While .COM domain names are indeed the top choice to most companies and individuals, they are not the only solution in existence.
These days, there are more than 1,200 top level domains, and around another 200 ccTLDs. This jaw-dropping number of domain extensions expands on the widely accepted notion that "dot .com is king."
For the sake of this article, the focus will be on ccTLDs — top level domain extensions reserved for a country, sovereign state, or a dependent territory identified with a country code. For practical purposes, any reference to ccTLDs will be about those that represent actual countries with more than just penguins and scientists on them: Antarctica has its own ccTLD, dot .AQ.
Generally speaking, ccTLDs target countries and regions—not languages. There are regular ccTLDs in ASCII, and a small number of internationalized ccTLDs; they serve as add-ons to the regular ccTLDs that represent country codes.
So what is the purpose and the functions of ccTLD domains?
Think about it as a declaration of sovereignty in the digital space, or as a group of "domain flags" that represent digital national independence—and pride—of the world's numerous countries.
Ever since 1985, when the first 3 ccTLDs were allocated (USA with .US, Great Britain with .UK, and Israel with .IL,) the number of countries that have received their own ccTLD expanded quickly to represent every independent nation in the world.
Typically, national ccTLDs are operated by organizations in their respective countries that possess the technological infrastructure and knowledge, while some hire third party infrastructure providers.
Can anyone register domain names in any ccTLD they want?
Many national ccTLDs are restricted only to companies and individuals with proven presence in the respective countries. Some of these countries are currently examining the expansion of their permitted registration base, such as Canada (.CA) and Ireland (.IE.)
A small number of country ccTLDs operate in duality: as regular ccTLDs, and as magnets of international commerce, such as .CO (Colombia,) .ME (Montenegro,) and .TV (Tuvalu.) Google treats a small number of such ccTLDs more favorably than others, due to their generic qualities—hence their name generic ccTLDs.
Are ccTLDs popular?
Worldwide, popularity of a national ccTLD is high in their respective countries, and is reflected in the established use of domain names by companies and individuals. It's very uncommon for dot .COM and other legacy TLDs to be more popular in these countries with an established national ccTLD and a large Internet base. The exception, of course, being USA: the national ccTLD, .US, plays second fiddle to the ultra popular .COM.
Use of ccTLDs in their respective countries is emphasized by their prominence in both social media, and daily life. Web sites operating on ccTLDs are used in advertising, marketing and commercial use, and Internet users in these countries are very familiar with the national domain extension.
So here's a paradox that is linked to the popularity of national ccTLDs: Quite often, the matching .COM is left unregistered or unchallenged, for the sake of using the local ccTLD.
This approach can be dangerous, and the general idea is to go after the .COM as well as the ccTLD, but give emphasis to the latter in the local markets. This dual action is also encouraged by Google, that promotes ccTLDs regionally, giving them higher ranking than the generic extensions.
Local companies intending to attract a global market find this approach to be effective, as international clients might find the ccTLD confusing, or even "suspicious." And that's where the need for generic new TLDs comes along—but that's the scope of a separate article!
Conclusion: national ccTLDs are very popular in their respective countries, where sometimes .COM is of lesser importance. Securing both the .COM and the ccTLD ensures global presence, and regional SEO benefits.