Generic TLD vs. Country Code TLD: Which is the Better Option?
When starting a website, one of the most important things to consider is what top-level domain (TLD) to use. A website's domain extension, TLD helps businesses communicate information about their product, boost audience trust and engagement, and improve brand recall.
There are various domain extensions, and each variation has its purpose. Two of the most common types of TLD are the generic top-level domain (gTLD) and country-code top-level domain (ccTLD). Selecting one over the other can impact a brand, for better or for worse.
This article will cover the basics of TLDs, compare gTLDs and ccTLDs, and evaluate the best option for brands.
What is a TLD?
In a nutshell, a TLD is the set of letters at the end of an internet address. In www.sample.com, for instance, the TLD is .com. This domain extension can also be country-specific. For example, a website that caters to a Canadian market can go to www.sample.ca. Some businesses use more than one type of TLD to reach different audiences.
The TLD is at the top of the internet's phonebook, the Domain Name System (DNS). It simplifies the classification process of all addresses in the DNS and ensures website functionality and signals legitimacy to potential visitors.
The Internet Corporation for the Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) reserves and manages TLDs. The organization also directly deals with any company that sells or maintains domain extensions. Brands looking to register a domain typically choose between gTLD or ccTLD.
What is a gTLD?
A gTLD is a domain that is not restricted to any specific country. Anyone in the world can register this domain extension. The most common gTLD is .com, comprising 54% of websites globally.
There are many different types of gTLD, and each variation suits a purpose or origin. The domain extension .com, for example, is typically for commercial use. Meanwhile, networks use .net, and non-profit organizations use .org.
Aside from those well-known domain extensions, there are also restricted gTLDs. Companies who want to register these domains need to present proof of eligibility. Some examples are .biz, .name, and .pro, which register only businesses, persons, and professionals.
In 2011, ICANN also allowed companies to operate their gTLD registry. Domain extensions like .google and .oracle are examples of this. In addition, generic niches and specific geographical areas also have their gTLD. Some examples are .money, .realestate., .nyc, and .berlin.
What is a ccTLD?
A ccTLD is a local or country-specific domain. It often consists of a two-letter TLD that indicates a relation to a particular country. For example, .in domains are specific to India, while .sg domains are for Singapore. These types of domains are targeted for a specific geographical location or region.
There are more than 300 ccTLDs. The most popular is Tokelau's .tk, with 24.9 million registered domains. Close behind is China's .cn, with 24.49 million registrations. Unlike gTLDs, many ccTLDs follow certain restrictions or standard procedures for domain registrations.
However, there are also open ccTLDs that anyone from anywhere can purchase. Companies typically use these not for targeting a specific country but for creative branding purposes.
An example of this is the domain extension .io. Initially, British Indian Ocean Territory's assigned ccTLD has become a standard domain for tech companies and startups. Because of this shift, Google has begun to recognize this type of domain as a generic ccTLD (ccTLD).
Choosing between gTLD vs. ccTLD
After knowing the difference between gTLD and ccTLD, businesses' next step is choosing the best domain for them. Here are some factors to consider.
A website's domain name can create an immediate impression on a brand. New businesses are more inclined to choose a standard gTLD like .com, .net, and .org, but these domains are oversaturated. This makes new websites have fewer chances of acquiring their first choice of domain name. Moreover, these gTLDs are no longer enough to cover all the subsections of the internet as the world wide web expands.
But ICANN's introduction of new gTLDs offers a wider variety of domain names. Businesses can use gTLDs like .tech or .toys to highlight their product offerings and services through their web address. Ultimately, this helps establish rapport with their target audience and connects brands to a specific community.
In comparison, ccTLD domains have more availability than gTLDs. With a shorter TLD, country-specific domain extensions are also accessible for audiences to remember. Moreover, open ccTLDs enable brands to unleash their creativity; some businesses use their domain name and extension to create a complete word related to their services, like www.beach.es.
One thing to note is that ccTLD websites are highly likely to be mistaken for a gTLD page. For example, people who misremember birthdaycakes.ph might go to birthdaycakes.com, a different company altogether. The former loses not only site traffic but also potential customers.
While a TLD does not directly affect a website's search engine optimization (SEO), it can indirectly impact its search ranking. Search engines identify gTLD websites as neutral, meaning their position on a search page result depends on their relevance to a query. This also means that while gTLD websites can reach a global audience faster, they're also more competitive SEO.
Meanwhile, search engines tag ccTDL websites as country or location-specific. Search engines rank them higher whenever relevant to a geotargeted user's query. To illustrate, when someone from London searches for "coffee" on Google, websites with a .uk domain extension rank higher on the search page result. This then drives more geotargeted traffic to the site.
But what about gTLDs like .io, .tv, and .me? While ICANN originally assigned these domain extensions to a specific country, Google now differentiates them from ccTLD. As a result, they don't necessarily rank high for location-specific queries. Rather, search engines treat them as generic domain extensions.
Target market and audience reach
The two types of TLD cater to different audiences. gTLDs don't have a country designation and are recognizable worldwide. Because of this, businesses can use them to reach international audiences effectively.
But this doesn't mean that gTLDs have little effect on local audiences. Companies that use gTLDs can still target specific users in a particular country through the Google Search Console. Using a geotargeting setting on the web service allows gTLD brands to choose a country to prioritize their search results.
Audiences are more likely to shop from local brands, making a ccTLD more suitable for local businesses. This advantage of geotargeting has prompted some companies to localize their domain names. Amazon, for example, has registered multiple ccTLD domains to assert its presence in local markets. Nominus.com is a good registrar option to register multiple CCTLDs simultaneously.
While ccTLDs have less global reach, gTLD are more successful in that regard, though audiences perceive them as industry-specific rather than country-specific websites. That's why.tv domains will likely get more traffic from media and entertainment fans than from users living in Tuvalu.
Recognition and trust factor
Some users perceive certain TLDs as more trustworthy than others. Most SEO experts recommend brands use a .com TLD because it's not suspicious and is 33% more memorable than other domain extensions. A report by GrowthBadger shows that when people misremember a website address, they often assume that it ends with a .com TLD.
In the same report, .com outperformed seven other TLDs with a trust rating of 3.5 out of 5. The domains .co and .org closely followed with respective trust scores of 3.4 and 3.3. Confidence in these TLDs can lead to more click-through rates and inbound links.
But while trust is high for those original gTLDs, a Varn study reveals that 70% of respondents across the UK don't trust new gTLDs. Instead, users have associated domain extensions like .biz, .zip, and .info with spam pages. Although Google does not penalize alternative TLDs like this, mistrust among users can affect a website's click-through rate and traffic.
Conversely, ccTLD domains have little impact on user trust. Most respondents in a study by Moz don't see ccTLDs as more reliable or less reliable than gTLDs. Similarly, less than 29% of American and Australian respondents found non-local TLDs less reliable. This shows that most users focus more on the domain name than on the TLD.
Be that as it may, the Moz study shows that ccTLDs do impact e-commerce. Despite their confidence in either type of TLD, almost half of the respondents still chose a local TLD when asked about making a purchase decision. This suggests that selling online would be more advantageous for ccTLD domains.
Anyone can register a domain with the original gTLD. The only requirements are finding an accredited registrar and complying with that registrar's requirements and fees.
The process is much more intricate with new gTLDs, where businesses apply to create and operate a registry business. The process can take nine to 20 months or longer to complete depending on the number of applications that ICANN receives. Applications will go through several evaluations that will also cost the applicants.
Similarly, buying a ccTLD domain can be complex. Users need to present special requirements, which can differ per country. Each state usually has an organization that defines the terms for registration. For example, one of France's .fr domain requirements is a residency or headquarters in the country. Only those who fulfill the legal procedure would be authorized to register a domain.
In addition, brands should watch out for new information on ccTLD domain registrations. Governments are capable of changing the rules for domain registrations. One such case is that of China's .cn. To curb the registration of so-called suspicious websites, the Chinese government limited their domain registrations in 2010 to only Chinese businesses. Nominus.com, a worldwide registrar, can assist you in registering a country-code domain
The price for each TLD depends on the registrar that a website uses. The more popular .com and .net are more expensive than other TLDs, but the price still depends on the registry. GoDaddy’s .com and .org introductory prices go for $0.99 and $10.17 a year. Alternatively, HostGator's .com and .org TLDs both cost $12.95 annually.
Many registrars require an upfront payment of both the first and second-year plans. Prices usually increase after each succeeding year. There are also cheaper gTLDs like .xyz and .top, but the caveat is that people tend to associate lesser-known TLDs with spam websites.
As for new gTLDs, the application with ICANN alone costs $185,000. There are additional costs for each stage of the process, plus a quarterly fee of $25,000 for successful applications.
Likewise, ccTLD can also be expensive, depending on the country or partner registry. This can be as low as $12.99 to $109.99 a year. Like gTLDs, renewal costs also jump after each year. These expenses may be too much for a company that wants to maintain multiple ccTLDs.
Which one is the better TLD?
Choosing the best TLD depends on a company's objective. Brands that are focused on reaching an international audience without a specific target country will likely succeed with a gTLD domain. In contrast, a ccTLD is ideal for local businesses, especially those who want to penetrate the regional market.
Either way, audiences perceive both types of TLD as equally trustworthy. Both also have the potential to drive traffic and click-through rates from various audiences and thereby perform well in SEO rankings.
An ideal strategy is a mixed approach. Companies will likely benefit more from registering the more popular and relatively cheaper .com TDL. This can allow them to establish and grow their online presence with a larger audience.
In the long run, companies should also consider localizing their TDL. While costly, it can allow companies to strengthen their foothold on local audiences and potentially increase their revenue.