A “TLD” or “Top Level Domain” may sound foreign at first, but chances are you see dozens of them each day. A TLD, after all, is a website’s suffix; the .com, .net .co.uk, or .info that comes after all website domain names. When you register a domain name for your own website, the registrar will ask you what kind of TLD you want to use. Should you use a generic TLD, like the classic “.com”? Or would a geographically-specific TLD like “.co.uk” or “.de” be more understandable for local visitors? Below, we weigh the pros and cons of different kinds of TLDs.
When to Use A “Generic TLD”
According to W3techs.com, .com is the most popular form of TLD, and is used by 52.6% of all websites, with .org and .net following way behind at 5.5% and 4.1% respectively. There are a few reasons for this:
Because generic TLDs like .com, .net, and .org are so widely used, they are also more thoroughly trusted by search engines, which means that a website using a major generic TLD may have an easier time improving its search ranking with Google.
This being said, not all generic TLDs are created equal: .biz, for example, has gained a shady reputation as a hotbed for spammers, well-trodden internet users are known to be less likely to click on a URL that looks suspicious by its TLD alone. Possibly more problematic is an untrustworthy TLD’s relationship to SEO: .biz sites tend to have a hard time link-building and gaining trust with search engines because of the number of spam sites associated to them.
SEOMoz, leaders in the SEO world, suggest that it helps to buy both local and generic domain names for your website when possible, but to avoid buying lower quality TLDs – like .info, .biz, or .ws – as they won’t improve your site’s search ranking.
Major generic TLDs can also help to establish a more global online presence for websites. For online businesses selling worldwide, for example, a .com or .net TLD shows users that their site is meant for everyone, not just local communities.
This hasn’t always been the case, though. Before 2007, Google used to advocate using local TLDs for country-specific content in order for them to validate the audience the website was trying to target, and thus better determine the website’s SEO ranking. This all changed a few years later, though, when Google changed its rules to suggest that, as long as a website is properly geo-localised, its search rankings would not be affected by being aligned to a generic – as opposed to local – TLD. For more on this, take a look at Chris Liversidge’s highly informative post on SearchEngineLand for the full history of SEO as it relates to TLDs.
A Note on the New “Anything Goes” Generic TLDs
In early 2014, over 1000 new generic TLDs were made available to register domains with. These new “anything goes” TLDs tend to be category-specific, like .hotel, .gardening, .insurance, offering domain owners more possibilities to better tailor the domain name to what they’re offering. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that SEO will improve with a more specific TLD. While Google looks for keywords in a website’s description and domain name to determine whether the website is relevant or not, there hasn’t yet been evidence that these new TLDs are directly related to an improved search ranking. For more on the new generic TLDs, check out this informative blog post by todlock.com.
Generic TLD Pros
Major generic TLDs like .com and .org are well trusted by both users and search engines.
Good for attracting visitors worldwide.
New generic TLDs like .actor or .baseball let domain registrants be more specific with their website domain name, even if this doesn’t necessarily help their SEO.
Generic TLD Cons
Not all generic TLDs are created equal: .biz and .info have a poor reputation with users and Google’s webmaster.
Generic TLDs might not always attract local clientele, especially if that is the primary goal of the website.
When to Use a Local TLD
While a site’s SEO ranking is usually improved by a .com suffix, there are still benefits to using a local TLD:
Attracting Local Customers
The main benefit of using a local TLD like .uk or .de is, of course, to attract local business. In his analysis of TLDs, Chris Liversidge does make note of the fact that local users tend to click on a website that is aligned to their company, saying: “ . . . a German speaker searching from Germany using Google.de is frequently argued to be more likely to click on a .de TLD result than otherwise.”
Local TLDs, then, are best suited for local business websites and services catering to a specific community, like a dentist’s office or a hardware store, as opposed to an e-shop selling products to clients all over the world.
Local TLD Pros
Good for attracting local business, if this is the website’s primary goal.
If a user is searching on a localized search engine, a local TLD might help improve the site’s search ranking.
Local TLD Cons
Local TLDs don’t have the global range that generic ones do although we see it changing in the past few months. We assume that Google will evolve to understand better if a website is targeting local or global markets.
Local TLDs have limited SEO capacity, as they tend to be limited to country-specific searches.
Quick Tips on Choosing Your TLD
Avoid untrustworthy generic TLDs like .biz and .info, as they will neither improve your search ranking nor promote a trustworthy relationship with your visitors.
Consider buying both a generic and local TLD for your site, both to shield others from poaching your name, and to give you an extra leg up when expanding your website.
When possible, it’s best to choose a .com TLD over other generic or local TLDs.