The DNA binding domain of Transcription Activator-Like (TAL) effectors can easily be engineered to have new DNA sequence specificities. Consequently, engineered TAL effector proteins have become important reagents for manipulating genomes in vivo. DNA binding by TAL effectors is mediated by arrays of 34 amino acid repeats. In each repeat, one of two amino acids (repeat variable di-residues, RVDs) contacts a base in the DNA target. RVDs with specificity for C, T and A have been described; however, among RVDs that target G, the RVD NN also binds A, and NK is rare among naturally occurring TAL effectors. Here we show that TAL effector nucleases (TALENs) made with NK to specify G have less activity than their NN-containing counterparts: fourteen of fifteen TALEN pairs made with NN showed more activity in a yeast recombination assay than otherwise identical TALENs made with NK. Activity was assayed for three of these TALEN pairs in human cells, and the results paralleled the yeast data. The in vivo data is explained by in vitro measurements of binding affinity demonstrating that NK-containing TAL effectors have less affinity for targets with G than their NN-containing counterparts. On targets for which G was substituted with A, higher G-specificity was observed for NK-containing TALENs. TALENs with different N- and C-terminal truncations were also tested on targets that differed in the length of the spacer between the two TALEN binding sites. TALENs with C-termini of either 63 or 231 amino acids after the repeat array cleaved targets across a broad range of spacer lengths - from 14 to 33 bp. TALENs with only 18 aa after the repeat array, however, showed a clear optimum for spacers of 13 to 16 bp. The data presented here provide useful guidelines for increasing the specificity and activity of engineered TAL effector proteins.