What Are the Most Popular Top-Level Domain Names and What Do They Mean?

For a long time “.com” was the undisputed ruler of top-level internet domain extensions, but the Internet is growing quickly, and there are only so many website names that can fit under one extension. This has prompted an explosion in the number of available domain names and made it gradually more acceptable to branch out a little bit – but not too far.

Having an “.io” (Indian Ocean) site may mean that you’re part of the tech startup world, but if you decide to go with “.gq,” you might as well just add a header to your site reading “This is a scam!” Sorry, Equatorial Guinea.

The old standbys


Some domains have been around since the early days of the Internet, but that doesn’t make them equal. Some are restricted, meaning only certain entities can legally use them, and others may send a signal about the type of site it is.

  • .com (commercial): you can’t really go wrong with this. If your site name is available and not way overpriced, a “.com” extension is the natural choice, since it’s second nature for people to type it in after a website name anyway.
  • .net (network): Created with networking and technology companies in mind, this has become a pretty generic domain that you can attach with confidence to just about anything, though it’s definitely a good bet for tech-oriented sites.
  • .org (organization): Technically, it’s open for anyone to use, and it’s very recognizable, but should you use it? This domain extension was originally intended for non-profits, but has also become popular with community sites. People don’t generally expect a personal or commercial website with “.org” attached, though.
  • .edu (education), .gov (US government), .mil (US military): These are all off-limits unless you are a school or involved in American politics.

The up-and-comers


This is where things get interesting. There are now over 1500 TLDs available, starting with the two-letter country codes that came on the scene in the 1980s and most recently adding such gems as “.pizza,” “.unicorn,” and “.ninja.” Only a few of these have really managed to become respectable, widely-used extensions, though, and they’re mostly “generic” country codes that aren’t strongly associated with a specific country.

  • .co (Colombia): This country-code domain, thanks to being just one letter away from “.com,” has gotten pretty popular, though its similarity can also make it a little confusing. It’s open to anyone and doesn’t have a scammy reputation.
  • .io (Indian Ocean): The number of websites actually located in the Indian Ocean probably isn’t that high, but due to its sounding a lot like the computer programming term “I/O” or “Input/Output,” it’s become extremely popular as a tech startup extension.
  • .ly (Libya): Thanks to the fact that a lot of English adverbs end in “ly,” this is a very popular choice for domain hacks like Bitly (bit.ly).
  • .me (Montenegro): Since this is basically just the English word “me,” it’s gotten some traction as an extension, mostly for personal websites.
  • .xyz (just letters): The main thing this domain has going for it is that Google’s parent company, Alphabet started using it (abc.xyz), which prompted a lot of other legitimate businesses and individuals to hop on board. It’s still nowhere near as recognizable as a lot of other TLDs, but it won’t raise too many eyebrows and might even get you some street cred in the tech world.

Places you probably shouldn’t go


Honestly, most of the new domain names out there fall into this category. Domain names can be a big signal of a site’s legitimacy and mission, and only a few of them have managed to acquire a good reputation. If you see a site that ends in a strange domain name, it’s still mostly a good idea to double-check its credentials. That said, here are a few noteworthy examples of names you may want to avoid:

  • .info/.biz (information/business): These are actually somewhat popular and can house good content, but in general they’ve come to represent a fairly low-quality category of sites, so they’re not often recommended.
  • .tk (Tokelau): You’ve probably never heard of it before, but this small New Zealand South Pacific territory actually has a lot of websites using its country code — at one point it was the third largest country code TLD. Unfortunately, they’re basically all scams, so putting legitimate website on there is a bad idea.
  • Anything on the Spamhaus top ten: This site tracks data about spam emails and other internet abuses, and keeps a running tally of how much of a website’s email traffic is spam. “.gq,” “.tk,” “.cf,” “.ga,” “.ml,” “.men,” “.loan,” “.date,” “.click,” and “.review” are their top ten as of November 2018. If you want to know where a specific domain ranks, they keep a comprehensive list.

But times can change

In the future, as site names get increasingly scarce and the Internet continues to evolve, we will definitely see new domain name trends. “.com” is likely to stick around, but in a few decades it might just be normal to have a domain name directly related to your industry. It makes some sense for a brewery to use a “.beer” extension while a newspaper uses “.press,” an adult site uses “.xxx” and a gaming site goes with “.game.” People are getting more comfortable with unconventional domain names, and if you decide to be an early adopter, you could find yourself with a monopoly on all the good “.rodeo” names.

Andrew Braun
Andrew Braun

Andrew Braun is a lifelong tech enthusiast with a wide range of interests, including travel, economics, math, data analysis, fitness, and more. He is an advocate of cryptocurrencies and other decentralized technologies, and hopes to see new generations of innovation continue to outdo each other.

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