Google revists Country Code Top Level Domain usage

Matt Cutts via the Google Webmaster Help channel released another video discussing country code top level domain (ccTLD) usage  a few days ago.  The title of the video was “Should I use ccTLDs for sites not targeted to those countries?” and this was the question that was asked.

As memorable .COM domains become more expensive, more developers are choosing alternate new domains like .IO and .IM – which Google geotargets to small areas. Do you discourage this activity?
Andy, NY

Matt Cutts says in the beginning of the video, “I want you to go in with eyes open.” which basically means you should be careful buying a random ccTLDs to use for your website if your intention is global use.  Later he said, “Most domains do pertain to that specific country.” when he was talking about certain ccTLDs.

Specifically he mentioned the extension .LI, which is the country code top level domain for Lichtenstein.  Some people in Long Island, New York have started to use the .LI extension for “Long Island.”  Cutts confirmed in this video thought that Google doesn't view .LI for use on Long Island or global use and still considers it a ccTLD for the country of Lichtenstein.

Back in February, 2013 there was a Google Webmaster Help video discussing ccTLD hacks.  In the video Cutts specifically mentioned the domain extension .IO, for the Indian Ocean, which was still considered targeted for that area of use in February.  What is interesting is that in this video he said that Google had looked at who was using .IO extension and it mostly wasn't people from the Indian Ocean.  For a $99 renewal fee I doubt many people in the Indian Ocean will spring to use .IO anyway.  This should make any startups or websites that are using the .IO happy since this is the first official confirmation of this from Google.

country code top level domain

Here is a list of ccTLDs that Google has confirmed are for global use.  If you are interested you can find a lot of short domains for these various extensions using Short Domain Search, which I wrote about.

What Google should do is allow people who buy a country code top level domain that isn't on that list to be able to go into Google Webmaster Tools and geoselect if it is for the country or global use.  So many new companies and start-ups seem to be using ccTLD domain extensions due to the lack of good available .COM, .NET, and even .ORG domains these days

Since this issue is not going away and I suspect that more and more people will pester Google about this I wouldn't be surprised if they changed their minds in the future.  If Google allowed webmasters to geoselect it would actually bring down the cost of ccTLDs for people to use in those specific countries since the more registrations you have the lower the annual domain renewal cost is.

There will be a lot of new global domain extensions that will be available for registration soon but I doubt the ccTLD craze will go away even with these new extensions on the horizon.  People really seem to like domain hacks and .IO for some reason.

Still most webmasters, including myself, would prefer to have the widest range of possible sources of traffic.  So in my opinion it is preferable to go with a global top level domain (gTLD) if you can.  I have Singing Dogs and that is a .NET.  A lot of good gTLDs are still out there and it still seems Google and Matt Cutts recommend you go with that anyway instead of choosing a country code top level domain which might confuse Google and users.

Matt Cutts doesn’t recommend ccTLD Domain Hacks

In a Google Webmaster video that was released today Matt Cutts seems to suggest that using what is known as “Domain Hacks” is not necessarily a great idea.  Here is the question that he responded to in the the Google Webmaster video.

We have a vanity domain (http://ran.ge) that unfortunately isn't one of the generic TLDs, which means we can't set our geographic target in Webmaster Tools. Is there any way to still target our proper location?

Aaron D Campbell, Phoenix, AZ

I am glad Aaron asked this as using a vanity domain, aka Domain Hacks, is something I was curios to know since I have thought about registering a few.  For those don't know, Domains Hacks or a vanity domain is when a person, business, or site decides to utilize a country code top level domain (ccTLD) to complete a word or phrase.  This is instead of using a more generic top level domain (gTLD) such as a COM, NET, or ORG.  A good example of a Domain Hack would be Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress, using Ma.TT for his personal blog.  The .TT domain extension is technically for Trinidad & Tobago but Matt Mullenweg isn't using it for a business for Trinidad & Tobago just his personal blog.

Over the past couple years vanity domains and domain hacks have really grown in popularity and use.  Most domainers, internet marketers, and web professionals know that finding a good .COM domain at a reasonable price is slim nowadays.  Even finding a suitable .NET  and. ORG domain these days that has not been taken can also be a challenge.  I felt lucky when I was able to get the domain for Singing Dogs.

A lot of savy internet entrepreneurs have turned to using domain hacks and vanity domains like Aaron and his business partners with Ran.GE which I think is a smart domain.  (In case you didn't watch the video that is the ccTLD for Georgia. No, not the the US state the country.)

While there are quite clever domain hacks and vanity domains in use, Matt Cutts warns that Google categorizes ccTLDs as being for the specific country that they were originally intended for.  So if you are using .ES, the ccTLD for Spain, Google will assume you are targeting Spanish traffic since that is mainly what the domain is for.  So unfortunately Aaron and his buddies can't tell Google specifically that, “Hey, this domain is not for the country of Georgia.”

There have been a few successful ccTLDs that have gone mainstream in the past few years.  This includes .ME the original ccTLD for Montenegro, .CO which was originally for Columbia, and .TV which was the ccTLD for islands of Tuvalu.  A lot of internet start-ups really like .ME and .CO which I don't really understand honestly.  The domain extension .TV is somewhat popular due to the fact it can be used for video and show purposes.  (Keep in mind though that since these were adopted for use globally they are treated differently by Google now.)

What I took away from the video was that it is better to stick with a gTLD (com, net, org) since there won't be any confusion with Google or more importantly site visitors.  So you might want to think carefully before registering  domain hacks or vanity domains.