First- and Second-Level Domains, Part 1: Which should I get?

This is the first post in a 2-part series on first-level and second-level domains.

When agencies are thinking of a domain for their new website, they all want a .gov domain. Most opt for a domain ending in Georgia.gov or ga.gov, which is free, but every once in a while we’ll get a request for a second-level .gov domain. (.gov is the first level, so a second level domain would be xxxxxx.gov). Are these possible to get?

The short answer is yes. The top level .gov domain is controlled by the federal General Services Administration (GSA). The Georgia Technology Authority (GTA) “owns” two second level domains off of .gov, Georgia.gov and ga.gov, so we handle the subdomains off of that like grta.ga.gov. The GSA requires the state Chief Information Officer or Governor’s office to write a letter of approval before they will give a new second level .gov domain to a state agency; this is a requirement for all states. We have a standard in place in Georgia saying “GTA will not approve any new second-level “.gov” domains” (such as gamobility.gov).

There are several reasons for this standard:

  1. Much of our content is found by search, and additional second level domains get buried in the search results. Google (and Bing) keep their page ranking algorithms secret, but we do know that both longevity and number of links pointing to a domain heavily influence the result. Anything ending in ga.gov or Georgia.gov will almost always be the first result for the top of a first page.

    This is because we've been "continuously inhabiting" ga.gov and Georgia.gov for 14 years and get 50 million page views a year. We also have tens of thousands of other sites linking to us. When you create a new second-level .gov domains, Google has no way to recognize it is related — it looks a brand new domain, unrelated to the State of Georgia. You don’t have longevity or any external links, so when you start out, your new site will be buried in the search results (meaning you won’t show up on first page or two — same as being invisible).

  2. You have to manage your own domain name service (DNS). When you register for a second level .gov domain, the relationship is between your agency and the federal General Services Administration (GSA). GTA would not have any ability to change or influence the domain, which means if there is a problem, there isn't anything we can do to help. We also won’t have start-of-authority for your domain on our name servers. We’ll replicate the entries of course, the same as we do for any other domain used by state employees, but it won’t be managed by us.
  3. People forget to renew these domains because they are one-offs, or forget to update their points of contact and people leave the agency until there is no one left who controls the domain. These are usually fixable problems, but sometimes end up involving letters and phone calls from the state CIO to the GSA to get it straightened out.
  4. You’ll need permission from GTA to get this second level domain. The CIO of the State of Georgia must send a letter to GSA asking for the domain. Our policy is usually not to grant these requests, recommending instead that agencies use third level domains (xxxxxxx.georgia.gov).

Of course, there are exceptions. If you’re dead set on getting a second level domain, part 2 of this series will tell you how to go about doing that.

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