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Arkansas State University

Evaluating Websites: Domain

How to tell the good from the bad.

Domain

Most regular websites are a series of words, dots and sometimes slashes.  An URL can tell you a lot about a website.  For example, the URL of this guide is libguides.astate.edu/websites.  So, what can we learn from this web address?

First, we can break it down to the main website and secondary pages.  Everything before the first slash (/) is the main page.  Every time you have a slash, that's a level inside the main home page.  The more slashes you have, the further from the main page you are.       

Breakdown of an URL

     We can also tell what affiliation the site has by looking at the domain.  The domain can be found at the end of a main URL or before the first slash.  In the example of our guide, the domain is .edu. 

 
Domain names give insight into the type of website you are visiting and can help you decide if the information you find is legit.  For example, only state and federal governmental sites get to end with .gov; only educational websites get to end with .edu (i.e. http://www2.astate.edu/ ); and only military sites get to end with .mil (i.e. www.navy.mil).  Most of the time that you have a .gov, .mil or .edu website, you can feel confident that the site is a good source for information. 

Other domains aren't so clear cut.  Anyone can make an .org, .com or .net website and there are no rules for content.  Anytime you have one of these websites, you will need to carefully evaluate the site.  While several legit nonprofit organizations do use .org for their websites, many scammers and hoaxers also use .org to make their hoax pages look more legit.

Here are the common domain names:

.gov = government                .org = organizational               .mil = military
.edu = educational .com = commercial .net = network

Anytime you have a two letter abbreviation (e.g. .uk or .ca) it stands for a country name. For a complete list, go to Domain Name Registries around the World.

Why are domains so important?

Let's say you need information about the White House.  Out of habit, many people would go to whitehouse.com because we're used to typing ".com."  However, remember: anyone can make a .com website and they can put anything they want on the site. The only place you can get true government information is from websites ending with .gov. Unfortunately, people do make fake government websites. Some are harmless, some contain misinformation and spam.
 

Let's compare:

whitehouse.com       whitehouse.gov
Domain:   .com   Domain:    .gov
Screen shot of whitehouse.com Screen shot of whitehouse.gov
   
Clicking on a link: Clicking on a link:
Mostly empty page from whitehouse.com Page from whitehouse.gov
     
Verdict: whitehouse.com is an outdated page that only contains 12 sparse articles. It's difficult to tell why this page even exits. Verdict: whitehouse.gov is the legit, official page of the United States White House. It has a clear focus, obvious authority, and contains no spam.

Did you know?

The domain .tv does not stand for television?  It stands for the country Tuvalu.  The country actually leases out the .tv domain and the domain can be used for any purpose.