Why Your Top-Level Domain Choice Matters

The domain name of your website is essentially its gateway. It’s a safe bet every visitor to your website either typed it into the address bar themselves or, if they arrived via a search engine or autofill, then at least read the domain name. And since you may not even have a physical door through which to welcome customers if you run an online-only business, making sure that gateway is a good one is, well, very important.

There are a few different components to domain name that ultimately matter in terms of its quantity and effectiveness. A major one is called the top-level domain — here’s more information.

What is Top-Level Domain?

When you think of choosing a domain name for your business, your mind may first jump to the personalized part on the left that comes before the period. However, there are also decisions to be made about the part that comes after. The part to the right of the period, also called the extension, is known as the top-level domain.

Most business websites in the U.S. tend to end with .com, but the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority actually maintains a list of hundreds of top-level domains. It’s not wildly uncommon to see websites ending in .net or .biz either, but you might pause if you saw a URL ending in .click, .computer or .hot. We are accustomed to seeing (and trusting) the most popular top-level domains while seeing others only once in a blue moon if at all.

There are actually three broader types of top-level domains, according to Semrush.

  • Generic (gTLD): These TLDs correspond to the type of site you’re visiting, like .com being short for “commercial” or .net being short for “network.”
  • Sponsored (sTLD): These TLDs are typically backed by a governmental or educational organization. So, .gov and .edu are two examples.
  • Country code (ccTLD): These two-letter country codes tell you from where the website is originating.

You’ve probably deduced by now it’s not really going to be an option to end your small business website in an sTLD. If you’re operating in America, you might choose .us, but most companies end up choosing a gTLD for their websites.

Key Reasons why TLDs Matter for Your Website

We’ve touched on one of the most important reasons why your top-level domain matters: Online users look to it as a signifier of trust. An unexpected TLD concluding your company’s URL can appear spammy or untrustworthy to shoppers, perhaps making them question if your website is legitimate. Additionally, choosing an “alternative” TLD can leave the more mainstream one open for your competitors, or a completely unrelated business, to scoop up. Then patrons trying to visit your website might accidentally visit theirs under the assumption that you’d have the .com ending.

As if those reasons aren’t compelling enough, TLD can also affect your search engine rankings. As Neil Patel outlines, Google associates certain TLDs with shady online behavior, and may actually penalize your website for using them by assigning your website a lower ranking. This could put at risk all the work you put into search engine optimization. Better safe than sorry — choosing a reputable TLD is always the way to go.

Top-level domain choice matters in terms of how human users respond to it — namely their ability to find it and their choice whether or not to trust it — as well as how search engines rank your website. To maximize visibility and trustworthiness of your brand, choosing a good top-level domain is essential. Think twice before choosing a less desirable TLD because it’s slightly cheaper or easier to obtain.