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Evaluating Websites

What is a URL?

The acronym URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. Examining a URL can help you learn something about a website's origin, authority, and purpose.

A URL  is essentially a reference (or address) to a website's unique location on the Internet. A URL is made up of several parts, and even if you're not familiar with the term "URL," you're probably already familiar with its basic structure. The following are examples of simple URLs:

  • http://www.usa.gov
  • https://www.hsc.edu
  • https://www.forbes.com

One important part of a URL is the domain name. A domain name is an ID string that groups together locations on the Internet that either share a common affiliation (such as a commercial or geographic affiliation), or which are under the control of a particular organization or individual. In the examples below, the top level domain names are written in red. 

  • http://www.usa.gov
  • https://www.hsc.edu
  • https://www.forbes.com

What can a domain name tell you?

The most common top-level domain names in the U.S. are:

.gov: short for government.
  • The .gov domain name is used by United States federal, state, and local government entities, such as the Department of Homeland Security. The purpose of .gov sites is to inform, teach, post public documents, present statistics or other research findings, and support the agencies and services of the United States government. Example: https://www.cdc.gov/ (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) NOTE: many government websites will not have a single author listed. 
 .mil: short for military.
  • The .mil domain name is used by the agencies, services, and organizations which belong to the United States Department of Defense.The purpose of .mil sites is to support the agencies, services, and divisions of the United States Military. Example: http://www.norad.mil/ (NORAD)
.edu: short for education.
  • The .edu domain name is used by United States-affiliated institutions of higher education. The purpose of .edu sites is generally to inform or teach.  Example: http://www.hsc.edu/ (Hampden-Sydney College)
.org: short for organization. 
  • The .org domain name is commonly used by non-profit organizations, although this is not always the case. The purpose of .org sites can be to sway opinion or gather support. Example: http://www.alz.org/ (Alzheimer's Association)
.com: short for commercial.
  • The .com domain name is used by commercial entities, such as companies or private corporations. The purpose of .com sites is usually to promote a product or a service.  Example: http://www.target.com/ (Target Corporation)
.net: short for network.
  • The .net domain name is used for a variety of general purposes. Although it was initially intended for use by internet service providers, .net is commonly used as an alternative to .com. The purpose of .net sites is generally to promote a product or a service. Example: http://www.alzheimers.net/ (Alzheimer's Support Community)