Types of Domain Names: A Helpful Guide

Learn the different types of domain names to choose one for your business idea.

Updated March 22, 2021. 

Long gone are the days of consumers shopping only at physical stores.

Thanks to the internet, many retailers do most of their business online, and businesses not utilizing eCommerce are being left scrambling to create an online presence.

By year’s end, American eCommerce sales are expected to surpass a half-trillion dollars with approximately three in four Americans making at least one online purchase per year. It would appear that the continued growth of e-commerce won’t be slowing down any time in the near future.

As more businesses make the move to get online, there could naturally be more competition for domain names. Your domain name represents and brands your online business, so let’s learn more about them so you can choose the best domain for your needs.

Understanding various types of domain names

So, if you are building a website, one of the toughest and most crucial choices you will eventually have to make involves selecting the ideal website domain name.

Picking the proper name — one that is available, within your budget, SEO friendly, and that helps to build your brand can make or break your business’s online performance.

Did you know that there’s more than one type of domain name? Before you go about finding a domain name and domain name extension that are available and suit your brand, it’s important that you discover all the different types and understand their application as a whole.

Domain.com has the tools you need to continue building your business into a success.

What are domains?

So, let’s start with what a website domain name is. At its essence, a domain name is what goes in between the protocol sign (HTTP://) and the first slash in a URL or web address.

For the URL: https://www.domain.com/hosting/, the domain name would be: domain.com. What you might not realize is that this domain is a stand-in that represents the computer or website’s IP address.

Every single device that uses the internet is given an IP address. That IP address is a distinctive identifier ascribed to the device that cannot be used by a different device simultaneously.

In order to form a rudimentary virtual address book, computer scientists created the Internet Protocol Address System. They assigned both computers and websites a unique 32-bit or 128-bit string of digits known as the IP Address that could distinguish them from others.

While this initial system did work, it was still complicated for computer scientists to communicate effectively, let alone for a less computer-savvy person. Computer scientists then created the domain name system, whereby website owners could register a unique name that acted as a synonym or stand-in for the IP address.

The Domain Name System (DNS)

The Domain Name System functions by converting the domain name into an IP address character set, via a Domain Name System server. This system is situated on millions of servers the world over but acts as a single unified database.

When you type a domain name in your search browser, the browser then communicates with a name server in order to find the IP address that is matched to that name.

If you have not specified a domain extension, that request will go through a server that sorts by the Domain Name System hierarchy, starting with top-level extensions and then moving on down the line. Unsurprisingly, this made the worldwide web infinitely easier to navigate, which encouraged more people to utilize its services.

Domain names accomplish three things:

  • Create a lasting first impression: A domain name is the very first thing a prospective customer will see of your site and it’s their initial interaction with your brand. A unique or memorable domain name will speak to what they want and stick in their head. An unfitting domain, on the other hand, can turn off prospective customers.
  • Define your brand: A domain name can be used to instantly speak to your brand, letting the customers know who you are and what you are selling. A relevant domain name can help key your customers in on your product, or a unique domain name can create a link that associates your name with your product.
  • Optimize SEO: Search engine optimization utilizes keywords in order to help your SEO rankings. Exact match domains are not necessary, but it is helpful to use a domain that is close.

Different types of domain names

As mentioned, there is a hierarchy within the domain name registry that distinguishes domains from one another.

Top-Level Domains (TLDs)

In 1985, The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) released six top-level domain names. These top-level domains (TLD) became known as domain name extensions and represent the highest level in the Domain Name System hierarchy. They include:

  • .com: shorthand for commercial, .com was the first top-level domain in common use. While .com was initially created for use by commercial organizations, restrictions on this were not stringent. By the mid-1990s, .com had become the most popular and commonly used type of top-level domain for businesses, websites, and email.
  • .net: shorthand for network, .net was created expressly for institutes that partook in network technologies such as an internet service provider or an infrastructure company. Like with .com, the restrictions meant to limit .net to networking purposes were never upheld and it became one of the more popular top-level domains, with many seeing it as a close second to using the .com top-level domain.
  • .edu: shorthand for education, .edu was made for education institutions. Although it was intended for universities everywhere, the TLD .edu became associated with only educational centers in America. Schools from other countries will use .edu in conjunction with their country-level domain, which we will discuss in the next section below.
  • .org: shorthand for organization, .org was created for nonprofits. As we’ve seen with these other top-level domains, such intentions were often not upheld or enforced over time. These days .org is used as a top-level domain by nonprofits, for-profit businesses, schools, and communities.
  • .mil: shorthand for military, .mil was created expressly for U.S. military branches. Unlike the other different types of top-level domains, this restriction is still upheld. Now, it is quite common for .mil to use second and third-level domains in conjunction with the .mil TLD.
  • .gov: shorthand for government, .gov, like .mil, was restricted for American federal governmental agencies and personnel use only. These days .gov is used by governmental agencies, programs, cities, states, towns, counties, and Native American tribes.

Country code top-level domains (ccTLD)

In order to distinguish one country from another, two-letter domains were established and became associated with countries or geographical locations; .uk and .au, for example, represent England and Australia respectively.

When ccTLDs were initially created they were intended for registration and use by that country’s residents, however, certain countries have let outside parties register domain names using their country code.

Internationalized country code top-level domains (IDN ccTLD)

This was a top-level name with an encoded format that lets non-Latin character sets or other special characters be used.

Generic top-level domains (gTLD)

Generic top-level domains function as a category of top-level domains within the DNS. As of now, there are currently 21 generic top-level domains within the root zone, which is the highest level of the domain name system structure.

While there are over 1,500 gTLDs in use, these 21 make up the vast majority of all types of domain names. They include four sub-categories:

  • Generic (.com, .net, .org, .info), domains that can be used for general purposes.
  • Generic restricted (.pro, .biz, .name) domains that can only be used for their specific purposes.
  • Sponsored (.edu, .gov, .int, .mil, .aero, .cat, .asia, .mobi, .coop, .travel, .tel, .jobs) domains that can only be used by businesses involved specifically with that industry.
  • Infrastructure (.arpa) which was one of the original top-level domains used to help with the DNS infrastructure.

Second-level domains

Within the DNS hierarchy, second-level domains are domains that follow top-level domains.

For example, in “Nike.com”, “Nike” is the second-level domain of the “.com” top-level domain. Quite often, second-level domains are the name of the business or vendor that registered the domain name with a registrar. The brand name, company name, or project name is the identifier for potential customers.

On top of these general second-level domains, there are also country code second-level domains (ccSLD). In such cases, the second-level domain will be found to the right of the period; for example, in a domain such as “nike.co.ca”, the country code top-level domain is “.ca” and the ccSLD is “.co”.

Third-level domains

Within the DNS hierarchy, third-level domains naturally follow second-level domains. They can be found to the left of SLD and are often referred to as the subdomain.

Larger companies will often use third-level domains as identifiers that can distinguish between various departments or parts of their site.

Generally speaking, “www” is the most common third-level domain. If a company does use multiple third-level domains, those are generally referring to a specific server within the company.

Registering domains names

There are many different types of domain names out there waiting to be owned. But before you can do anything with them, you need to know how to register your domain name.

Before using a domain name, you must first register it with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN assigns and categorizes different types of domain names and ensures that the process goes smoothly. In order to register a name with ICANN, you must use a domain name registrar, like Domain.com.

Once you have selected the right name and made sure that it was available for purchase, you will need to submit the following information that includes:

  • Your contact info; including first and last name, payment info, billing info, physical address, phone number, and email address.
  • Your desired domain name.
  • The chosen domain name registration term (starting at one year.)

Understand domain names to choose one for your idea

We can’t stress enough how important it is to find the right domain name for you or your business. The importance of having a good domain name can sometimes get thrown to the wayside but in reality, a good domain name keeps you top of mind with your customers and audience.

Kristin Crabb
Kristin Crabb

Content Marketing Strategist working in the digital marketing industry. Skilled in SEO-focused content creation, keyword research and competitive analysis, interactive content, web content optimization, and landing page creation.

Kristin Crabb
Kristin Crabb

Content Marketing Strategist working in the digital marketing industry. Skilled in SEO-focused content creation, keyword research and competitive analysis, interactive content, web content optimization, and landing page creation.