What are the components of a domain name?

A domain name is an interesting thing. It’s something we essentially need to navigate to so that we can land on the website we want. We often own them for our own websites or even use domain names to forward to other services, like our social media channels. Despite that it’s integral to our use of the Internet, we don’t always understand everything about them and how they work. In this piece, we’re going to help you get a better understanding of what a domain name is and all its bit and pieces.

What are all the Parts of a Domain Name?

There are three main parts to any domain name. You have your Subdomain (or Third Level Domain), then you have your Second-Level Domains, which is followed by a Top-Level Domain. When you’re navigating to any website address, or URL, you will also come across the Protocol (which occurs before the subdomain). When choosing your domain name, you get to choose the words you want for the three different components in the image below. There are seemingly infinite options in the domains world!

What is the Protocol?

The protocol comes before the subdomain, such as having a secure (https://) versus a non-secure (http://) website. Seeing “https” before a website lets you know that they have a Security Certificate and that information sent over their website’s servers is sent securely. Never submit information through an unsecured website’s form. In 2014, Google made a push to encourage people to keep their websites secure and they have been pushing the narrative that it benefits your ranking since. In the last couple years, websites that are not secure have seen a negative impact on their SEO. As of 2018, Google labels websites that are not secure to draw attention to the security flaw to prevent end users from sharing their data.

For the sake of your customers who are sharing personal information in forms, email sign ups, making accounts, and doing ecommerce purchases, always buy a Security Certificate for your website. If not, your customer will be told not to enter personal information into your website. Keep your customer’s personal information safe to avoid any man-in-the-middle attacks that can breech your customers’ data. Encryption is often a low cost and provides legitimacy to your website and your online brand overall.

What is a Subdomain?

A subdomain is related to the main or root domain and is the portion to the left of your Second-Level Domain, which is probably your brand, company, or personal name. If you own your own domain, such as myexample.org and decide to operate a blog on a subdomain, your domain would read as blog.myexample.org. Sometimes you will see subdomains referred to as “third-level domains.” The most common and familiar subdomain is “www.” You do not need to have “www” in your subdomain, but can choose to keep it there if you want.

Other uses for subdomains are things like your mobile website. Though not as common on smaller or responsive websites, many platforms (such as Twitter) require an entirely separate mobile version of their website to exist. Much like with online security, Google’s mobile first indexing made having a mobile or responsive website a necessity. When’s the last time you navigated to a website on your mobile phone? Are you on it right now? You would be amongst the 58% of US traffic, if so. You may see the subdomain m.whateverwebsite.com next time you navigate to one on mobile.

It’s also possible your own website lives on a subdomain. Those who do not purchase domain names, but use website builders such as WordPress or Shopify, may have their website live on example.wordpress.com or example.myshopify.com.

Top-Level Domains

Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs)

A Top-Level Domain is the domain name extension to the right of the dot. You’re likely most familiar with the .COM Generic Top-Level Domain. Did you know there are hundreds of options to choose from for your TLD? There are a ton of gTLDs that are intended for anyone to use. You can get .LINK, .WEBSITE, .SHOP, .STORE, .NET, or .ORG as an example. There has been a recent trend towards tech-themed domain names, such as .TECH, .APP, or .DEV. You can find niche domain names surrounding whatever it is you or your business does. Ever explored .DESIGN, .COFFEE, or .DOG as a Top-Level Domain option? Don’t be afraid to explore a new option and have a bit of fun with your next domain name.

Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs)

Country Code Top-Level Domains have become popular alternatives for domain owners to use. While you may be familiar with your ccTLD (.CA is a very popular option amongst Canadians, as an example) you may not realize that any two letter TLD is a Country Code. If you’ve stumbled across a .ME, .IO, .AI, or .CO domain then you’ve landed on a domain that is using Country Code TLD.

Not all ccTLDs are intended for their country of origin, many are open to anyone to register and do not have restrictions. Make sure to check that the ccTLD you want to use is free of restrictions that you business cannot abide by. While .ME is available for anyone to register, .CA has restrictions surrounding ownership. Be sure you’re following the rules when buying a domain name, as your ownership can be revoked if not.

Next time you’re searching for your perfect domain name, you will be full of knowledge on how they work and what each piece of the puzzle is all about. Hopefully, this information helps you make the best choices surrounding how you use your domain name.

Samantha is a digital marketing expert, entrepreneur, and podcast host for Float or Founder. She loves filling you in on Toronto's tech industry. She lives for travel and is always looking for a chance to dive & paddleboard.

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