A domain name is a website’s online address, similar to a virtual street address. It helps users find your site and enables computers to locate it on the web.
Generally, a domain name consists of a subdomain, the unique website name known as the second-level domain (SLD), and the domain name extension also known as the top-level domain (TLD).
Dots break up these parts, making finding and organizing websites easier.
What Are the Parts of a Domain Name?
A domain name is composed of three main parts that work together to create a unique address for your website. These include:
Subdomain or Third-level Domain
A subdomain is an optional element of a domain name that appears before the second-level domain. It lets you create distinct sections or divisions within your website.
Like your primary domain, subdomains function through the Domain Name System (DNS), which directs users to a specific IP address. The use of subdomains lets you create web addresses for different areas of your website without requiring the registration of additional domain names.
For instance, in the domain name “blog.example.com,” “blog” is the subdomain. Subdomains come in handy when you want to neatly organize your site, such as having a separate blog or an online store within your main website.
What Are the Benefits of Using Subdomains?
Incorporating subdomains into your website strategy provides several benefits, such as:
- Enhanced organization: Subdomains help structure your website more effectively, streamlining navigation for both users and search engines
- Customized branding: Subdomains let you create tailored branding for different parts of your site, like a help center or e-commerce store
- Increased flexibility: You can employ subdomains to test new features, manage separate projects, or accommodate different language versions of your website
- Cost savings: Subdomains don’t require additional domain registrations, which means you save money while maintaining the ability to grow your site
Leveraging Subdomains for SEO
Subdomains can be a valuable part of your website’s SEO strategy, offering benefits like:
- Enhanced site organization: Subdomains help you create distinct sections for different types of content, making it easier for search engines to crawl and index your site
- Targeted branding: Subdomains let you customize branding and content for specific niches, which can help you rank higher for relevant search terms
- Localization: Hosting different language versions of your website on subdomains can improve the user experience and help search engines understand your site’s structure, resulting in higher rankings for localized search queries
Second-Level Domains: Your Website’s Unique Name
The second-level domain (SLD) represents the name of your website. It’s the customizable part of the domain name that reflects your brand or the purpose of your site. In the domain name “hostadvice.com,” “hostadvice” is the SLD. When picking one, make sure it’s memorable, easy to spell, and pronounce.
Top-Level Domains: Giving Context to Your Domain Name
The top-level domain (TLD) is the ending portion of a domain name, like .com or .org. It provides context for your domain name, often indicating the type of organization or associated country. For instance, in “hostadvice.com,” the TLD is “.com.”
TLDS can be categorized into several types, including:
- Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD): These are the most common TLDs, such as .com, .org, .net, and .info, are used by commercial websites and are not tied to specific countries or regions
- Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs): These TLDs are associated with specific countries or territories, like .us for the United States, .de for Germany, or .jp for Japan
- Sponsored Top-Level Domains (sTLDs): sTLDs are sponsored by specific organizations, and their usage is restricted to entities that meet certain criteria Examples include .gov (for U.S. government agencies), .edu (for educational institutions), and .mil (for the U.S. military)
- Brand Top-Level Domains (bTLDs): These are custom TLDs owned by companies for their exclusive use, such as .google for Google or .apple for Apple Inc.
- Generic Restricted Top-Level Domains (grTLDs): grTLDs have registration restrictions but aren’t linked to a specific organization, such as .pro reserved for professionals who can verify their credentials.
The Role of Top-Level Domains (TLDs) in SEO
The TLD you choose may not have a direct impact on SEO, but it can still affect user trust and perception. Generic top-level domains like .com, .net, and .org are recognized and trusted worldwide. However, if you want to target a local audience, choosing a country-specific TLD like .co.uk or .de can be beneficial for improving local search rankings.
URL vs Domain Name: Key Differences
A Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is a web address that takes you to a specific resource on the internet, like a webpage or a file. This address makes it easy to access various online resources by simply entering the URL into your browser’s address bar.
For example, in the URL “https://www.example.com/blog”, the domain name is “example.com”, which is part of the overall URL. The domain name helps users and computers locate the specific website, while the rest of the URL provides information about the exact page or resource within that website.
What Are the Important Components of a URL?
The URL has several main components that work together to locate a specific online resource. Here’s an overview:
The protocol serves as the starting point of the URL, signaling how your browser should access the resources on your website. Common protocols include “http://” (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and “https://” (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), with the latter offering greater security through encrypted data transmission.
As noted by W3Techs, 82.6% of all websites now use HTTPS as their default protocol. This highlights a widespread shift toward prioritizing security.
The domain name is the fundamental part of your URL that identifies your website, consisting of the SLD and the TLD, which together create a distinct identifier for your site on the internet. As of May 2023, there are 4,071 domain names this year. This number continues to grow steadily, with new domains being registered every day.
The path in a URL comes after the domain name and guides users to specific pages or resources on your website. It plays a significant role in organizing your website’s content and simplifies the process of navigating through your site for both users and search engines.
For instance, in the URL “https://www.example.com/blog/article1,” the path is “/blog/article1.” This specifies the exact webpage or resource that the user intends to access.
Domain Name vs Domain Name System (DNS)
The domain name is a human-readable address (like “www.example.com”) used to identify a website, while the Domain Name System (DNS) is the technology infrastructure that translates these domain names into IP addresses (like “192.168.1.1”), allowing computers to locate and access websites.
Essentially, domain names are the familiar web addresses we use, and DNS is the behind-the-scenes system that turns those addresses into directions computers can follow.
How DNS Works
When you type a domain name into your browser, the DNS process kicks in. Here’s a simplified rundown of how it works:
- Your browser contacts a DNS resolver to find the corresponding IP address associated with that domain
- The DNS resolver forwards the request to a root server, which directs the resolver to the appropriate TLD server
- The TLD server guides the resolver to the authoritative name server for the specific domain
- The authoritative name server provides the IP address for the domain
- The DNS resolver sends the IP address back to your browser, which then loads the website linked to that address
DNS Server Types
A hierarchical domain name system operates using different server types, each having specific roles in resolving domain names. Here’s an overview of the primary types of DNS servers:
- Root Servers—These are the top-level DNS servers. They function as a reference point and guide queries to the appropriate Top-Level Domain (TLD) servers. There are 13 root server clusters, labeled from A to M, but they exist in multiple instances worldwide due to anycast addressing.
- TLD (Top-Level Domain) Servers—These servers store information about domains for specific top-level domains like .com, .org, .net, etc. For instance, if you’re trying to resolve “example.com,” the TLD server for “.com” would have information about where to find specific information for “example.”
- Authoritative Name Servers—These are the final stop in the DNS query journey. Once the TLD server points to the authoritative name server for a specific domain, this server provides the actual IP address for that domain. Website administrators set up these servers to hold DNS records for their sites.
- Recursive or Caching Servers—These are typically provided by ISPs, organizations, or public DNS providers like Google’s 184.108.40.206. When a user sends a DNS query, it first reaches a recursive server. This server then takes the responsibility to navigate the DNS hierarchy (from root to TLD to authoritative servers) to get the required IP address. To speed up future resolutions, it caches the responses, so repeated requests for the same domain can be answered quickly without traversing the entire DNS hierarchy again.
Types of DNS Queries
DNS queries are the requests that a client sends to a DNS server to resolve domain names into IP addresses. There are three main types of DNS queries:
- Non-Recursive Query—In this type of query, the client expects the DNS server to have the answer readily available. The server either returns the requested information from its cache or database or, if it doesn’t have the data, provides an empty response indicating the absence of the requested record.
- Recursive Query—When a client issues a recursive query, it requests the DNS server to resolve the domain or provide an error message fully. If the queried server is authoritative for the domain, it directly responds. If not, it undertakes the responsibility to dig through the DNS hierarchy to find the answer and then returns the resolved information to the client.
- Iterative Query—With an iterative query, a DNS client asks a DNS server to resolve a domain to the extent it can. If the server either has the answer in its cache or is the authoritative server for the domain, it provides the data. But if it doesn’t have the information, rather than fully resolving the domain, the server returns a referral pointing the client closer to the authoritative source.
Common DNS Records
- A record (Address Record)—maps a domain name to an IPv4 address. For instance, it can point “example.com” to “192.0.2.1”.
- CNAME record—creates an alias from one domain name to another. For instance, “example.com” might be an alias that points to “example.net”.
- NS record—Specifies the authoritative DNS servers for the domain.
- TXT record—Typically used to hold free-form text. Common uses include verifying domain ownership and facilitating SPF (Sender Policy Framework) data to help prevent email spam.
- SOA Record (Start of Authority Record): Provides authoritative information about a DNS zone, including the primary domain name servers, the email of the domain administrator, the domain serial number, and several timers.
How Does DNS Increase Web Performance?
To speed up the process of translating a human-friendly domain name into an IP address, DNS servers store previously translated domain names in a cache.
This means that future requests for the same site are processed directly from the cache, reducing the wait time for web pages to load.
Think of it like a library, instead of searching for a book title every time, the librarian remembers where popular books are located, making them quicker to retrieve.
Similarly, when multiple users in a network, like a school or an office, access the same website, the local DNS server needs to translate the domain name only once.
Administratively set parameters, such as the Time to Live (TTL), determine how long these records stay in the cache. While longer TTLs reduce server loads by maintaining records for extended periods, shorter TTLs guarantee up-to-date information, balancing between efficiency and accuracy.
The Impact of Domain Names on SEO
Domain names are a critical component of search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. For domain owners, the choice of the domain name can make a significant difference in how they rank on search engine results.
This is especially true in today’s market, with the global SEO industry valued at $80 billion. In a world with millions of websites vying for attention, having a well-optimized domain name is essential to attract organic traffic and stand out from the competition.
How to Choose the Right Domain Name
Choosing the right domain name is crucial for your website’s SEO success. Keep these tips in mind when selecting your domain:
- Opt for a brand-focused, memorable name that’s easy to spell and say
- Aim for a shorter domain name, as longer names can be harder to remember
- Steer clear of hyphens and numbers, which can cause confusion and make your domain less memorable
- Include relevant keywords when possible, but avoid keyword stuffing, as search engines may penalize this practice
Once you’ve selected the ideal domain name, the next step is to register it. Ensure you choose reputable domain name registrars for a secure and smooth registration process.
Domain names are fundamental to website identification and organization, and understanding their components is crucial for establishing a strong online presence. In this guide, we covered everything from the basic structure of a domain name to the hierarchy of its components and how it connects to the Domain Name System (DNS).
By understanding what separates the components of a domain name, you can choose the right domain name for your website and optimize it for search engines. Learning more about domain names can also help you make informed decisions about your website’s domain name and improve your online visibility.