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Understanding the Different Kinds of Domains

Not all domains work the same, and knowing the difference between the various types can be vital when you’re creating a website. For example, some domains are reserved for particular kinds of sites, while others have unique connotations you’ll need to keep in mind.

Fortunately, there are ways you can tell which domains are appropriate for your site, and which should be avoided. Once you have a grasp on the various parts and varieties of domain names, you can select one that will improve your site’s User Experience (UX) and branding.

In this article, we’ll go over what domains are and how they work. Then we’ll discuss the different types of domains, and offer some advice for choosing the right one. Let’s get to work!

An Overview of Domain Names

If you’re looking to start your own website, you’ll first need to understand what domain names are. At its core, a domain is your site’s address and what people will use to find it online. More specifically, your site’s domain is its primary URL (for example, example.com).

For instance, let’s take a look at bbc.co.uk. This is a British news website and has a simple URL.

The BBC home page.

In this case, the domain can be broken down into multiple parts. The “bbc” part is the Second-Level Domain (SLD), while “.co.uk” is referred to as a Top-Level Domain (TLD).

If you’re not familiar with these terms yet, don’t worry. We’ll look at what they both mean in detail shortly.

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A Quick Look at How Domains Work

By simply typing in a URL or entering a search query in Google, you can find practically anything you want online. This process typically feels instantaneous, making it easy to be unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes.

To get a clearer picture of what’s really happening when you visit a website, you can think of the domain as an easy-to-remember phone number for the site. In some cases, businesses will represent their phone numbers as letters to make them easier to recall, such as 1-800-CALL-NOW.

Domains follow the same basic principle. Each website is stored on a server with an Internet Protocol (IP) address, such as 69.63.191.255. That’s essentially the phone number for the site. However, IP addresses are difficult to remember, since they’re just strings of numbers.

That’s why, instead of seeing those IP addresses, we use easy-to-remember names in their place. This functions thanks to the Domain Name System (DNS), which we’ll cover next.

Who Is ICANN and What Is the Domain Name System (DNS)?

Just as with phone numbers, domain names are also organized into an “address book” of sorts. This is the Domain Name System (DNS), made up of a network of servers all over the world.

The DNS is what connects people with the websites they want to visit. It uses IP addresses as identifiers to find the particular site you’re trying to access. Then it converts that IP into a format that we as humans can easily understand: the domain name.

Who manages DNS records? That’s the responsibility of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit organization.

The ICANN website.

This organization is not only responsible for DNS management but also performs tasks that range from IP address space allocation to root server system management.

Understanding How Domains and Web Hosting Are Related

To put it simply, domains and web hosting are not the same things. As we’ve seen, the domain points the way to your particular website.

Web hosting, on the other hand, is where your site actually resides. Your host provides the space and resources necessary for your website, storing them on specialized computers known as servers.

While you can purchase a domain name separately ((from domain registrars’ websites), you can also obtain one through your web hosting provider. This can make your life a little simpler since you’ll be able to manage your domain and hosting in the same place.

In fact, some hosts even provide you with a free domain as a part of your hosting plan. For example, we include a domain name with annual shared hosting and DreamPress plans, along with other perks such as unlimited traffic, ample storage, and quick page speeds.

Various hosting plan options at DreamHost.

Along with your free domain registration, you’ll get domain privacy (which ensures that others can’t look up your personal information), Secure Sockets Layer (SSL/TLS) certification, and even the use of subdomains. Plus, you’ll be making things easy on yourself by setting up your domain and hosting at the same time. 

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6 Different Types of Domains

Of course, before you can register for a domain, you’ll need to understand the different options that are available to you. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the various domain-related terminology you’re likely to encounter.

1. Top-Level Domains (TLDs)

Each website’s URL can be broken down into different parts. Top-Level Domains (TLDs), sometimes called domain name extensions, are the part that comes right after your primary domain name (for instance, the .com in www.dreamhost.com).

However, there are many other TLDs besides just .com. You can choose from dozens of options, such as .net, .blog, or .io (which was initially a country code but has since been co-opted for the tech community). 

You’re probably used to seeing .com, .net, and a few other basic TLDs. As the internet expands, however, so does the need for unique domains. That’s why the ICANN started introducing new options, to make it easier to find a domain for your site that isn’t taken.

This means that domains are no longer bound to Latin-based characters, too. For instance, some domains use Chinese characters, Arabic, and even Cyrillic. Other domains are niche-specific, such as .biz for business websites.


It’s also worth noting that some TLDs are restricted, as we’ll expand on in the following sections. For example, only government websites can use .gov. Most are open for anyone to use, however, so you’re free to get as creative as you’d like.

2. Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD)

As we alluded to earlier, there are actually multiple types of TLDs. For instance, Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs) are restricted to use in specific countries.

Consider Ireland, for example. Its ccTLD is .ie and is one of the safest to use. Other examples are the UK (.co.uk), Canada with .ca, and even the USA with .us. These can all be great options if the .com version of the domain you had set your heart on has already been taken.

However, keep in mind that if you’re aiming for an international audience, this kind of TLD can be a bit limiting. Many businesses actually use multiple TLDs for different regions, such as the BBC, which uses bbc.co.uk for its home audience and bbc.com for its international visitors.

3. Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD)

Up next are Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs). In fact, you already know what these are, even if you’ve never heard the term. These are the old stalwart domains that we are all accustomed to seeing, such as .com, .edu, .info, .org, and .net.

Originally, these were contrasted with ccTLDs, since there weren’t that many TLD options available. Now, however, we have a fresh generation of TLDs to pick from (often called “new TLDs”).

We’ve gone over a few of these new domains, such as .blog and .io, but there are many, many more. For instance, if you run a yoga studio, you might opt for the new .yoga in place of .com. There are also options such as .tech, .space, .shop, and even .art.

Therefore, when choosing a domain, you’ll want to think about what will work best for your brand and your audience and pick something memorable. After all, you want people to remember your website, so they come back time and time again.

4. Second-Level Domain (SLD)

At this point, we’ve covered the TLD section of your site’s domain name. However, what about the rest of the URL? That’s where Second-Level Domains (SLDs) come into play.

Let’s look back at our URL as an example: www.dreamhost.com. As we’ve seen, .com is the TLD. The SLD is what immediately precedes it, which in this case is “dreamhost”.

The SLD is what people will associate with your website. That’s why it’s vital to take some time and consider your choice. You’ll want to select something brandable, for instance, and gives visitors a taste of your site’s focus and style.

It’s usually best to start by settling on an SLD, and then start experimenting with different TLDs. You can also use our domain checker to see what’s currently available.

A domain name search tool.

Just type in a domain name you’re interested in, and hit the Search button. You’ll be presented with multiple SLD and TLD options, so you can settle on the perfect domain name.

5. Third-Level Domain

We’ve now looked at two of the three main parts in any domain name. The last is appropriately known as the third-level domain (not to be confused with the top-level domain).

As we’ve discussed, within www.dreamhost.com the TLD is .com, and the SLD is dreamhost. That leaves us with the third-level domain, or the www section.

By default, your third-level domain will be www. That doesn’t always work for large companies who need more web pages, however. So you may sometimes see www1 or even www2 before the SLD in a domain name.

6. Premium Domain

Sometimes when you’re looking for a domain name, you’ll find that the one you want is already taken. That means it’s a premium domain — a domain that someone else owns.

The good news is that you won’t necessarily have to give up on that domain. Often, people will buy domain names and not use them. They may even be willing to sell a domain they are using, for the right price.

This is referred to as domain reselling, or buying a domain that someone else privately owns. In general, this involves paying a little more for it than a domain that isn’t premium. In some cases, however, very popular domains can go for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Such domains may have been bought because they’re short, have a popular TLD (like .com), or the owners anticipated someone would want to buy them down the line.

How to Decide Which Domain Name Is Best For Your Website

Choosing a domain name can be one of the most significant decisions you’ll make as a website owner. After all, if you’re running a business or otherwise plan to grow your website, your domain name can have a major impact on your branding and visibility.

That’s why it’s a good idea to keep these considerations in mind: 

  • At the least, it’s prudent to use appropriate keywords in your domain name. For example, if you’re an art company, you might want to include a targeted keyword relevant to your line of business (such as “pastel” or “events”). Google Keyword Planner can aid in your keyword research.
  • It’s equally important to keep your domain name short and simple since it also needs to be memorable. It’s generally easier to remember one or two words than a whole phrase.
  • Also, it’s vital that whatever domain name you choose isn’t likely to infringe on any trademarks. Do your research to see if there are any other businesses or websites with very similar names, as this can help ensure you get off to a safe start with your own site. 

If you have an idea for what you want your domain name to be, you’ll need to check its availability. As we mentioned earlier, you can use our domain search feature to do that. It will offer you suggested alternatives, both for the SLD and the TLD.

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Demystifying the Types of Domain Names

Understanding the different kinds of domains is your first step towards picking the perfect one for your site. Fortunately, knowing a few basic terms and concepts can set you on the right path quickly.

Are you ready to get started with your new domain name? Whether you’re choosing .blog or .com, with the right planning and a quality web hosting company, you’ll be on your way to having the website of your dreams. Register a domain and build your site today!

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If you have questions or just could use some help figuring some thing out, get in touch. Our team of web experts has been in the business for over 20 years and knows how to help you figure out the right next steps.