When the time comes to buy a domain name for your new website or online project, you’re going to have a lot of different things to take into account.

Not only do you have to find the perfect domain name for your website or business, but you have to find the right domain name extension, too. This can be difficult, especially when you’re not sure what a domain name extension actually is?

Luckily for you, domain name extensions are an easy concept to understand. The most challenging part about domain name extensions is choosing the right one that’ll represent your website in the best light possible. 

If you have ever asked yourself, “What is a domain extension?” you have come to the right place. Below we cover the ins and outs of domain name extensions, as well as their interesting history, so that you can choose the right one for your new website. 

register domain name

What Is a Domain Extension?

Domain name extensions are the last part of a domain name. For example, in ‘hostgator.com,’ the domain name extension is .com. 

You’ll also see domain name extensions referred to as top-level domains (TLDs). These terms will be used interchangeably throughout the post. 

Your domain name and domain name extension give you a working domain name that your target audience can type into their browsers to access your website.

There are a few different types of domain name extensions available:

1. Generic Domain Extensions

These are the most common form of domain extension. For a while you could only choose between .com, .org, and .net. But, in recent years the number of generic top-level domains has exploded. Now you’ll find a lot of unique top-level domain names to choose from like .beer, .blog, and more. 

2. Sponsored Domain Extensions

This style of domain extension is restricted to certain types of organizations and groups. To register this style of TLD you’ll need to satisfy certain requirements and there are restrictions on who can register these domains. Common examples of this are the .aero, .gov, and .edu domain extensions.  

3. Generic-Restricted Domain Extensions

This type of domain extension is similar to a generic top-level domain, but they are intended for more specific types of websites. When you register this domain extension you’ll typically need to provide a bit more information about your website and it’s intended purpose. Some examples of this TLD include .name and .pro.

4. Country Code Domain Extensions

Lastly we have country-code domain extensions. Each country has its own TLD that helps to identify that site as being from a specific country. Common extensions include .co, .uk, and .us. However, these extensions are more flexible and can be used for more than just identifying locations. For example, the domain extension .co is the TLD for Colombia, but it’s also used by businesses and startups the world over.  

A Brief History of Domain Extensions

If you were trying to access a website in the early 1980’s you would have had to type in a long string of numbers known as an IP address. The only way that early computers were able to communicate on this network was by using these numerical IP addresses.

Having to type in these strings of numbers was inefficient and a definite hindrance on allowing the web to scale. It was a far cry from the consumer web that has become a routine part of our lives today. 

Luckily, things have come a long way since then. Thanks to the Domain Name System (DNS), we can now type easy to remember domain names into our web address bars to access whatever website we desire. Instead of having to type in a complicated IP web address, we type in a domain name like ‘google.com’ or ‘hostgator.com.’

Along the same time as the new DNS came into effect, so did domain name extensions. These were used to help classify domain names into specific groups. The first six domain name extensions created were .com, .org, .net, .edu, .gov, and .mil.

When these were first created, there were rigid rules about what kind of websites could use these domain name extensions. Today these rules are much more relaxed, and hundreds of different domain name extensions have come into existence. 

The introduction of domain name extensions made accessing the web much easier. It wasn’t the sole factor that led to the explosion of the internet, but it certainly did help. 

Up until 2008, there were only around 28 different domain name extensions you could choose between. However, the TLD system changed dramatically when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) allowed anyone with enough money to apply to create their own top-level domain. 

A lot of massive corporations jumped on this and applied for top-level domain names that could be used in conjunction with their own brand. Think companies like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. 

Different Types of Domain Name Extensions Available

Today there are thousands of different domain name extensions for you to choose from. Luckily, not all of these will apply to your website, so there’s no need to get overwhelmed in your search for the perfect TLD.

Here’s a breakdown of the most common domain name extensions available today that you can use for your new website:

  • .com – This is by far the most popular and commonly used TLD. It was initially created for commercial organizations, but there are no restrictions on who can utilize this extension. 
  • .net – This extension is shorthand for the word network and was initially created for companies dealing with networking technologies and internet infrastructure. Today there are no restrictions on who can utilize this domain extension and it’s typically the number one choice after .com. 
  • .org – This extension was first created to be used by nonprofits. However, this is no longer enforced and is a common TLD for education-based websites, schools, and more. 
  • .co – This is a relatively new extension, but you’ll come across this one a ton in the startup space. It’s become known as the domain name extension that represents a company. 

There are probably dozens of other domain name extensions that’ll apply to your new website. 

When you register a domain here at HostGator, you’ll be able to see which domain name extensions are available. For example, here’s a quick look of the available extensions for the domain ‘bakecookies.com’:

As you can see, our domain extension of choice isn’t available. But there are a variety of other domain extensions we could use instead. 

However, if the .com for a chosen domain is taken, it’s usually a good idea to just search for a new domain name. At the very least, you’ll want to do your research to ensure that there isn’t an existing website on that domain.  

Restricted vs. Unrestricted Domain Extensions

Even if a domain name extension is available, it doesn’t mean you can purchase it. A lot of domain name extensions are restricted. That means only certain types of companies, organizations, or institutions can use that given TLD.

For example, only educational institutions can utilize the .edu domain extensions. The same goes for .mil: only military-related websites can use that domain extension. Likewise, the .gov extensions can only be used by government websites.

However, there are still very popular unrestricted domain extensions you can use like .com, .org, and .net. Plus, most new domain extensions like .co, .xyz, and more are available for your use as well.

If you’re interested in an entire list of the top domain extensions, Wikipedia has compiled an up to date list. You can also read our blog to see some of the most unique domain extensions that may surprise you.

How to Choose the Right Domain Extension For You?

With so many different domain name extensions, it can be challenging to choose the right one. The TLD you choose can influence how your visitors will perceive your website. Plus, some are more memorable than others and can end up enhancing or hurting your brand. Here are some best practices to follow when buying a new domain name.

The domain extension you choose won’t influence how your site performs at all, but it can change how people perceive your website. For example, ‘tools.com’ gives off more authority than the domain ‘tools.biz’ or ‘tools.info.’

As a general rule of thumb, you should try to obtain the .com for your chosen domain, and if that isn’t available, the .net could work. If both of those aren’t available, then you can begin looking for other domain name extensions.

However, keep in mind that you’ll want your domain to be memorable. If someone can’t remember your domain name extension, chances are they’re going to try the .com. If this ends up leading to a competitor site, or a blank web page, then you might have lost that visitor forever. 

Another common rule is to make sure that there are no other websites using the same domain name as yours. Not only could you be infringing on a copyright, but it’ll set you up for a whole host of issues down the road. 

If you’ve come up with the perfect domain name, but the extension you want isn’t available, then it might be worthwhile spending more time coming up with another domain name. 

You also have the option of using a novelty domain name extension. For example, if you’re building a website that shows people how to homebrew beer, you could pick up the domain ‘howtobrew.beer.’ But, novelty domain name extensions might be more difficult to remember as well.

To sum up, keep the following best practices in mind as you choose your domain extension:

  • Whenever possible, try to go with the .com TLD.
  • Match your TLD with the type of website you’re running.
  • Don’t choose a TLD for a domain that’s already being used.
  • Novelty TLDs can work, but only if they make your domain more memorable.

Should You Upgrade to a Unique Domain Extension?

Maybe you already have a domain, but you’re thinking about picking up the same domain with a different extension? 

When your website is picking up steam, it’s a good idea to go ahead and purchase any relevant domain name extensions as this will help to protect your online brand. Then, you can redirect all of your other extensions to your primary domain name. That way, if a visitor types in the wrong domain extension they’ll still end up on your site!

Here are the most common reasons for upgrading or purchasing additional domain extensions: 

  1. Clever domain name. You’ve found a fun TLD and domain combination that you think visitors of your site will enjoy. This can even be used in a marketing campaign and still forward to your primary domain. 
  2. Target a local market. If you’re a local business, you can pick up a domain extension that’s branded for your local market. For example, ‘drycleaners.la’ for a Los Angeles based dry cleaner. 
  3. Your ideal extension is now available. Maybe when you first started your site, you went with a .net, and now you have the budget to purchase the .com. You can either migrate your website to the new extension or forward your new domain extension to your existing domain. 
  4. To strengthen your brand. It’s always a good idea to pick up as many domain extensions as you can that are related to your primary domain. This will prevent competitors from swooping up any related extensions, plus you might be able to pick up additional traffic by forwarding all of your extensions to your primary domain. 

Choosing Your Domain Extension

As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into a simple domain extension. Hopefully, you now have a better idea of why domain extensions are so important and how you can ensure you pick the right extension for your website as you do your domain registration.

Choose the wrong domain extension and you’ll detract from your brand as a whole and deter your target audience. But, choose the right TLD and you’re on your way towards a strong and memorable online brand. Use the information in this post to ensure that you always choose the best TLD possible for your new online projects. 

Remember, just like choosing the right domain name takes a lot of time, so will finding the right domain extension. Your domain and your TLD work together to help create a unique and memorable domain name. 

For help finding the best web hosting package or domain name for your website, contact HostGator.

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