What are ccTLDs and Do They Matter?

image of blog Andrew Raso
12min read

We live in a truly global world, and the rise of the internet and eCommerce has allowed even small local businesses to reach customers on an international scale. There are potential customers you can reach all over the world, but appealing to them requires a localised approach. Savvy international audiences require a local, customised experience, and they’ll quickly abandon a page that doesn’t feel authentic or right for their region. 

Likewise, what may work for SEO in one country may not work in another. One of the ways to ensure your content is localised and maximise your chance of dominating SEO rankings in local markets is with ccTLDs, or country code Top Level Domains. In this article, we’ll not only define what a ccTLD is, but why they matter for marketers who want to dominate in their industry across different regions. 

What does a ccTLD mean?

ccTLD stands for country code Top Level Domain, and it’s a two letter long internet country code that allows you to target specific audiences in a certain country. Domain types are useful because they stand in for long, complicated IP addresses that would be virtually impossible to remember and offer very little meaning for users of your website. Domain types like ccTLDs indicate important information about your website to internet directors, search engine crawlers and regular browsers. 

Especially if your website operates in different nations, ccTLDs are a straightforward way to indicate different regional versions of the same or similar content, and indicate to search engine crawlers which localised content should be optimised and ranked for each country. 

You probably recognise the two-letter country domain codes for many countries, for example: 

  • Website.au (for Australia)
  • Website.sg (for Singapore)
  • Website.fr (for France)
  • Website.uk (for the United Kingdom) 
  • Website.us (for the United States); and so on. 

Within the directory service of the internet, these domain endings mean that certain webpages will be subject to the domain guidelines of a country, this helps countries to manage relevant content on the internet that is within their local jurisdiction, and can be combined with theme-specific Top Level Domains (TLDs), for example .com. CcTLDs are assigned by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN. 

Why do ccTLDs matter?

So far, we’ve established that internet country codes designate that certain pages belong to certain regional specific sides of your business’ website. But why does this matter? The key to understanding how ccTLDs can help your SEO performance is to compare them with generic Top Level Domains, or gTLDs. 

General Top Level Domains

Examples of gTLDs are .com, .edu, .gov, .org and .biz. They refer in general to the type of website but not the geographic location of the content; for example, .com is used for companies and .edu is used for educational websites. While some of these used to be governed by certain requirements (for example, .com used to be reserved only for commercial enterprises in the US), they now tend to serve a more generic purpose, suggesting the nature of an organisation or business, but not necessarily designating any specific rules these ventures must adhere to in order to use them. Using a ccTLD allows you to focus your content for a more narrow, regionally specific audience.  

If you are a company or an educational organisation with an international presence, you’ll want to communicate your most country relevant products, services and courses to audiences in different countries where you operate. The content on these pages is likely to be very similar, but will offer key differences in the form of relevant localised information. All this makes perfect sense to us, but in terms of algorithms and computer logic, it’s less straightforward. 

Search engines like Google use their own sets of rules to determine whether a website is producing good, unique, relevant information that sets it apart as an authoritative and trustworthy source within its industry. However, if you’re producing multiple similar pages for different regions under a general Top Level Domain, search engine crawlers will start to log these as duplicate pages. 

Duplicate pages may be penalised by the algorithm for not being unique and offering expertise, or Google may simply choose a single pay to index, ignoring the other versions and variants of what it deems are the ‘same’ content. By using a ccTLD, you’re able to signal to search engines like Google that these pages aren’t doubling up on the same information, but offering relevant information and localised content tailored specifically for a regional audience.  

Local content is authentic content

Not only that, but by using a ccTLD for a certain country, you’re signalling to Google that you’ve created a region specific piece of content for that country. Localised and focused content is viewed as more valuable in Google’s algorithm, and so it can improve your SEO rankings for that particular country’s search results. 

Beyond the algorithm itself, once customers have found your content on a search engine results page, they’ll quickly abandon it if you’re not offering quality content. The majority of your customers spend plenty of time on the internet, they know authenticity when they see it, and they’ll spot an international ‘pretender’ a mile (or kilometre) away. To establish credibility with an audience and give you an edge over your competitors who aren’t using localised content, a country domain page with specifically crafted content can help improve your visibility, drive traffic to your site and make sure visitors stay and convert in higher numbers. 

When are ccTLDs commonly used?

Internet country codes are most useful to websites that have a multinational presence and need to distinguish their region specific content in order to improve local search engine results pages. They’re most commonly used by companies and organisations that offer localised products, services and content for different geographic audiences.

This localised content might use a different language or spelling conventions, touch on different cultural touchstones, it might emphasise a different range of products to suit a certain climate or lifestyle, or it might even be tailored to meet certain legal requirements within a region. If any of these considerations are important to your business, and they probably are, then ccTLDs are a good way to make sure relevant information is categorised to the right region by Google and other search engines.     

ccTLDs vs. other types of domains

If you’ve been looking at using country domains to appeal to different markets around the world, you may be wondering what other types of domains there are out there. These are the types of domains:

  • TLDs – Top Level Domains. These are:  
    • ccTLDs – country code Top Level Domains
    • gTLDs – generic Top Level Domains 
  • Subdirectories, or second level domains and;
  • Subdomains or third level domains

Some of these domains can work together, while others are a replacement for one another. Let’s briefly compare subdirectories, subdomains and ccTLDs, and examine when you might want to use these domain structures for your website. 

Subdirectories 

Subdirectories are a kind of domain which makes it easier to organise discrete pages into categories. Also known as a subfolder, it creates a system where certain content can be nested within larger topics or folders. For example, you might set up a subdirectory called yourwebsite.com/clothing, and within that subdirectory other pages would be nested, like yourwebsite.com/clothing/tops and yourwebsite.com/clothing/pants. In general, subdirectories will be cheaper to implement than maintaining a domain like a ccTLD.   

Subdomains

Subdomains are a domain type which appears before the first dot in the URL structure. Subdomains are commonly used for testing and staging before elements or pages of a website go live, but they can also be used to separate certain segments of a website for specific uses or to have certain technological capabilities. For example, yourwebsite.com might add the subdomain shop.yourwebsite.com for its eCommerce pages, which are specifically set up to handle taking payments and transactions.  

If you’re not sure whether subdomains and subdirectories are right for your business, check out our article on subdomains and subdirectories for international SEO.   

ccTLDs

As you might have noticed by now, subdirectories, subdomains and ccTLDs are all useful for performing different functions. However, they can also have overlapping uses. Subdomains, for example, can replace ccTLDs in a domain structure, for example de.yourwebsite.com instead of yourwebsite.de. In both examples, the domain is being used to differentiate between different language versions or regional versions of a similar page. 

There are a few factors to consider when choosing your domain type. Ease of navigation for a customer is a major one, and subdomains can become confusing to users when nestled in the middle of a URL, while ccTLDs sit clearly as a domain ending which may be more simple and ultimately feel more trustworthy to your audience. 

If you have subdomains for eCommerce or other sections of your site, also trying to use this to define region specific content can become messy. ccTLDs only serve as an identifiable internet country code, which is arguably a more clear and streamlined use. Domain structure is also considered by search engine algorithms, so using best practices when it comes to structuring your domain types and naming conventions is both a stylistic and a practical consideration. 

There are a few other advantages to using ccTLDs over other domain types:

  • They’re easy to register
  • They can quickly and effectively establish you in a local market, improving your branding and country visibility. 
  • Unlike subdomains or subdirectories, Google takes ccTLDs into account when recommending localised content for users.

Ultimately, what’s right for your business will depend on the kind of product or service you offer, how many regions you operate in, whether you deal with eCommerce, what the goals of your business are, your domain budget and your growth aims. 

What is favoured by most SEO experts?

As with so much of SEO strategy, choosing the right domain types and deciding whether an internet country code is right for your purposes comes down to striking the right balance for your business. CcTLDs are expensive to maintain, there’s no getting around this. However, they do offer real value to businesses if you’re looking to break into international markets or improve your brand visibility across different regions. 

It’s the only region specific domain type that Google actually takes into account when assessing and recommending localised content, which means it could provide a real boost to your content which you’ve spent time working to adapt for a specific market. An effective localisation strategy will take a good deal of technical SEO and non-technical SEO elements, as well as crafting a personalised approach that’s tailor-made for your business. As part of this strategy, ccTLDs may indeed prove a valuable tool for launching in new markets and establishing yourself as a local authority in your field.   

Need more expert SEO advice?

If you’re trying to crack the code of impactful international SEO, our team at Online Marketing Gurus can help. We’ve launched business in markets all across the world, and help them achieve impressive SEO results that don’t just get clicks, but drive the right audience that will boost conversions and your bottom line. Whether you’re an eCommerce brand wanting to corner new markets or a successful domestic business with your eye on some serious long term growth, we’re excited to talk to you about your business goals, and how we can tailor the right bespoke strategy to achieve them. Weighing up the pros and cons of ccTLDs? Talk to us today!

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