve your chances of success. Register your domain with HostGator today!

Kevin Wood writes about technology and human potential. You can find him at his virtual homes Wooden Writing and Counter Culturist.