What is a domain name & how does it work?

DomainsCategory
14 min read
Nigel Seah

What is a domain name?

We see them all the time.

On our phones, on our computers, and even our television sets. However, the domain of domains remains a mystery to the uninitiated. After all, why would anyone set aside hours to learn why some sites have .sg at the back while others have .us?

But the lack of knowledge and awareness surrounding domains is not indicative of the significance they place in our lives. From e-commerce stores to the military, charities to government agencies, picking the right domain name plays a pivotal role in ensuring that people can find their way to those websites in the interconnected yet confusing world of the world wide web.

Not sure what I mean? Well, it’s time to find out.

In this article, I will explain what a domain name is. I'll also list the different types of domains, and discuss why domains are important. Let’s delve right in, shall we?

What is a domain? 

A DOMAIN FORMS THE BASE OF A URL AND IS BUT ONE PART OF IT.

On the internet, a domain is a unique address that people enter into their web browser to access your website. Also known as a domain name, it functions similarly to a street address in the physical world. When a domain name is registered, it becomes the exclusive property of the person or organization that registered it. Therefore, it can only be used by them.

A domain consists of a root domain (second-level domain/SLD) and a top-level domain (TLD), and is one of the components that make up the URL of your web address.

Which organizations are involved in managing domains on the internet?

1) Domain registries

A domain registry is an organization that maintains a database of all the domain names registered within a particular top-level domain (TLD). The domain registry is responsible for ensuring the uniqueness of each domain name within the TLD. It also manages the registration and renewal of domain names.

The domain registry is also responsible for enforcing the policies associated with the TLD. These include rules related to the length and content of domain names, as well as rules related to who is eligible to register a domain name within the TLD.

There are many different domain registries around the world, each responsible for managing a specific TLD. For example, Versign Inc manages the .com TLD while Nominet UK manages the .uk TLD.

2) The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA)

The IANA is a department of ICANN that coordinate the maintenance and assignment of various technical parameters such as IP addresses and Autonomous System (AS) numbers to maintain the operation of the internet

IANA also manages the root zone of the Domain Name System (DNS). DNS is a hierarchical database that maps domain names to IP addresses. The root zone contains top-level domain names (TLDs) such as .com, .net, and .org, as well as country code TLDs (ccTLDs) such as .uk and .cn.

In addition to its technical responsibilities, IANA also serves as a kind of clearinghouse for the exchange of technical information and best practices related to the operation of the internet. It works with other organizations to ensure the smooth and efficient operation of the internet and to support the development of new technologies.

3) Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)

ICANN is a non-profit organization that coordinates the maintenance and procedures of several databases related to the namespaces of the internet. This includes the assignment of unique identifiers such as domain names and IP addresses, as well as the helping to connect these identifiers to their corresponding servers.

ICANN is important because it helps to ensure the stability and security of the internet's infrastructure. It serves as a kind of gatekeeper, regulating the use and assignment of unique identifiers and maintaining the databases that help to keep the internet running smoothly. Without ICANN's work, it would be more difficult for people to find and access the websites they are looking for.

It also develops policies and guidelines related to the internet's namespaces. ICANN works with other stakeholders to ensure that the internet remains a global resource that is open and accessible to all.

What are the benefits of having a domain name?

1) Establishes your brand’s online presence

A domain name is one of the first things that people will associate with your brand.

It helps establish your brand's identity. So, choosing the right one is an important factor in establishing your brand's online presence.

Having a unique and memorable identifier for your brand and domain name can help people easily associate your brand with a specific website.

2) Helps with brand marketing efforts

And by extension, this helps in the marketing of your brand as well.

When you register a domain with a domain registrar like GoDaddy, you are given the option of creating a business email with your domain name. For example, if you were running a café called Higher Ground (get it?), a professional email address could be something like admin@higherground.com.

Whenever you send out email marketing content to your newsletter to leads who may not be super familiar with your brand name, the domain name in your email address plays a crucial role in brand recognition. It’s hard to think how anyone can forget your brand name and what your business does after receiving multiple emails from you.

3) Branding aside, it can help out with search engine optimization (SEO) performance too

Now, this is not something Google has acknowledged. And many SEO “experts” have even come out to deny it. But many have observed that having a domain name that matches your target keyword exactly helps a lot with ranking.

EXACT-MATCH DOMAINS CAN HELP GIVE YOU AN SEO BOOST.

For instance, freelancewebdesignersingapore.com is ranking on page one for the keyword, well, “freelance web designer singapore”. If you take a closer look at the screenshot, I highlighted the DR (domain ranting) metric. A site’s DR score is indicative of how strong its backlink profile is and is measured from 0 to 100.

Ready to start searching for your dream domain? Go ahead, give it a try:

Given that the number and quality of backlinks linking to your site is arguably the strongest ranking factor, sites with high DR scores tend to be favored when it comes to SEO performance. On the other hand, we see a site with a DR of 0.9 ranking on page one. Talk about being a thorn among the roses.

4) It helps humans navigate the web better

One has to dig deep into what Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are to get what I mean here. It’s about to get a bit technical, so bear with me.

All devices (computers, mobile devices, and even web servers) have what we call an IP address. You can think of it like the ‘address’ of these devices in the interconnected online world we call the internet. 

Domains are basically a human-friendly version of an IP address that we can read and remember easily.

When I type “google.com” into my browser, a request to load the page with the URL “google.com” will be sent from my device to the Domain Name System (DNS). A DNS is a network of nameservers that function as a ‘phone book’ that stores lists of IP addresses.

Here, the DNS will process my request to load “google.com” by finding the IP address of Google’s web servers and sending that IP address to my device. My device will use the IP address it has just received from the DNS to find Google’s web servers and make a request for them to load the content found on the “google.com” URL.

Now, what does it have to do with humans and domain names you ask? Well, an example of an IP address looks like this “192.158.1.38” How exactly do you expect people to be able to remember the IP addresses of sites they want to access?

A domain name is basically a human-friendly version of an IP address. And the DNS is the system that converts the domain name to IP addresses. It allows humans to easily navigate the internet without having to train like a World Memory Championship athlete.

What is a Top-Level Domain (TLD) or Domain Extension?

You see that little component of a typical URL that comes after a root domain? That suffix is your TLD.

There are many different classifications of TLDs. Let’s take a look at some of the more common ones.

1) Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD)

A generic TLD (gTLD), as its name suggests, is a generic extension found at the end of a website's address. Examples include .com, .org, or .net. These domains can be used by anyone and are not limited to a specific region (.us or .au) or type of business (.shop or .io). 

Here are some of the most common gTLDs:

  • .net is short for "network" and was created specifically for organizations involved in networking technology, such as internet service providers or infrastructure companies. Despite its intended purpose, .net became a popular choice for a wide range of organizations and its restrictions were not strictly enforced.
  • .edu  is reserved for educational institutions and stands for "education." While it was originally intended for use by universities worldwide, .edu is now primarily associated with educational institutions in the United States. Educational institutions in other countries often combine .edu with their country-level domain. For example, the domain name of Singapore Management University is smu.edu.sg
  • .org, meanwhile, stands for "organization," and was originally intended for non-profit organizations (NGOs). However, it has since been adopted by a variety of organizations, including non-profits, for-profit businesses, schools, and communities.
  • .mil is strictly reserved for use by U.S. military branches and stands for "military." It is now common for .mil to use second and third-level domains in combination with the .mil top-level domain.
  • .gov stands for "government," and is reserved for use by American federal government agencies and personnel. It is also now used by government agencies, programs, cities, states, towns, counties, and Native American tribes.

You can check out the full list of gTLDs available for purchase at GoDaddy.

2) New Top-Level Domains (nTLD)

In addition to these traditional gTLDs, there are also "newer" gTLDs, also known as nTLDs. These were recently approved for general use by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). 

nTLDs can be either generic (gTLDs) or country code (ccTLDs). Generic nTLDs can be used by anyone, while country code nTLDs are specific to a specific country or territory. Some examples of nTLDs include .xyz, .online, .vip, and many more.

nTLDs were introduced to provide more choice and variety for website owners. Website owners can also create domain names that are more specific and relevant to the content of a website. They offer a way for businesses and individuals to find a unique and memorable domain name that may not be available with the traditional TLDs.

Here are a few examples of new top-level domains (nTLDs):

  • .xyz: This is a generic nTLD that can be used by anyone. It is often used for websites that are related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
  • .online: This is a generic nTLD that can be used by anyone. It is often used for websites that offer online services or products.
  • .vip: This is a generic nTLD that can be used by anyone. It is often used for websites that cater to a VIP audience or offer premium products or services.
  • .blog: This is a generic nTLD that can be used by anyone. It is often used for personal blogs or websites related to blogging.
  • .store: This is a generic nTLD that can be used by anyone. It is often used for online stores or e-commerce websites.

3) Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLD)

A ccTLD (country code top-level domain) is a domain extension that is tied to a specific country or territory. For example, .sg is the ccTLD for Singapore, .au is the ccTLD for Australia, and .uk is the ccTLD for the United Kingdom.

[blockquote] ccTLDs can be very useful for international SEO. [/blockquote]

ccTLDs are typically two-letter domains and are regulated by the government of the country or territory that they represent. They are often used by organizations or individuals with a specific connection to the country or territory represented by the ccTLD.

Unlike gTLDs, you’ll need some form of documentation specific to the country of the ccTLD. For example, .sg domains requires proof of official identification before you are able to purchase these domains.

Those who choose ccTLDs are typically larger businesses that have offices or branches in several countries or small businesses that are based only in one.

From an SEO perspective, using ccTLDs is one of the best methods to signal to Google that you have a region-based and not language-based site. This is especially useful for businesses going into international SEO. You’d want to avoid a scenario where Google is serving the wrong country’s page to a user just because the content on both countries’ page variants is of the same language.

4) Internationalized Country Code Top-Level Domains (IDN ccTLD)

An Internationalized Country Code Top-Level Domain (IDN ccTLD) is a domain extension specific to a particular country or territory and is written in a non-Latin script. This allows people in countries or territories where the primary language uses a non-Latin script to use a ccTLD that is written in their own language.

For example, the IDN ccTLD for China is 中国. This allows Chinese websites to use a ccTLD that is written in Chinese, rather than having to use a Latin-script ccTLD like .cn.

Here are some examples of sites with IDN ccTLDs:

  • 微博.中国: This is the website for Weibo, a Chinese microblogging and social networking service. It uses the IDN ccTLD .中国 (China) written in Chinese characters.
  • বাংলাদেশ.বাংলা: This is the website for the government of Bangladesh. It uses the IDN ccTLD .বাংলা (Bangladesh) written in Bengali script.
  • Россия.рус: This is the official website of the Russian government. It uses the IDN ccTLD .рус (Russia) written in Cyrillic script.
  • ישראל.עב: This is the official website for the State of Israel. It uses the IDN ccTLD .עב (Israel) written in Hebrew script.

IDN ccTLDs can help to increase the accessibility and cultural relevance of the internet for people in countries or territories where the primary language uses a non-Latin script.

IDN ccTLDs can help to increase the accessibility and cultural relevance of the internet for people in countries or territories where the primary language uses a non-Latin script. They can also help with increasing trust and credibility with users in the relevant country or territory as they may perceive the website as being more local and familiar.

Do you have a better idea of how a domain works now? 

Now that you know what a domain name is and how it works, you can see how important it is for the internet to function.

Apart from acting as an address for a website and helping people find a specific one online, a domain name plays a crucial role in branding and SEO as well.

Once you’ve decided your root domain or SLD, choose your TLD wisely if you wish to expand your site’s presence abroad. That’s where ccTLDs come in. And depending on the type of organization you are running, you have the option of choosing different types of nTLDs.

If you’re keen on starting a new website and are looking for domain name options, check out GoDaddy Domains! Here you’ll find domains with a large variety of TLDs ranging from .social and .club to .sg and .br.