When you have a website targeting a specific country, it can make sense to use a country-code TLD such as .de for Germany, or .cn for China. In general, Google assumes that domains using a country-code extension are more relevant to that specific country than others. Local users will also feel more inclined to click on a website that is clearly from their country.
But what if you use a domain of Country A (e.g. .it for Italy) but target it to Country B (e.g. USA)?
There are two scenarios where this question becomes important:
1. If you started off with a local site and are now planning to expand into other geographies.
2. If you want to use the country-code TLD as “vanity TLD” (because it looks good) or simply because .com is unavailable. Common examples are .co (Colombia), .ly (Libya), .me (Montenegro) or .io (British Indian Ocean Territory).
As mentioned above, Google will usually (!) automatically consider your website to target the country of your extension. Even trying to re-target to another country through GSC won’t help. That is why, Google discourages using country-code domain extension if you aren’t targeting that country. It is thus much safer to work with a generic TLD instead, or to create separate sites for each country you want to target.
However, who hasn’t seen a .co or .io domain appear in their Google search these days, despite not living in neither Colombia nor the Indian Ocean? Shouldn’t those domains have a disadvantage, all things being equal?
Well, the truth is: there are a number of ccTLDs that are treated as generic TLDs by Google. They have recognized that there is already widespread use by webmasters and users outside of the original domain country, so it made sense to “internationalize” those domains by creating a new category of “gccTLDs” (generic country-code Top-Level Domains).
In fact, Google has released a list of domain extensions that they have re-classified as generic.
Generic Country-Code TLDs
As of now, these are the ccTLDs that are generic (this list might change so please refer to the list on Google):
Generic GeoTLDs and City TLDs
Also generic are all geographic TLDs (which feature regions, not countries) and city TLDs.
Examples are (this list is non-exhaustive):
Note that Google might re-categorize additional ccTLDs as generic without adding them to the publicly available list (it hasn’t been updated in a while). You can’t safely assume that certain ccTLDs are treated as generic just because someone else is using them in a different country.
On the other hand, if a ccTLD can only be bought by a person or company in that same country, it is safe to assume that it is automatically geotargeted.
Remember: TLDs should be chosen wisely if you don’t want an SEO handicap from the get-go. Geotargeting your website is not complicated but just make sure you use either a generic domain extension, or the country-code of the country you will actually target.
Let us know below if you have any questions or remarks about this topic?
Picture credit: Slomox, public domain