If you’ve been thinking about registering a country-code domain extension (ccTLD) for your business then this article is a must read. What is a ccTLD domain extension? These are domain extensions that are specific to a particular country or region of the world, such as .de (Germany), .es (Spain), .eu (Europe), .nl (Netherlands), and so on. People often ask if registering a ccTLD domain (such as Example.de) will have any effect on how their website ranks in search engines. The answer to that common question is – it depends. Before I get deeper into why (and how) these extensions can possibly effect your rankings, let’s backup and talk more about ccTLD domains in general first.
What is a ccTLD Domain Name?
Top-level domains (TLD) are the last portion of a hostname or domain (such as .COM). A country-code TLD (ccTLD) is a domain name that signals the content relates to a specific country. There are several dozen of these available, but I listed some examples above (DE for Germany, NL for Netherlands..etc). The opposite of a ccTLD is a generic TLD (such as COM) which indicates the content is for everybody.
So, who came up with all of these terms and acronyms? That would be the International Corporation for the Assignment of Names and Numbers (ICANN). If you’d like to learn more about ICANN then I would recommend jumping over to my post titled What Is The Purpose Of ICANN. To keep it short, ICANN is the organization behind virtually everything related to domain names and registries. They have a department called the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and they’re the ones in charge of maintaining official registries of gTLDs and ccTLDs.
Should I use a ccTLD domain?
If you were to ask me this question then my response would be where is your market? There are three possible answers to this question. Determine your answer and then compare it with the answers below:
My market is completely regional/local based – If your market is 100% inside the country of the ccTLD and you would never be able to serve someone outside of that country, then a ccTLD domain name is a great choice. In terms of search engine rankings there might not be much of a difference compared to a gTLD. But, people within that country are probably familiar with the extension, and it fits your market perfectly. With that in mind, you should certainly give some consideration to registering the ccTLD version of it.
My market is international and this will be my only website – If this is where your business fits then a ccTLD is not the right choice and you should be using a gTLD (such as COM/NET) instead. Google doesn’t rank ccTLD extensions very high outside of their specific country, so if you’re target audience is global you need to be using a global extension. Bing, Yandex, Yahoo, and Baidu all use very similar algorithms when compared to Google. Therefor, if a ccTLD extension isn’t ideal for your website in the eyes of Google, then it will probably be seen the same way with all other search engines as well.
My market is international and I would like to scale into new markets – Here we would be getting deeper into discussion about international SEO. Internationalization happens in two distinctive ways: multiple languages and multiple regions. ccTLD domain extensions are all about region, not language. Therefor, if you want a French version of your site for French-speaking Canadians, don’t use the .fr extension. That’s for people in France. Instead, you’d want a very carefully-isolated French section of your existing gTLD website. Although there are several other factors that can go into how and where you will rank, always make sure you are using domain extensions for the right purpose – region and NOT language.
Before you begin researching more information about international SEO it’s a good idea to make sure you’re currently ranking well in your current market. There isn’t much point to working on ranking in other countries when you’re not currently ranking in your initial market.
If you’ve made it this far then there is a good chance that a ccTLD domain could be used for at least some of your online ventures. Just remember to answer the “when” and “how” portions. A good next step is to review some of the international SEO checklists which are available online. These can help you do a bit more soul-searching to determine if international SEO is right for you and your business, plus how you can dive in and get started doing it successfully right away!