You have two selections to make when choosing a domain name. One is the part to the left of the dot, called the second level domain. The other is the part to the right of the dot, called the top level domain.
Most people default to .COM as their choice for top level domain, or TLD. Of course the domain .COM is incredibly popular; there are 150 million .COM domains registered.
But there are also hundreds of other top level domains. None of them rival .COM in terms of popularity, yet there’s a vast range in registrations for each domain.
In fact, believe it or not, some top level domains have fewer than 1,000 second level domain registrations!
Looking at the Data
There are many data sources to figure out how many domains are registered in each top level domain.
Verisign, which operates the registry for .COM and .NET, keeps a running tally for those two domains on its website.
The website nTLDStats.com does a good job aggregating stats for new top level domains such as .GAY and .XYZ. It uses publicly available information submitted by the registries and other sources to figure out approximately how many domains are registered at any given time.
Other than country code domains, operators of all top-level domains report their registration numbers to ICANN once per month. However, ICANN doesn’t publish these numbers until three months later.
The trickiest domains to calculate are country code domain. (ccTLDs). Registry operators for these domains do not need to make their registration numbers public. Some data sources do their best to figure out how many domains are registered in ccTLDs, but the data are generally less reliable than other domains.
Who’s on Top?
Verisign aggregates data sources to rank the top ten most-registered domains in its Domain Name Industry Brief. Here’s what it calculated as the of the end of June:
- .COM – 148.7 million
- .TK – 27.5 million (Tokelau)
- .CN – 24.1 million (China)
- .DE – 16.5 million (Germany)
- .NET – 13.4 million
- .UK – 11.8 million (United Kingdom)
- .ORG – 10.1 million
- .NL – 6.0 million (Netherlands)
- .ICU – 5.9 million
- .RU – 5.7 million (Russia)
A couple of things jump out in this chart.
- The top level domain .COM is not only in the front of the pack but also by a huge amount.
- Six of the top ten domain names are country code domains. Some of these make sense; in many countries, people prefer the local country code domain over .com.
China is the world’s largest country by population with 1.5 billion people. It also has a booming internet economy. So it’s not surprising that .CN is one of the most popular domains.
Germany has been at the forefront of the web and .DE has always been popular for companies and people there.
One country code domain sticks out like a sore thumb, though: .TK is the country code for Tokelau, a tiny New Zealand territory of about 1,500 people. How do 1,500 people register 27.5 million domains? Well, a company worked with the island to give .TK domains away for free. That means that lots of people all over the world have registered .TK domain names for various purposes. It’s hard to beat free!
This shows how registration data can be misleading. The domain extension .TK is #2 on the list because it’s free, not because it’s a desirable top level domain.
This is also the case with statistics for new top level domains: there’s more than meets the eye.
New Top Level Domains
One way people judge the relative success of top level domain names is how many domains are registered. So when new top level domains started rolling out in 2014, all eyes were on how many domains were registered in each extension.
As of early September, here are the top 10 new top level domains in terms of registrations:
- .ICU – 6.5 million
- .TOP – 3.5 million
- .XYZ – 3.5 million
- .SITE – 2.1 million
- .ONLINE – 1.8 million
- .CLUB – 1.4 million
- .WANG – 1.4 million
- .VIP – 1.3 million
- .SHOP – 0.7 million
- .WORK – 0.7 million
If I told you the list of new top level domains included .APP, .BLOG, and .TECH, would you guess that these domains weren’t in the top 10? And that it’s .ICU, .TOP, and .XYZ that are the “most popular” top level domains?
Again, the data is misleading. A significant factor in registration numbers is price. Some of these top level domains have given away registrations like .TK has. Others are very, very inexpensive domains that can be registered for less than a dollar.
Some people and companies, especially those that register domains in bulk for various purposes, want to register the cheapest domains. This skews the results and makes domains that you probably wouldn’t consider as a top choice more popular than they would be if all domains were priced the same.
And price matters on both ends. You’d think that .CAR would be a popular top level domain, but only about 300 .CAR domains have been registered. That’s because the annual price to register a .CAR domain is over $2,000!
Because of price and other factors, ranking the popularity of top level domains by the number of registrations is misleading.
What’s Best for You?
Nobody disputes that .COM is the most popular top level domain. But, as this article demonstrates, numbers don’t mean everything. At the end of the day, you should choose the top level domain that makes the most sense for your particular use and business.
Here are a couple of examples:
- Creating a personal site or portfolio? Consider .ME.
- Building a business in Germany? Maybe .DE.
And the best part? You can peruse hundreds of top level domain choices at Namecheap to find your next domain.