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Top-Level Domain & Other Restrictions for International SEO

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Motoko Hunt
Motoko Hunt
Top-Level Domain & Other Restrictions for International SEO
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    READS

Selecting a domain for your website is like deciding a name for your baby. Everyone wants the best name for their website.

In the U.S., most businesses go with a dot-com, which is a generic top-level domain (gTLD). Some websites get creative with top-level domains (TLD) to complete the name such as “time.is”.

But did you know that a top-level domain you choose may have an impact on your website?

There are six different types of top-level domains:

  • Infrastructure top-level domain (ARPA)
  • Generic top-level domains (gTLD)
  • Restricted generic top-level domains (grTLD)
  • Sponsored top-level domains (sTLD)
  • Country code top-level domains (ccTLD)
  • Test top-level domains (tTLD)

In this article, we’ll focus on the two most popular TLDs – ccTLD and gTLD.

Note: If you’d like to find out about TLDs in general, go to IANA and ICANN for the information.

ccTLD & gTLD: What’s the Difference?

What are the differences between ccTLD and gTLD?

  • ccTLD, or country code top-level domain, is the top-level domain generally assigned for each country or a dependent territory. The domain consists of two letters representing the country or territory such as “.us” for the United States and “.ca” for Canada.
  • gTLD, or generic top-level domain, is also a top-level domain but is not assigned to a specific country or doesn’t have any restrictions. “.com” and “.net” are the most commonly used gTLDs.

Some gTLD domains such as “.edu” and “.gov” are called sponsored top-level domain are designated to specific agencies or organizations, but not to any specific geography or country.

The Impact of Using ccTLDs

There are several reasons for choosing a ccTLD over gTLD.

Perhaps the most important SEO benefit of using a ccTLD for your website is the geotargeting benefit, as it sends the clear message to the search engines that the site is designed for a specific country or region.

A ccTLD also comes with challenges when you wish to target other countries and regions.

For example, if your website uses “.de” domain which is a ccTLD for Germany and you add French content targeting France or English content targeting the U.S., you’d need to take extra steps to indicate that those sites are designed for France or U.S.

Other ccTLD-Related Matters to Consider

While the search engines are not saying that you must have ccTLD, the local search engines such as Baidu and Yandex seem to weigh websites with “.cn” and “.ru” more in the search results.

In general, you can obtain ccTLDs relatively easily. But in some countries, they have put extra layers of restrictions. In many cases the country wants an actual company representative to be held accountable if laws are broken.

Here are some examples of tighter restrictions:

China

You can obtain a Chinese ccTLD “.cn” from outside China, but the Chinese government requires all websites targeting China to be registered to obtain ICP BeiA.

The websites must indicate the ICP license number on each webpage. If you happen to remove this license number during a redesign, your site will be removed from Baidu.

In the latest ICP framework published in the China Telecommunication Catalog, it seems that they now require organizations to setup a hosting agreement with a China-based ISP to apply for and ICP license.

Japan

You can obtain a Japanese ccTLD “.jp” from outside Japan, but you must have a business or organization registered with a physical address in Japan to register the second level domains such as “.co.jp” and “.or.jp”.

UK

In 2014, the “.uk” ccTLD became available. Before that, you could only register a second-level domain such as “.co.uk”. Some of “.uk” domains are open for non-UK businesses and organizations.

Korea & Indonesia

Similar to Japanese second-level domains, if you are thinking of registering ccTLDs such as “.kr” for South Korea or “.id” for Indonesia, you need to have a local presence.

To find out more about the ccTLD registrations, go to IANA and ICANN.

Numerous ccTLDs Now Considered as Generic

Many websites have started to use some ccTLDs without the intention of targeting a specific country, but for tracking or to get attention or present a specific type of content.

A common example is .tv which is the ccTLD for the Polynesian Island nation of Tuvalu. Currently, .tv domain registrations make up 10 percent of the revenue of the country.

The same thing happened with the ccTLD for Colombia. The popularity of the .co domain exploded when companies wanted shorter domains for social media. Popular sites using these are Twitter (t.co) and Overstock (which converted for a time to o.co).

Due to this alternative use of these domains, Google now consider some ccTLDs as generic country code top-level domains (gccTLDs).

Here are some examples of gccTLDs:

  • .ad
  • .bz
  • .co
  • .io
  • .me
  • .tv

Since these are considered as generic, you should set a target geolocation for your website with other ways described here.

Note that other search engines may or may not view these ccTLDs as generic. Use them cautiously, especially if search engines such as Baidu, Bing, Naver, and Yandex are important traffic sources to your website.

Also, there are many ccTLDs permitting worldwide commercial use such as Spain’s “.es” to create plural words like “beach.es”, those are not considered as generic, and still tied to a specific country.

What Is Not a ccTLD?

While “.eu” is a ccTLD for European Union, other region name domains such as “.africa” and “.helsinki” are actually gTLDs.

It means that if you use “.africa”, you’d still need to take other means to indicate the geo-targeting for your website.

For a list of top-level domains showing the type, go to the Root Zone Database.

Final Thoughts

If you have a financial luxury of purchasing all ccTLDs for your international websites, I recommend you do that before someone else grabs them.

However, ccTLDs have a variety of pros and cons and legal restrictions concerning ownership. It may sound “cute” when you can create a word including ccTLD, but if you do that, your site may be linked to a country other than the one you wish to target.

I suggest that you pre-plan how you’d like to structure the websites globally, and based on the domain you decide to use, take necessary geotargeting measures to indicate the target country of your websites.

More International Search Resources:

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Motoko Hunt

President, International Search Marketing at AJPR

Since Motoko established AJPR in 1998, she has been providing the online marketing services targeting Japan, Asia and other markets ... [Read full bio]

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