Google’s John Mueller on domain selection: gTLDs vs. ccTLDs
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Google’s John Mueller on domain selection: gTLDs vs. ccTLDs

Google Search proponent John Mueller shed some light on the difference between generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) and offered practical advice for businesses and SEO professionals.

His comments come amid Google’s recent update, which categorizes .ai domains as gTLDs, diverging from their previous assignment to Anguilla, a British Overseas Territory in the eastern Caribbean.

Understand the difference between gTLD and ccTLD

A website owner asks about the SEO implications of choosing locale domains in a Reddit thread on the r/SEO forums.

In response to the thread, Mueller notes that ccTLDs such as .nl, .fr and .de are beneficial when 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 corresponding ccTLD might be a better choice.

Mueller explains:

“The main thing I would look for is ccTLD (“country code” – like nl, fr, de) vs. gTLD (“generic” – com, store, net etc.). ccTLDs tend to be country-focused, which is fine if you plan to sell primarily in that country or globally. If you want to primarily target another country (e.g. “nationwi.de” but want to target the US), make sure you get either that ccTLD or a gTLD.”

He also clarifies that all new TLDs will be classified as gTLDs. Even those that appear geographically specific, like “.berlin”, are not technically considered ccTLDs.

Mueller continues:

“All new TLDs are basically gTLDs – some sound geo-specific but technically they aren’t (like “.berlin” – it’s a gTLD). Aside from ccTLD vs gTLD for SEO, there is also the user aspect to think about: will they click on a link they think is for users in another country?”

In another similar thread, Mueller warns against picking TLDs that are predominantly used by spammers:

“From an SEO perspective, I just wouldn’t pick a TLD that’s super cheap and inundated with spam.” This comment underscores the importance of considering TLD reputation in SEO strategy.

Google’s .ai domain update

Google recently updated its help documentation to state that .ai domain names are now treated as a gTLD, similar to .com, .org, and others.

This means that Google searches will not include geo-specific .ai domains for Anguilla.

Gary Illyes from the Google Search Relations team explains the reason for the change:

“We’re not going to derive the target country from the ccTLD, so targeting Anguilla became a bit more difficult, but then again, there are hardly any .ai domains trying to do that anyway.”

This update is significant for businesses and SEO professionals who previously avoided using .ai domain names for fear Google might associate them with Anguilla.

The new classification removes these concerns, and such domains can now be used without worrying about geo-targeting by Google’s algorithms.

In total

Choosing the right domain, whether country-specific (ccTLD) or generic (gTLD), is crucial to reaching the right audience.

A ccTLD could be a good fit if a business is primarily targeting customers in a particular 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 damage your site’s reputation.

Mueller’s comments are a good reminder to make strategic decisions when registering your domain.


Featured image created by the author using Midjourney.