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How do search engines use country codes and language codes to target uses, and how do we know what is best practice?

A ccTLD is the country coded top level domain that is reserved for a specific country or territory. They are recognisable by the letters in the domain name e.g. the ‘fr’ in www.example.fr. This indicates which country the website is targeting.

The best way to begin targeting your users in different countries is to ensure that you own the correct ccTLD for that area.

The reason ccTLDs are so powerful in international SEO targeting is that it is very clear to the user who the website is aimed at (what country & language). It is also very easy for search engines to understand who to show the website to as well. This is why it is generally known that using ccTLDs is best practice.

So that means all things being equal that a website example.fr will rank better in French search engines. It might be worth noting that you can’t geotarget a ccTLD in Google Search Console/ Webmasters, because it has already technically been geotargeted.

Geotargeting in Google Search Console/ Webmasters is usually possible by adding a country that you would like to target your website to within your Search Console/ Webmasters accout.

Although Google points out that if the same pages on your website target multiple countries using targeting in search console might not be the best option, in this case there is the possibility that your targeting settings could limit your reach.

The only downside to using a ccTLD is that translating your site into multiple languages can be an expensive option. However, having localised content on your site is a valuable sales tool for international customers. Additionally, each website will have its own domain authority, this means they rank separately and can’t share authority.

At this point you might want to consider using subdirectories or subdomains.

                                                ccTLDs (example.fr)
  • Clearest signal to search engines
  • Easiest way to rank locally
  • Expensive to maintain
  • Each site has separate domain authority
                                      Subdirectories (example.com/fr)
  • Easier to maintain than ccTLDs
  • Consolidates domain authority
  • Weaker signal to search engines
  • Users prefer to browse locally
                                         Subdomains (fr.example)
  • Easier to maintain than ccTLDs
  • Weaker signal to search engines
  • May dilute domain authority
  • Users prefer to browse locally

In addition to country coded domains there are other TLDs such as .me .tv etc. As these TLDs have become more prevalent in recent years, search engines now recognise them as ‘general’ domains gccTLDs, which is general country coded top level domains.

Use caution if you are considering using a generic country-code TLD and make sure the top-level domain you have chosen is actually considered a proper top-level domain for the country you are targeting.We have made some suggestions for further reading below.

If you would like to talk about this or anything else you have found on out website, please do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you! 01223 328 017 or e mail [email protected]

Other resources and further reading:

list of ccTLDs

A comprehensive list of ccTLDs.

Geotargetable domains

Google’s list of gTLDs, regional top level domains and gccTLDs.

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