One of the most common questions I hear when building a new site for a customer relates to domain extensions.
Someone needing a website in Vancouver, for instance, will often ask whether they should be using a .com extension or .ca (the canadian domain extension).
Here’s how it all works:
.ca .uk .au and other 2 letter extensions are ccTLDs. Or, ‘country code top-level domains’ the rules for registering one of these domains vary by country but they are generally reserved for companies or individuals who are citizens of that particular country.
It used to be that registering one of these domains helped ensure that Google gave regional preference to your site. For example, having a .ca domain meant that google.ca would weigh your site heavier in search results. This was in addition to server location, page language and inbound links from other sites.
However, this changed last year with the addition of Google’s Geographic Target tool. This component of their webmaster tools allows site owners with any domain extension (.com, .org, etc) to specify a particular region or country to be associated with.
If you own a ccTLD you cannot specify a geographical preference. However, for those with .com or other classic domain extensions this feature helps you give your site a bump without the need to purchase localized or regional hosting.
The most exciting part is the ability to set a preference to a sub-domain. What this means is that you could own one site, let’s say yourname.com. You could build a regional preference into unlimited sub-domains and target each towards a different country. For example, france.yourname.com , england.yourname.com, canada.yourname.com. Each subdomain could hold pages specific to a particular country with all files being hosted on one hosting plan in one location. This is a tremendous time-saver for international organizations.
There still appears to be a preference for server location built into the search ‘pages from…’ option on Google that will look toward server location. This is still worth considering for highly competitive areas.
The downside? Once you have a ccTLD you are locked into the region represented.