When the internet first became accessible to the public back in 1991, the world was your oyster when it came to picking a domain name.
Today, nearly 30 years later, there are over 2 billion websites, making it more difficult every day to find a .com domain name that hasn’t already been taken, or that isn’t absurd.
You may have even heard horror stories of new business owners fleshing out their branding and investing in a logo, only to find out later their domain name is already registered to another website owner.
While the abundance of domain names may seem like a hindrance to your business at first, there’s good news.
The internet is always evolving to accommodate users, and one of the smartest innovations are nTLDs (top-level domains).
To help you pick out the perfect new domain name in a saturated market, this article will cover:
- What TLDs are
- How to register a domain name
- How TLDs affect search engine optimization (SEO)
- Important tips when selecting a TLD
Let’s do this!
What are TLDs?
To understand what a TLD is, it helps to break down the primary anatomy of a URL. Here’s an overview, using https://www.hostgator.com as an example:
- https:// – The first part of the URL is the transfer protocol. When visiting websites, make sure you see the “s” in the URL. This indicates site security.
- www. – This is the prefix. Sometimes you may see something like “video” or “blog” and it’s the part of the domain that comes before the main domain.
- hostgator – This is the main domain and must be unique from all other main domains that have the same top-level domain.
- .com – This is the top-level domain. The most common top-level domain is .com, followed by things like .gov, .edu, .co, and .net.
While .com is the most common top-level domain, it’s not the only option out there. If your main domain with the .com top-level domain variation isn’t available, don’t fret. You can always use your main domain name and opt for a different new top-level domain.
Other great top-level domains include:
These are all new top-level domains (nTLDs).
If you were the person who fleshed out all of your company branding and paid for a logo before buying your domain name, you wouldn’t have to worry about it being taken if you knew about the option to choose a top-level domain. You could keep your same company name and branding, and use a more descriptive nTLD instead. Problem solved.
It’s also nice to know that there are currently over 1,200 registered nTLDs, providing a plethora of new domain name options.
Some larger and well-known organizations use their company name as the top-level domain (e.g., .netflix or .google). People will often use their geographical location as their top-level domain (e.g. .ru for Russia or .ca for Canada). Other people will use a descriptor for their top-level domain (e.g. .biz or .inc).
It’s best to choose a top-level domain that helps users better understand your website.
How to register a domain name and choose a TLD
The first step you should take when building a new business with a website is to register your domain name and select the appropriate TLD.
The good news is it’s super easy to find out which domain names are available and which are not. Here’s how to register a domain name:
- Navigate to the HostGator domains page
- Enter your desired domain name in the search box.
- If the .com version of your domain name isn’t available, or if you’re interested in a nTLD, click on” Explore our available TLDs.”
- This link will auto-scroll the page to show you available TLDs.
- Pick the appropriate TLD, enter your full domain and TLD into the search box. Then, click “Search.”
- The next page will show you whether or not your respective domain is available.
From here, you can purchase your domain name or search for another one if that domain name is already taken.
Important: If you plan to purchase web hosting through HostGator, don’t purchase your domain name on this page. Instead, register for a web hosting package first, because HostGator offers a free year of domain name rental with all web hosting packages!
How do TLDs affect SEO?
As a quick review, SEO (search engine optimization) is a marketing strategy that includes employing certain tactics on your website that will help Google understand what your website is all about so Google can rank it appropriately in the search results.
Google has ever-evolving site ranking factors that its algorithm uses to determine how to rank your site in the search results for specific keywords. Site ranking factors include things related to your domain, page content, site structure, backlinks, user interaction, and more.
Some of the top ranking factors related to your domain specifically name include:
- Keyword in your domain name (although this is becoming less relevant)
- Domain age
- Domain registration length
- Exact match domain
- And more!
While there are several factors that contribute to how Google will rank your content, your TLD isn’t one of them, according to Google engineer Matt Cutts. Cutts says that Google doesn’t favor more popular TLDs (e.g. .com or .org) over other TLDs (e.g. .inc or .space).
Since what you pick as your TLD isn’t a ranking factor, it means you can choose any TLD you want and it won’t be either advantageous or disadvantageous to your site’s ranking. In other words, if you’re set on a domain name and the .com version isn’t available, you don’t have to feel anxiety about selecting the same main domain name with a different TLD.
The one exception that may make a difference in your TLD, however, is if you pick a country-specific TLD. For example, if you choose .ru as your TLD, then Google may geographically link your website to Russia and return your site to searchers located there. If you’re not located in a specific country, then don’t pick that country’s TLD.
Tips for picking a top-level domain
While what you pick for your nTLD doesn’t play a role in how Google ranks your website, it’s still smart to use TLD best practices. Here are some ideas to help you select an appropriate TLD.
1. Pick a TLD related to your industry
While it may be awesome to pick .pizza as your TLD, it doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you sell pizza. Since you have so many different options when it comes to choosing a TLD, pick one that relates to your industry. For example, if you are a freelancer and your website is all about you, consider the .me TLD. Similarly, if you are a tech startup, consider .tech as your TLD.
2. Opt for a TLD over a different main domain
If you signed up for a Gmail address back in the day, you probably secured your first and last name followed by @gmail.com. If you try and sign up for a new account now, chances are, you have to get creative, and you end up a bit disappointed in your wonky Gmail address.
While you may be able to get away with a creative email address, you shouldn’t take any risks when it comes to your domain name.
There are a few reasons for this. First, your main domain name does play a role in SEO and how people will search for you on the internet.
For example, if potential clients want to find content I’ve written, they’ll type in “Ashley R. Cummings writer” into Google, and not my nickname (won’t disclose that here) + writer, or even my funky email address.
If ashleyrcummings.com was already taken, it would make more sense for me to buy ashleyrcummings.co or ashleyrcummings.me over the .com version of something else.
The same thing goes for a company. If you want people to find your company via search, then choose your company name as your main domain and use a different TLD, instead of trying to secure the .com version with a bonkers main domain name.
3. Buy other TLDs with your domain name
If you’re starting a new business, especially if you plan to scale that business quickly, it’s smart to buy the related TLDs with your main domain.
For example, if your company name is “Dr. Pepper,” and your website is drpepper.co, it helps to also buy drpepper.space, drpepper.me, drpepper.info, and more.
When you own all the related top-level domains, you can point them all to your main domain in your hosting account. That way, you won’t have to worry about companies with names similar to yours taking up your valuable Google real estate, or searchers accidentally landing on a site that isn’t yours.
4. Choose a country TLD
If you are located in another country, then it’s smart to pick a country TLD. For example, searchers in Canada are already used to typing in a company name followed by a .ca.
While you certainly can (and should) purchase the .com version of your company name if it’s not taken, it’s also smart to buy the respective country TLD of where you’re located as well.
Get hosting and a free domain name with HostGator today!
nTLDs are one of the most ingenious internet innovations. While you may be initially discouraged if the .com version of your main domain isn’t immediately available, there is no need to stress. It’s perfectly acceptable to stick with your main domain and pick a snazzy top-level domain alternative.
If you’re ready to get your website up and running, the best place to start is with an affordable hosting plan from HostGator. When you sign up with a web hosting package, HostGator throws in a domain name for free. Get started today!
Ashley R. Cummings is a professional freelance writer specializing in SaaS, tech, and advertising/marketing. In a previous life, she was a Russian teacher at Brigham Young University, a corporate trainer, and a grad student—all at the same time. When she’s not writing, you can find her traveling the world with her 2 kids and husband, reading poetry or taking a deep dive into the fabulous world of comedy. Connect with her on Twitter at @ashleyrcummings.