The topic of local domains (ccTLDs) is one that comes up regularly in discussions around International SEO. I get asked regularly if and when a local domain should be used and more importantly: why should a local domain be used? This article will go deeper into local domains and why you should be aware of their impact on your international website’s organic search performance. If you’re looking for such SEO related advice, visit this site.
What is a Local Domain?
A country code top-level domain (ccTLD) is an Internet top-level domain generally used or reserved for a country (a sovereign state or a dependent territory). For in-depth information, please see Wikipedia.
To use some examples, .de is the ccTLD of Germany, and .fr is the ccTLD of France.
The advantages of using a ccTLD
The interesting part when discussing this topic is really the exact advantages a local domain has over a generic .com, .eu or other domain. So let’s get straight to the point and look at some of the main advantages.
Local search results
For convenience I am going to refer to Google when discussing search engines. Largely speaking this advice applies for the other search engines as well.
In order to be listed in ‘local’ SERPs, Google needs to understand where your website is from. There are multiple factors Google will take into account, but the absolute first and easiest method for Google to determine where your website is from is by looking at the domain. If your website has a .de ccTLD, your website will appear in the local search results in Google.de ‘pages from Germany’. It’s really as easy as that. Given how many issues you can prevent simply by using local domains in the first place, if you are presented with the choice when launching a new website, pick the ccTLD.
An underestimated, but nonetheless relevant quality is that a ccTLD adds credibility to a website. People from France are much more likely to engage with a website on a .fr domain than they are with a website on a .com or other domain. In certain markets this can have a significant impact and it’s always worth doing some market research (or asking your agency for advice) before choosing your domain.
Believe it or not, but a ccTLD can also help your link building program. Links from local sites are far more attractive to website owners so you can experience a much easier time in acquiring links. Some quality, local directories will only accept submissions from local sites – so you wouldn’t be able to obtain a link at all with your generic domain.
In addition to this, the links between your various local websites on ccTLDs are of much higher value than these same links would be if all these sites are sitting within the same .com or other generic domain.
Generally speaking, Google prefers to display local websites in search results in the various local versions of Google. All other factors being identical, a website with the relevant local ccTLD will rank above the same website on a .com in the local version of Google. The reverse can be true as well, so it is important to know what geographic region you are targeting! If the majority of your customers are coming from the US (despite you targeting the UK) then you might want to reconsider.
The disadvantages of using a ccTLD
Obviously there are also some disadvantages to using a ccTLD. However these are quite specific. For example, your website might already sit on a .com domain. If this structure has been out there for many years and enjoys hundreds of thousands of back links, then you could experience a drop in performance by switching to a local domain.
In this case you would have to spend years of ‘aging’ the ccTLD, building links to it and carefully preparing it for use in the future. This can be costly and in some cases just isn’t worth it.
If you are starting from scratch or entering a new market, opting for a ccTLD is almost always going to be the better choice long-term. You might have a slower start if you have to register a new domain rather than using one registered years ago, but ultimately the site will perform much better locally.
If you already have your website sitting on a generic domain, the decision to move to local domains is a much more difficult one. You have to be very cautious and look at the performance of your website from all angles before you ‘flick the switch’. Be aware that you might experience a temporary performance loss.
Ultimately it all comes down to what you are trying to achieve with your website(s). If the goal is to perform in the local search results, a local domain is by far the best method to achieve it.