The first decision in choosing a domain name is selecting the most appropriate top-level domain to use. The TLD is the suffix at the end of your domain name, such as .com or .ca. The right TLD enhances your identity, and makes it easier for visitors to find your site and understand its purpose; choosing the wrong TLD can lead to confusion, uncertainty and suspicion.
For any site, there are usually several TLD options; it is possible to purchase multiple domain names and have them all direct to the same site, but it makes the most sense to publicize just one. We’ll discuss the basic TLD options first, then move on to recent additions.
Every nation on Earth has its own two-letter TLD. Some are well-known and highly recognized: .ca for Canada, .ru for Russia and .uk for the United Kingdom. Some are under-utilized (for example, .us for the United States – historically, .com has been used instead). Some are less well-known, but are fun for geek trivia nights:
|TLD||Country||Example & Explanation|
www.vatican.va, Il Papa’s home page
Canons of Helvetica, i.e. Switzerland
www.hotelmontana.ch The site for the Montana Hotel in Zurich
Country TLDs are also supported in their native language and writing systems, using UTF-8 (IANA hosts a complete list of current authorized TLDs).
Buying a country TLD for your site has the advantage of making your geographical location clear, as well as showing a sense of patriotism. Many country TLD’s are available on the open market: you do not always have to be a citizen, or have a company registered in the country, in order to buy a domain name with a particular country TLD. However, the sale of that TLD is usually provided by a domain registrar within that country, making purchase of certain TLD’s, such as .ly (Libya), problematic.
Second-level (“provincial”) TLDs
Most countries that have a federal system of government, such as Canada, Australia and Russia, have historically issued provincial sub-domain TLDs to represent a site located in (or having information pertaining to) a province, territory or state: for example, www.domain.ab.ca for a site in Alberta, Canada. In the case of Canada, these are no longer issued.
A popular alternative to a country TLD is the so-called generic top level domain. Most of these are available on the open market. The original generic TLDs consist of:
Intended for use by commercial institutions. Used by US companies, as an alliterative to .us; as a result, all four-letter and lower combinations before .com are taken, as well as most dictionary words.
Intended for telecommunication and network providers.
Intended for non-profit, non-government organizations.
Post-secondary educational institutions.
Government institutions and services.
.com, .net and .org TLD’s are openly available; the others require some degree of institutional verification before purchase. In the last decade, the following generic TLDs have been added:
Intended for the air transport and aerospace industries; registrar and informational site
Companies, organizations and individuals in the Asia-Pacific region
For businesses; an alternative to .com
Cooperative organizations; primary registrar
Company; another alternative to .com
Sites related to jobs and employment
Intended for mobile sub sites; becoming less relevant with the increasing use of CSS3 media queries
For museums: primary registrar is about.museum
Intended for individuals and families
For the travel industry
With the exception of .info, .name and .biz, these can be a little difficult to find and purchase; providers can be limited.
You will occasionally find other TLD’s offered, but they are not official. On June 20 2011 ICANN, the international organization responsible for the top-level domain system, proposed hundreds of new TLDs, and an open bid system for new TLDs (at an application cost of US$185,000), so you can expect to see many more added in the coming years.
Once you have decided on the appropriate TLD for your site, you need to decide on a domain name, check if it is available, and purchase it. I’ve previously written some general rules for choosing domain names and suggested several domain registrars that you may wish to use.