ccTLD SEO Benefits Explained In An Epic 10 Part Analysis
There was a time when search engine optimization (SEO) was “easy” and sites could receive only minimal effort before they could turn around and rank for keywords they found valuable. Search engines have become quite complex, the competition has only grown, and user-behavior has adapted accordingly.
The times have changed and sites realize the difficulties arise when improving their overall SEO. But SEO is not impossible and certainly has the rewards that justify the resources required to do it well. Even if all a site is trying to do is to reach their audience via the search engines in their own country, saying that SEO can be challenging is an understatement.
Despite these challenges, using SEO to enter a foreign market is still one of the most viable marketing strategies for brands of every size. Extending into a new market outside of where a company normally conducts their business is achievable through international SEO.
The ultimate goals in executing an international SEO campaign is keeping the users in mind and sending out the right signals to search engines. One of the biggest factors to take advantage to achieve these underlying goals is leveraging a foreign ccTLD domain extension for the target markets.
gTLD vs. ccTLD: Which is better?
All websites have some kind of a domain extension and can either be a gTLD (generic top-level domain) or a ccTLD (country code top-level domain). At the lowest level, a gTLD are generic and therefore cover a wider pool of potential visitors and ccTLD are typically intended for users that are physically located within the ccTLD’s country of origin.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of what a gTLD and a ccTLD site would like:
Google.com vs. Google.de
Visiting both versions of Google’s site yield different sites, although they look remarkably similar. The first example is just one type of gTLD (i.e., .com, .org. .net, etc.) and this is one of the most common gTLDs used across the world. However, because Google wants to reach users in Germany, the second example uses the ccTLD domain extension (.de) specific to Germany.
Simply put, gTLDs are intended for a broad set of users, while ccTLDs are more targeted towards specific locations. There are plenty of reasons why a site would use a gTLD, but when it comes to sending stronger signals to search engines for international purposes, there are several challenges and benefits to implementing a ccTLD.
Benefits of ccTLDs for International SEO
For any hopes of success in an international SEO campaign, it all comes down to user experience and how search engines perceive a site’s relevance for its users. A site with a ccTLD won’t automatically outrank a similar site with a gTLD, but having one sends out a strong location-based signal to search engines. Provided that a site is considering local link building and properly optimized on-page factors, a ccTLD has more value than a gTLD would for SEO.
1. Geo-targeted by Default
Purely because of a ccTLDs purpose, it is automatically targeted to users of that ccTLD’s country. This is the big one because if a user performs a search where a ccTLD is common amongst search results, then it is probably more relevant to answer their particular query.
For example, if someone was looking to buy flowers and lives in the United Kingdom, they will definitely not be served results for flower shops in France. This may be an oversimplification, but the principle remains the same. Search engines like Google want to serve content that is relevant to its users, and ccTLDs play a large role when it comes to relevancy throughout the world. Just to put it into perspective, the majority of British websites use the .co.uk ccTLD.
2. Higher Authority for Local Link Building
A proper international SEO campaign will, of course, make sure to strategize and carry out a comprehensive local link building strategy. Links are still one of the biggest SEO ranking factors and are just as important for international SEO.
Obtaining links from local third party websites within a target market are huge since these links confirm a site’s relevancy in that region or country. Because search engines will place emphasis on where a site is getting its links from, local link building is crucial. Link building can be challenging in a foreign market, but a ccTLD will have more authority and therefore make it easier for link building efforts
3. Server Locations Become Irrelevant
Another technical factor that is common practice for international SEO is hosting a site with a hosting provider located in the target market. For example, a B2B exporter would have one of their sites hosted in their target market of Spain to suggest their local relevancy to search engines. There used to be tons of user-experience benefits to this tactic, but content delivery networks have eliminated the limitations of reaching users in foreign markets.
While some SEO professionals still view content being hosted on local servers as a viable tactic, a ccTLD is a much stronger signal regarding relevancy. Because of their location targeting by default, server locations are essentially irrelevant.
4. Potential Branding Advantages
For brands who may want to consider implementing multiple ccTLDs, getting visibility in a wide number of countries increases with ccTLDs. Having several versions of the same website covers more eyes and more regions than having one domain extension by default. Branding is all about getting as much exposure as many times as possible, and a ccTLD does contribute to branding on a global scale.
5. Higher Clickthrough Rates
In some countries, sites with their ccTLD are viewed as more authoritative than sites a gTLD. As mentioned earlier, users in countries like the United Kingdom will often prefer sites that have the .co.uk ccTLD extension than sites without them. Because of this preference by some users, they will opt to clickthrough search results with the ccTLD over their gTLD counterparts.
6. Reduced Risk of Duplicate Content
Duplicate is one of the biggest “no-nos” to avoid in terms of SEO, and because each domain extension ultimately acts as an individual install, content can be created to mirror content across domains and customized based on location.
Challenges of using a ccTLD
There is certainly a whole list of reasons how a site could benefit from using ccTLD domain extension, but there are definitely some challenges that come along with it. Knowing the challenges from the start can help formulate a strategy to overcome them.
1. IT Resources to Set Up & Maintain
Making the decision to have a ccTLD isn’t as easy as flipping on a switch. Because each domain extension creates its own site install, each version has to be maintained as a separate entity. This means content has to be considered for each and performing regular maintenance across multiple installs requires more resources from IT to handle appropriately.
2. Splitting up Link Authority
External links can provide value to a target page and the site overall, but this value is not spread across multiple domain extensions. Any links pointing to one version of a site are only for that domain and not to its ccTLD variations. Because of this, link building has to be taken into certain considerations since links still have tremendous value for SEO.
3. Restrictions Fluctuate by Country
Purchasing a ccTLD can become a complicated and specific process depending on the country the for which the ccTLD is intended. What may be a straightforward process in one country may vary drastically different from another.
The best example of this would be if a site wished to purchase a ccTLD for China. In China, only their citizens can purchase Chinese ccTLDs, so many sites must go through a third-party to essentially rent the ccTLD in their name.
Benefits Outweigh the Rewards
Restrictions by country can be handled with the proper research, but overcoming IT and link building challenges can also be overcome. Having a ccTLD won’t be the one reason a site will be propelled to the top of the SERPs in their target markets, but there are too many benefits to ignore for international SEO. With the right strategy and mindset, having a ccTLD has tremendous pros for a comprehensive international SEO campaign.