What Is a Top-Level Domain? A Handy Guide to TLDs

Michelle Ofiwe

Mar 24, 20216 min read
top level domain

If you have a website, you already use a top-level domain. It’s an important element that makes your website accessible and visible, and it's one of the most immediate reflections of your online brand. 

Still, you may not be sure what a top-level domain is, or if it can impact your site rankings. In this guide, we’ll explore top-level domain types, review some popular TLD examples, and offer tips to ensure your TLD is doing the best job possible for your site.

What is a Top-Level Domain?

A top-level domain (or TLD) is the last section of a root domain. For us at Semrush, that’s the .com that comes after our name. 

Every website has an extension like this, and it can vary from something simple like .com or .net to something more customized like .dog or .nyc. 

The kind of TLD you have can offer users an idea of the services your website provides, where you are based, and the sector in which you work. 

Here’s how it actually appears on a search engine results page:

top level domain

top level domain

Do TLDs Have an Impact on SEO?  

This is probably the most frequently asked question by SEO professionals that (for once) doesn’t have a lengthy answer!

No, TLDs do not have a significant impact on your rankings.

Google confirmed in 2015 that using a custom TLD with keywords would “not give any advantage or disadvantage in search.” 

In our post on TLDs and SEO, we noted that although a top-level domain won’t directly impact your ranking on Google, it can affect what people think of your brand (and therefore, your click-through rate.) 

It’s a matter of trust. To users, some top-level domains seem more legitimate than others. 

Studies have shown that .com and .net, for example, are among the most trustworthy TLDs to use for your website. 

top level domain

This means you could get more clicks with a generic top-level domain name like .com than you could with a less common one. 

So, even if TLDs don’t directly impact your rankings, they can impact people’s perceptions of your website and lead to a higher or lower click-through rate.

Get TLD Help

with the Site Audit Tool

ADS illustration

Types of Top-Level Domains

We mentioned there are different TLDs types. These will be important to know when you’re selecting the right TLD for your website.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (or, the IANA) groups TLDs into into three official categories: gTLDs, sTLDs and ccTLDs. You can find a list of all active top-level domains in the IANA Root Zone Database.

Let’s have a closer look at these TLD types: 

Generic Top-Level Domain (gLTD)

These are probably the TLDs you’re used to seeing. Generic top-level domains are also what users expect to see. Some popular gTLDs are:

  • .com
  • .net
  • .org

While these might be known as “generic,” they can still tell you a lot about what kind of site you’re visiting. “.com” is a stand-in for "commercial, “net” stands for “network,” and org is short for “organization.” 

Some companies have made their gTLDs even more specific. In 2011, companies and organizations were allowed to register their own gTLDs for the first time, which is why you can now visit sites under:

  • .google
  • .amazon
  • .apple

We’ll cover country-based top-level domains further in the ccTLD section, but we’ll note here that geographic gTLDs (or GeoTLDs) do exist. These gTLDs are associated with a particular geographical area. They aren’t geotagged automatically like ccTLDs are. GeoTLDs include extensions like:

  • .berlin
  • .amsterdam
  • .paris

Geographical gTLDs are handy because they indicate the city you’re based in or the area you serve. They can also make you more appealing to a local readership.

Sponsored top-level domains are TLDs that have been specifically sponsored by groups like businesses and governments. Some examples include:

  • .gov
  • .museum
  • .edu

There are far fewer sTLDs out there than gTLDs. The IANA database currently lists over 1200 TLDs as “generic” and only 14 as “sponsored.” This is partly because there are some fairly strict criteria you must meet to use an sTLD.

Much like generic top-level domains, sponsored top-level domains will often give you an indication of the industry in which the site operates. For example, “.edu” is short for “education,” while “mil” is short for “military.” 

Generally speaking, websites with sTLDs can help users find official information quickly and are considered trustworthy for this reason. 

Because of this, not every website can earn a sTLD. You have to apply for a sponsored top-level domain and ensure you meet the criteria before you can use one for your site. 

Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD)

Our last category is country code top level domains. These are two-character top level domains that are specific to countries. Examples include:

  • .ca (Canada)
  • .br (Brazil)
  • .de (Germany)
  • .fr (France)
  • .ie (Ireland)
  • .in (India)
  • .uk (United Kingdom)
  • .us (United States)

We counted over 300 ccTLDs currently in operation, which puts them neatly between gTLDs and sTLDs in the frequency of their usage. 

A big benefit of using a country code top-level domain is that it enables customers to see the country you’re based in and serve. It can help Google geotarget your site. 

However, country code top-level domains only target countries, not languages (and even then, languages are only targeted one at a time.) 

This can get complicated quickly. For example, if a company based in the United States has a .us TLD but wants to serve a Spanish speaking audience in addition to their English speaking one, they’ll need to do some additional work to create and optimize content in multiple languages. 

To learn more about translating your website for different languages, check out our post on Multilingual SEO.

Selecting the Best TLD for Your Site

Top-level domains indicate your site’s purpose and can help attract your target audience. If you want to target users by country, you may need a country code top level domain. If your audience is global, then a generic top-level domain might be the way to go. 

You can measure whether your site’s TLD works for your business with a site audit. Site audits help you understand the technical SEO errors that are causing you to lose out on organic traffic.  

You can also identify what might be causing you to drop in Google’s rankings, including (if applicable) your site’s TLD.

Our Site Audit tool can track the performance of any international domain, and works with many top-level domain types.

When working with the Site Audit tool, you can:

  • run a Project audit: this works best for sites that separate languages by subdomains (e.g., fr.semrush.com) or subfolders (e.g., semrush.com/en). For example, if you want to target both the English and Spanish-speaking audiences residing in one country, you can audit your domain and the language-specific subdomain.
  • run a Multiple Projects audit: Multiple Projects are ideal for sites with language-specific TLDs (e.g. semrush.com, semrush.fr, semrush.es). If you want to target your English-speaking US audience and your Spanish speaking audience in Spain, creating multiple projects will allow you to crawl each site thoroughly. 

To create a project, open your Semrush dashboard. Under “Management,” select “Projects:”

top level domain

Create a new project by selecting the “Add New Project” button on the upper right of your screen: 

If your website separates languages by subdomain, enter in your root domain here. Once your project is set up, navigate to the Site Audit tool from your project dashboard. 

qbrKejdpkZkprqiJ4tCmtmZbiTePdojgr2YpTRv3ohIeT40Af9TcEkQt6gii2Ob4lcoabuyeeLSVF4s9Y7vyVHJB1S2e2o0_tyELKVGBd3ByBMiZsTionMQ4YoNKQ16IpSD8WJvZ

The Site Audit tool will automatically crawl your site’s subdomains unless you change its settings: 

top level domain

If you have multiple language-related TLDs, you’ll need to create a project for each one. In this case, enter in each of your language specific domains (eg. semrush.es, semrush.fr, etc), then navigate to each project's dashboard to launch the Site Audit tool.

Try the Semrush Site Audit Tool to Identify Risky TLDs

It's clear that TLDs play an important role in how your site is structured and in its performance. Even though they might not directly affect your Google ranking and SEO, it’s important to choose a top-level domain that attracts the right traffic and benefits your site.

If you want to check your site's overall performance and determine whether your root domain is working for you, try running a site audit. Selecting the right TLD is part of setting up your website for success - explore your options and think ahead!

Get TLD Help

with the Site Audit Tool

ADS illustration
Author Photo
Michelle OfiweEditor & writer, deeply dedicated to good copy. Based in Houston, TX.
Subscribe to learn more about SEO 101
By clicking “Subscribe” you agree to Semrush Privacy Policy and consent to Semrush using your contact data for newsletter purposes