You have two important decisions 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 prefer defaulting to .COM when it comes to their top level domain, or TLD. Obviously the .COM is incredibly popular, there are 150 million .COM domains currently registered. But, there are also hundreds of other top level domain extensions available. None of them rival .COM in terms of popularity, but there is a vast range of registrations for each extension. Believe it or not, some top level domain extensions have fewer than 1,000 second level registrations!
Reviewing The Data
There are many different data sources you can use when trying to figure out how many domains are registered for a specific extension. Verisign, which operates the registry for .COM and .NET domains, keeps a running tally for those two extensions directly on its website.
Other websites like nTLDStats.com do a great job of aggregating stats for new top level domains such as .XYZ and .SITE. 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 domain extensions, operators of all top-level domains report their registration numbers to ICANN once per month. But, ICANN does not publish these numbers until three months later. With that in mind, the trickiest domains to calculate are country code top level domains (ccTLDs). Registry operators for these domain extensions do not need to make their registration numbers public. Some data sources do their best to figure out how many domains are registered in specific ccTLDs, but the data is generally less reliable than for other extensions.
Most Popular Domain Extensions
Verisign aggregates data sources to rank the top ten most-registered domains in its Domain Name Industry Brief. Here’s what it calculated at the end of the third quarter last year:
1. .COM – 150.3M
2. .TK – 27.5M
3. .CN – 24.7M
4. .DE – 16.6M
5. .NET – 13.4M
6. .UK – 10.8M
7. .ORG – 10.2M
8. .NL – 6.0M
9. .RU – 5.7M
10. .ICU – 5.3M
A couple of things stand out when looking at this chart. First, the top level extension .COM is not only in front of the pack, but also by a huge amount. Second, at least half of the top ten extensions are country code domains. This makes sense as well, because in many countries people prefer the local country code extension instead of .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 to see that .CN is one of the most popular extensions.
Germany has been at the forefront of the web and .DE has always been popular for companies and people in that country.
There is one country code domain which 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 domain names? Well, a company worked with the island to give .TK domains away for free. That means that lots of people all around the world have registered .TK domains for various purposes. It’s hard to beat a free domain! However, this is also a perfect example of 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 extension.
What’s Best For You
Nobody will dispute that .COM is the most popular domain extension. But, as this article demonstrates, numbers don’t mean everything. At the end of the day, you should choose an extension which makes the most sense for your particular business and use. Creating a personal site or portfolio? Maybe go with the .ME extension. Launching a new business in the Netherlands? Consider the .NL extension.