Google Search Advocate, John Mueller, has shed light on the difference between generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), offering practical advice to businesses and SEO professionals.
His comments arrive amidst the recent update by Google that categorizes .ai domains as gTLDs, moving away from their previous association with Anguilla, a British Overseas Territory in the Eastern Caribbean.
Understanding The gTLD & ccTLD Distinction
A website owner in a Reddit thread on the r/SEO forum asks about the SEO implications of choosing country-specific domains.
Responding to the thread, Mueller notes that ccTLDs, such as .nl, .fr, and .de, are advantageous if a business is targeting customers in that region.
However, for those aiming for a global market or targeting a different country than the ccTLD suggests, a gTLD or the relevant ccTLD might be a better choice.
“The main thing I’d watch out for is ccTLD (“country code” — like nl, fr, de) vs gTLD (“generic” – com, store, net, etc). ccTLDs tend to focus on one country, which is fine if you plan on mostly selling in that country, or if you want to sell globally. If you mostly want to target another country (like “nationwi.de” but you want to target the US), then make sure to get either that ccTLD or a gTLD.”
He further clarifies that new TLDs are all classified as gTLDs. Even those that seem geographically specific, like “.berlin,” are technically not considered ccTLDs.
“All of the new TLDs are gTLDs, for what it’s worth — some sound geo-specific, but they’re technically not (like “.berlin” — it’s a gTLD). Apart from ccTLD vs gTLD for SEO, there’s also the user-aspect to think about: will they click on a link that they perceive to be for users in another country?”
In another similar thread, Mueller warns against selecting TLDs predominantly used by spammers:
“From an SEO POV, I would just not pick a TLD that’s super-cheap and over-run with spam.” This comment underlines the importance of considering the reputation of TLDs when strategizing for SEO.
Google’s .ai Domain Update
Google recently updated its help documentation, specifying that it now treats .ai domain names as a gTLD, similar to .com, .org, and others.
This means Google Search won’t consider .ai domains geo-specific to Anguilla.
Gary Illyes from the Google Search Relations team provides the reason behind the change:
“We won’t infer the target country from the ccTLD so targeting Anguilla became a little harder, but then again there are barely any .ai domains that try to do that anyway.”
This update is significant for businesses and SEO professionals previously avoiding the use of .ai domain names for fear of Google associating them with Anguilla.
The new classification removes the concerns, and such domains can now be used without the worry of geo-specific targeting by Google’s algorithms.
Choosing the right domain, whether country-specific (ccTLD) or generic (gTLD), makes a difference in reaching the right audience.
A ccTLD could be a good fit if a business mainly targets customers in a specific country. A gTLD might be a better choice if the goal is to reach a broader, global audience.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to avoid spammy TLDs that hurt your site’s reputation.
Mueller’s comments are a good reminder of the strategic decisions in registering your domain.
Featured image generated by the author using Midjourney.