The 3rd Most Popular Country-Code Domain Extension? .TK

When Verisign releases its quarterly domain industry briefs, the focus is usually on overall domain registrations and on .com. Sometimes the smaller details that get less focus can be more interesting. I believe that was the case with their latest report.

The top 2 country-code TLDs have been pretty dominant over the others for quite some time – .de and .uk (which includes .co.uk, .org.uk and .me.uk). Except for China seeing huge success a few years ago, the top 2 spots have been those two extensions for the past several years. Both Germany and the UK favor their extension over .com in most cases and those extensions have been around for quite some time.

After them, you might expect .cn (China, has been the top registered ccTLD in the past), .nl (Netherlands, was 3rd last quarter), .ru (Russia, which is also popular in its homeland) or perhaps .eu (the European Union extension, which has been as high as 4th).

Surprisingly, it was none of those four but an extension that seemingly came out of nowhere to take the 3rd spot: .tk.

Don’t know what .tk represents? Tokelau. What’s Tokelau? A New Zealand territory with a population of only 1,400.

Your eyes don’t deceive you – a New Zealand territory most of the world has never heard of is home to the 3rd most popular country-code extension in the world.

It wouldn’t be entirely unheard of – after all, Tuvalu has less than 11,000 people and is behind a popular extension: .tv. The difference of course is that .tv represents television to much of the world, making it relevant not only for the television industry but for video in general.

Does .tk have a similar meaning? No…in fact, TK as an abbreviation doesn’t really have any meaning pertinent to websites. So why on earth is this extension closing in on its 7 millionth registration?

The .tk extension offers a single draw that no other TLD offers – free registration. There have been domains used in the same way but as second-level extensions, with .co.cc being the most notable example (.cc itself is a country-code extension with paid registration). Additionally, some sites such as WordPress offer free subdomains for its users. There are however no top-level domains used in the same way .tk currently is.

Does that mean you should run out and grab as many as you can get? Not really.

Why shouldn’t you use a .tk domain despite registration being free?

1. The extension is fairly well pointless

Extensions that have viable use have one of 3 things: History of mainstream use (.com, .net, .org are still used because they’ve always been used), valuable locality (.uk, .de) or alternate meaning (.co as “company”, .tv as “television). The .tk extension has none of that. There have simply never been popular sites using .tk and companies would have no reason to trust their brand to the extension.

2. Being known as a free extension labels it as “cheap” or “not serious”

If you want your company/website to be taken seriously, don’t use .tk. Most of the people that are aware of the extension know it’s the free extension, and because of that it’s not expected for a .tk site to be a serious presence.

3. Google doesn’t take it as serious as other extensions

In the past, .tk has had issues with bad behavior on its domains. Clearly anyone wanting to scam or spam others would first look at .tk, cutting out a major cost of running such illegal operations as they could easily move from domain to domain. Google has gone so far as to outright ban extensions, which it has done with .co.cc, which is also a free extension.

That said, the .tk registry does indicate they try to enforce policies against such behavior and will take down domains doing such activities. However, most of the domains still end up being used for lower quality sites. So even if Google wouldn’t penalize the extension for bad activity, its Panda updates pretty much spell that it likely penalizes the extension for its pattern of lower quality sites.

The .tk extension has been interesting to look at to see how a free TLD would do in a sea of paid TLDs. The extension has been around since 1997 and has gone through some waves of popularity since. If ICANN’s new TLD program goes through as planned, we may see another company attempt a free extension, but bear the above concerns in mind when considering getting any free domain for your website.

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