What you should know

Top-level domains and Google

Top-level domains (TLDs) represent the ending in the name resolution of a domain and thus represent the highest level, e.g. domain.com. There are different types with different areas of application. Learn from diva-e's SEO experts when which TLD makes sense, what relevance it has for SEO and how a TLD change is to be evaluated.

What are top-level domains and which TLD types are there?

The top-level domain is the letter combination to the right of the last dot of the domain, which identifies different types. In addition to the country-specific ccTLDs (country code top-level domains) such as .de or .us, the generic gTLDs (generic top-level domains) are widespread. Well-known representatives of this category are .com, .info and .org. The gTLDs do not have a regional attribute, but can be assigned geographically or linguistically via the hreflang tag. While the non-sponsored uTLDs (Unsponsored Top-Level Domains) can generally be registered by anyone with the coordinating bodies ICANN and the Internet Society, the sponsored sTLDs (Sponsored Top-Level Domains) are reserved for certain organizations and are also financed by them. Since March 2013, ICANN has been awarding new top-level domains such as .berlin as part of an application process. So the current list of all TLDs is getting longer and longer and the domain market is also flourishing.

Which TLD is best from an SEO perspective?

In principle, a generic top-level domain like .com is a solid choice, after all, users are familiar with it. A ccTLD signals to Google a particular relevance of the domain for country-specific searches. This is also true for geoTLDs like .berlin and .wien. Indirectly and under certain circumstances, these ccTLDs and geoTLDs can lead to a higher click-through rate for locally related searches, as the domains of these top-level domains imply a higher regional competence and connectedness.

But beware: internationally, it can be difficult to rank well with a .fr ccTLD in Spain, for example. This is because the domain extension suggests content exclusively for France or in French - moreover, ccTLDs can have a negative impact on the click-through rate of search results in other countries.

Sponsored domains like .jobs are interesting if they clarify the intention at a glance and should pick up the user in his need. With .jobs it is immediately clear that it is about job advertisements, .tech suggests expertise in the technical field.

TLD tips from Google

Internationalized top-level domains are a special case. An IDN (Internationalized Country Code Top-Level Domain) is a ccTLD encoded with punctuation from other languages. In a post on the Google Webmaster Central blog, John Mueller clarifies that the Googlebot crawls and indexes the encoded versions just like any other TLDs. Redirects or canonical URLS are not necessary, he says. In the same post, Mueller provides further recommendations and advice for SEOs with regard to TLDs: 

  • Google makes no distinction between new and traditional gTLDs. 

  • Keywords in a TLD have neither advantages nor disadvantages. 

  • UTF-8 should be used for the path and URL query string if it does not include ASCII characters only. 

  • Brand TLDs (.brand) are not preferred in ranking. 

  • Google currently treats geoTLDs like normal gTLDs despite region-specific targeting.

Move TLD: When is a switch recommended and how does it work?

If you have a ccTLD and now want to appear on the international market or if you want to unify your domain structure for branding reasons, you might consider changing the top-level domain. According to our estimation, the effort for a move only because of the TLD is low compared to the outcome. For example, an increase in SERP CTR cannot be empirically proven and there is a risk that rankings will not transfer from the old to the new domain.

Consolidating a fragmented domain landscape with local TLDs in multiple countries, on the other hand, can bring benefits. Consolidate them under one international TLD, unify backlinks, link signals, dwell time and other SEO relevant signals on this domain. In this way, you strengthen small countries and languages that have so far received little consideration in SEO. But also strong ccTLDs profit.

With every change, the correct language assignment via hreflang tag must be observed. If there is a theme page for different languages or countries, these page variations must always reference each other via the hreflang tag in order to send Google clear signals. It is also important that all old domains and URLs are permanently forwarded to the new TLD. 

Those who want to move their domain to a new TLD can consult Google's general information on website moving for assistance. For international SEO, the hreflang guide from Sistrix is useful. It explains how Google deals with multilingual websites and what SEOs need to do to avoid duplicate content.

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