When you’re actively searching the web, you probably don’t think twice about domain names. 

It’s just the name you type into your web browser, or the link you click on from the search results.  

But, when you start to investigate domain names for your new website, you’ll see that there’s a lot that’s going on behind the scenes. Plus, there are a lot of technical terms and questions you’re going to have to sort between.

What’s a second level domain? A top-level domain name? How do I use domain name registrations? A domain extension? A subdomain? The questions go on and on. 

Luckily, these terms aren’t as complicated as you might initially think.

Below we dive deep into the question what is a second level domain? By the end of this post, you’ll understand exactly what a second level domain is, why it’s important, how it relates to other parts of a domain name, and finally, some tips on choosing the perfect domain.

What Is a Domain Name?

First, we’ll start with a term you’re probably familiar with—a domain name. A domain name is what you type into your internet browser to access a website. Think of it as the address to your home.

For people to get to your house, you’ll need to give them your home’s unique address. The same goes for your website. For people to access your site, they’re going to need the domain that’s associated with your website.

On a technical level, your domain name stands in place of an IP address. Before the domain name system was created, you’d have to type in a complex series of numbers to access a website. 

Today, the IP address is still technically there. However, instead of having to remember that string of numbers, you only have to remember the domain name. So, instead of typing in something like 32.55.76.77 you just type in ‘hostgator.com’, and voila, you’re transported to the site. 

What Is a URL?

You’ve probably heard the term URL before. It’s often used synonymously with terms like domain and domain name. But, it’s not actually the exact same thing. 

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator, and it refers to the entire string of letters and numbers within a web address. So, it can be simple like “https://www.hostgator.com/domains,” or it can be more complex like “https://www.hostgator.com/blog/how-to-create-a-website/” 

The URL spells out the entire location of a page, post, or media file located on your server. 

As you’ll soon learn, the second level domain is a small part of the overall URL. 

What Is a Second Level Domain?

There are multiple parts to a domain name (we break this down in more detail below).

But, now let’s focus on arguably the most essential part of a domain name—the second level domain.

When you’re browsing for a domain name here at HostGator (or any other domain registrar), you’ll actually be searching for a second level domain.

register domain name at hostgator

This is the most memorable part of your domain name and is the aspect you’ll be building your brand around. In ‘hostgator.com’, ‘hostgator’ is the second level domain.

The second level domain is the part of your domain that people will remember the most. It will become the hub that you build the rest of your online brand around. 

Understanding All the Parts of a Domain Name

As you’ve hopefully gleaned so far, there are a few moving pieces you’ll have to sort out before you do a domain registration.. The most crucial part is your second level domain, but you also need a top-level domain

In some cases, you also might want to add a subdomain to your primary domain, so we’ll highlight this relationship as well. 

1. The Second Level Domain

The second level domain is the ‘hostgator’ in ‘hostgator.com.’ It’s arguably the most critical part of website names, but it won’t work on its own.

For example, if you just type in ‘hostgator’ into your web browser, this will be treated as a search keyword, instead of a domain name. Only with the addition of a top-level domain name does it become an actual domain name. 

2. Top-Level Domain Names

The top-level domain (TLD) is the part of the domain to the right of the second level domain. With ‘hostgator.com’ the top-level domain would be ‘.com.’

You might be a little confused about why the part is called the TLD. But, it makes sense when you think about how web browsers read the domain name. When we read English, we read from left to right, so we assume that browsers do the same. 

But, when reading a domain name, the web browser reads it from right from left, so the top-level domain is the first thing it reads. 

Now, choosing a top-level domain is also very important, you’ll have dozens of different top-level domains to choose from. Some of these are country-specific, like .co.uk or .co.au. While others are geared towards specific organizations, like .org and .edu, and some are just plain fun, like .bike or .beer.

When you search for a domain name here at HostGator, you’ll be able to choose from a variety of different domain name extensions:

examples of domain name extensions

Even if the extension you desire isn’t available, you might be able to find one that’s a better fit!

3. The Subdomain

A subdomain is an aspect of your domain name that’s related to your second level domain. For example, if you wanted to create a subdomain for your company blog, it would look like this “blog.mysite.com.”

Subdomains are created for a variety of purposes, but here are some of the most common:

  • Website redesign. You build your new website on a subdomain, so you can test it in real time. 
  • Site organization. You create a separate section of your site that requires unique organization, like a support section or knowledgebase. 
  • Blog or online store. You create a separate blog or online store that related to your main domain, but it requires a unique setup or CMS.

Note that in order to use a subdomain, you’ll first need a primary domain name. 

The Importance of Choosing the Right Second Level Domain

Your second level domain will be the face of your online brand. Think about companies like Amazon, Google, Zillow, and Zappos. All of these brands are synonymous with their second level domains: amazon.com, google.com, zillow.com, and zappos.com.

You want yours to be the same. 

Here are the most significant reasons you should spend some time finding the perfect second level domain name:

1. It’s Your Visitor’s First Impression

The moment a visitor lands on your site they’re making little micro-judgments about the trustworthiness of your website. Your domain plays a considerable role in this. If you have a spammy-sounding domain name or a domain that doesn’t relate to the rest of your site, then chances are high your visitors won’t stick around. Something will feel off. 

Make sure that your domain name, especially your second level domain, communicates positive qualities about your site.  

2. It’s Your Online Brand

The name of your site is often synonymous with your URL. Think about brands like Google and Amazon above. With Google, the second level domain has even become a verb over time – just Google it.

The right domain can make it easier for your brand to spread. Choose a second level domain that’s confusing and hard to remember, and it’ll be much more difficult for your brand awareness to grow around the web. 

3. It Can Help With SEO

In some cases, your domain name can even help your SEO. This doesn’t mean you should go crazy and find an exact match domain, as this is no longer necessary. But, you can include a keyword or two that will help visitors understand what your site is about while improving your chances of ranking. 

For example, SafeHome.org is a site that offers guidance and reviews on keeping your home and family safe, while OutdoorGearLab.com is site that reviews products for getting the most out of your outdoor experience. 

The domains above all include keywords which help suggest to readers what the site is about while creating a brandable domain. 

Tips for Choosing the Perfect Second Level Domain

Now that you know what a second level domain is and the role it plays in your URL and overall domain name, let’s dive into some tips for how you can choose the perfect domain.

1. The Shorter, the Better

As a general rule, the shorter your domain name, the better. Now, almost all concise dictionary words will already be taken, but you can be creative by combining multiple words, or removing certain letters from a word, while still having it convey the same meaning. This is a very popular tactic for a lot of internet startups.

If you can’t find something short, then at least make it straightforward and easy to remember. 

2. Easy to Remember and Spell

If you have a hard to remember domain name, or you choose a word that’s commonly misspelled you’re going to have a hard time building a memorable site. Imagine someone thinking they’re going to your website, but they end up on another entirely different website, simply because they spelled it wrong! 

Think of websites like Facebook, IGN, CNN, and Twitter. All of these are words and abbreviations that stick in your mind. 

As a good rule of thumb, if you frequently have to spell out your domain name to other people, then it’s too complicated. 

3. Avoid Complex Characters

In alignment with the above rule, your domain should only use letters. By using numbers and other special characters like hyphens, you’re making your domain that much harder to remember.

Plus, it will be challenging to build an actual memorable brand if your domain is something like “best-dog-toys-2-day.com.”

This goes back to having to explain your domain name to someone. If they can’t intuitively guess how they’re going to type the domain into their browser, then you really need to simplify it.

4. Choose a Long-Term Domain

When you’re about to register a domain name, ask yourself, “Will you still be excited about using that domain years from now?” Think of your domain name choice as a long-term relationship.

Changing your domain can be a real hassle. It’s something you’ll want to avoid doing if possible.

You’ll also want to think down the road about the future of your site. 

For example, if you’re thinking about starting a website dedicated to mountain biking, you could choose a domain like “bikingescape.com.” But, if you feel that down the road you’ll want to expand into other niches, like kayaking, backpacking, and other outdoor activity areas, then a domain like “outdoorescape.com” would make much more sense.

Think about where you want your site to be in a few years and choose your second level domain accordingly. 

5. Search for Trademarks and Social Media Accounts 

The final tip has less to do with your domain and more about your overall brand. 

Before you pull the trigger on a domain name check to see if you can also register any social media handles, along with any existing trademarks. 

To avoid the legal headache, you can use a tool like Knowem, which will search through dozens of popular social media networks to see if your domain is available as a handle. Plus, it will search through any existing trademarks as well.

You could do this all on your own, but the tool above will save you hours of time. 

In Closing

There’s a lot that goes into a domain name. It’s a small but vital aspect of your overall website. Although the domain contains multiple different elements, the second level domain is the part you should spend the most time thinking about.

With the wrong second level domain, you can struggle to gain traction online and make it that much more difficult for your website to succeed.

But, with the right second level domain, you’ll improve your chances of establishing a popular brand that virtually spreads on its own.

Hopefully, by now, you have a better understanding of how second level domains work, and the role they play in a professional website.

Domain names can be hard to choose; if you still haven’t picked up a second level domain yet, then you can do that right here at HostGator. Our team of professionals will help you get started with your domain name registration and your web hosting package. Not only will you be able to find your dream domain name, but also the perfect top-level domain that’ll align with your brand. Ready to have search engines find your website? Register a domain today with HostGator! 

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