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What are the countries where ‘country code Top Level Domains’ (ccTLDs) are really needed?

At the recent BrightonSEO conference I was asked a couple of times if there are any countries where it is always right tbe to use a country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD). Domain strategy is an important part of your international digital marketing strategy and there are pros and cons of each approach.

A ccTLD can help you appear in your target market as the major search engines all assume that if you have a country level domain, you are targeting visitors in that country. A good example of this: go to Google Search Console on a .de domain and look in the International Targeting menu. You will see in this option that the .de domain has been automatically associated with Germany.

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Despite this automatic association, it is more than possible to have a successful international campaign with a top level domain with either a sub folder or sub domain approach when combined with localised content and hreflang tags.

However, there are some countries which do have a leaning towards better results of ccTLDs and it’s important to factor this into your planning when looking at expanding into new territories.

China

The first, and most commonly known of these is China where the Baidu search engine generally ranks .cn and .com.cn domains above more generic ccTLDs.

Historically anyone with a .com domain or other TLD would struggle to get visibility in Baidu at all as the algorithm placed no authority whatsoever against these domains. However, in recent years we’ve seen some movement towards some domains which aren’t a Chinese ccTLD performing much better than previously.

Interestingly, most of the Baidu sub sites such as Baike (similar to Wikipedia) are on .com domains.

However, we have found that it is still much more likely that the top results will be on Chinese-based ccTLDs compared to .coms so generally recommend, where possible, to have a local domain for the Chinese market.

Russia

Yandex is another engine which has historically favoured a local .ru ccTLD over .com domains and again we saw little success for generic TLDs.

Over the course of the last few years this has been updated so that more TLDs are performing well in the search engines, but there is still a bias towards local ccTLDs to perform better in Russia than a generic one.

Local research is key

Although the above two countries do prefer a ccTLD this doesn’t mean that having a .com or other TLD for your website will be prohibitive as we’ve found that the mix of ccTLD and TLD results will vary from industry to industry and on the keywords being used. This is not just the case in the Russian and Chinese markets but also in other markets across the world.

As a result of this, it’s important to conduct full competitor research on a country by country basis and keyword by keyword level to ensure you understand the importance of these local domains to your marketing performance.