A ccTLD Paradigm Shift (Part II): The Evolution Continues

It used to be that ccTLD domains were only used to target the ccTLD’s country and â if transactions were possible â the local currency would be supported.

Language is not necessarily a determining factor for ccTLDs as the idea in creating ccTLDs is that they are for a country or region. A best practice is to get a good SEO expert onboard if the intent is to target global users with ccTLDs like in the examples below, because search engines give ccTLDs geo-specific indicators to help with providing relevant results to users.

Secondary Meanings, Second Level Domains and Liberalization

One approach to increasing domain registrations is to rebrand or change the meaning of the ccTLD by the registry operator. The .PW (Palau) ccTLD adopted a rebranding scheme to extend PW to mean ‘Professional Web’, and the .LA (Laos) ccTLD has been adopted to mean ‘L.A.’, the common acronym for the city of Los Angeles, California.

Joint ventures with the ccTLD registry operators have also materialized, such as with the .TO (Tonga) TLD and its use for Toronto, Canada-related content.* User adoption sometimes promotes the secondary meaning without the Registry’s implicit involvement. The recent boom in the Artificial Intelligence industry spiked registrations in Anguilla’s .AI ccTLD. There are many other re-purposed ccTLDs, but adoption rates have varied.

Creative ‘domain name hacks’ have also gained popularity, like AWESO.ME (Montenegro), where a word or brand is completed by including the TLD that is to the right of the dot. The .LY (Libya) TLD was popularized by its use as a suffix for brands and adverbs. The popular .LY URL shortener provider, Bit.Ly, also took advantage of the domain name hack.

Registries seeking to increase revenue and local use have expanded registration possibilities to allow for shorter, more memorable, domains via second-level domain registrations where only third level registrations were previously possible; i.e. before one could only register NAME.CO.UK or NAME.NET.UK whereas now one can register NAME.UK (United Kingdom).

Examples of ccTLDs that have updated offerings to allow for second-level domains include: .KE (Kenya); .MT (Malta); .MO (Macau); .NZ (New Zealand); and .TH (Thailand). The South African registry for .ZA recently published its intent to allow for second-level registrations with the comment period closing April 16, 2018. While these initiatives are not new, the trend continues to garner attention from domain holders.

The liberalizing, or removal of local trademark and local presence requirements, of registration policies has also attracted increased domain registrations. The registry operator of the .FI (Finland) ccTLD relaxed both trademark and local presence requirements in late 2016 so that anyone in the world could register domains. The results of the change are notable as the registry experienced a 34 percent increase of year-over-year total registrations ending June 2017. While not formally considered a ccTLD, the .ASIA TLD also liberalized its registration policy in Sept 2017 making it so that anyone in the world with an interest in the continent of Asia can register a .ASIA domain.

ccTLDs and Search Engines

For the most part, search engines use the ccTLD as a signal that the domain content is meant for residents in the country that the TLD is allocated to. Further to that, Google treats around 20 ccTLDs as generic in its algorithm, because they have been used as global domains and do not have overwhelming local country usage. There currently is no proof that other popular search engines (Bing, Yandex, Baidu) treat ‘generic ccTLDs’ like Google. Search engine treatment of ccTLDs is one of many factors to consider when crafting the domain strategy.

As stated previously, in October 2017, Google revealed a significant change to how it provides results on its Search Engine Results Page (SERP) when the search is entered on a Google ccTLD domain; e.g. google.de (Germany) or google.ng (Nigeria). The old method of providing results was to use the ccTLD as the driver for relevant location-based results. Now, the default driver for search results is the searcher’s location. The change does NOT affect ccTLD search engine optimization (SEO), just the results presented when the search is conducted on a Google ccTLD domain.

The change was motivated by the fact that one in five searches is related to location so the change will help provide more useful information. SEO experts wanting to manually check in on the SERP ranking for a ccTLD domain in that target country could previously change the Google domain’s ccTLD and search to get results (searching as if they were in the local country). Now they’ll have to use a proxy with a hosting provider from that country, change the Google settings or hire a vendor for those reports.

Consider a domain in one of the newly available second level ccTLD domains. Explore whether there’s a domain hack to suit your brand. You might even register a rebranded ccTLDs that is relevant to your brand or industry. Whatever the case, there are many factors to consider, from political stability and registration requirements to security, country sanctions and SEO.

Contact MarkMonitor for expert advice on ccTLDs of interest and domain portfolio optimization advice to align your local and global marketing and operational strategies.

*ICANN did not receive an application for the .TORONTO new gTLD (https://gtldresult.icann.org/application-result/applicationstatus/viewstatus).