What is a country code domain?
A country code domain, also known as a ccTLD (country-code Top Level Domain), works like any other top-level domain name extension would. In particular, a ccTLD shows users, search engines, and web browsers what country, sovereign state, dependent territory, or region a website is registered under.
These domain name extensions are especially useful in hinting to search engines and web users alike exactly who your website’s target demographic is meant to be. It makes it easy for you, and it makes it easy for others. Since there are so many—check out the huge list provided by 101domain here—it can be advantageous to indicate who your audience is. For instance, a website opting for a .US domain extension is likely to be targeting an audience from the United States, or at least someone looking for United States oriented content.
Using a ccTLD often comes with its own special rules and requirements, however. One ccTLD can vary completely from another in terms of their registration lengths and criteria, automatic renewal dates, domain name contact changes, and transfer procedures.
For example, to purchase the ccTLD .CA (Canada) requires you follow CIRA, Canada’s presence requirements for registrants. Some requirements include the registrant being a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, Canadian corporation, association, educational institution, or trademark.
Another example relates to .COM.AU (Australia). This ccTLD is regulated by auDA (au Domain Administration), who are “responsible for the development, review, and enforcement of policies dealing with the registration of .AU domain names and the operation of the Australian domain industry,” according to their policy’s website. In fact, auDA maintains that domain names can’t be pre-registered or reserved, so it’s first come, first serve. Additionally, the license period for domain names is 2 years, and it can only be renewed if you meet their requirements.
Interestingly, ccTLDs can access both Latin characters and characters from a country or region’s respective alphabet if they have an IDN, or Internationalized Domain Name.
Why country code domains matter
ccTLDs are especially useful in showing search engines and users that a website’s content is specifically-aimed at a particular country or region. However, this doesn’t mean the website is specifically using a certain country or region’s language.
When a website uses a ccTLD, it will potentially rank better in Google searches than it would with another domain name extension. “Why,” you may ask? Because Google assumes a website using a ccTLD and all its aforementioned content is specifically relevant to the geographic country or region intended by the ccTLD. And so, it will appear on SERPs, or Search Engine Results Pages, in that area.
That’s why country code domains matter.
So which countries actually use their country code domains?
A lot, in fact! Over 200 countries are registered under the worldwide registry list of ccTLDs. You’ve probably heard or seen some of the most popular ones: .AT for Austria, .ES for Spain, .FR for France, .RU for Russia, .UK for the United Kingdom, and .US for, well, the United States. But there are also a plethora of countries registered under the worldwide registry list of ccTLDs that you’ve probably never even heard of or stumbled upon. Some countries include .AZ for Azerbaijan, .DJ for Djibouti, .FO for Faroe Islands, .INT for International Treaties, .NU for Niue, and .TD for Tchad.
But have you ever wondered what happened to country code domains that either aren’t in use or no longer used anymore? Read below to find out.
And which countries don’t use their country code domains?
With the rise and popularity of ccTLDs, it’s a mystery why not all countries end up using their respective domain names. It’s an issue the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) resolves. (IANA is a function performed by ICANN if you were wondering).
IANA is responsible for making sure TLDs follow DNS requirements, and they’re continually reviewing its practices. Actually, some countries have even gone so far as to have been revoked from the officially assigned list of TLDs. Some countries’ TLDs have merely been replaced by a new country code, however.
Some domain country code changes include .ZR for Zaire morphing into .CD for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Soviet Union’s breakup where .SU was replaced for codes for the now independent states like .BY, .UA, and .RU, and Czechoslovakia’s division into the Czech Republic and Slovakia changing from .CS to .CZ and .SK respectively.
There are plenty of benefits ccTLDs offer.
To start, ccTLDs enable local targeting and SEO benefits, allowing your website to target web traffic from specific locational areas and amping up your SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, value as well. By way of a ccTLD, under country-based search results, you might be handed a higher SEO value. Score!
Secondly, ccTLDs instill buyer confidence. Not only are ccTLDs credible, esteemed, and the epitome of trustworthiness, but their overall quality is not limited by choosing to use a cTLD instead of a Generic domain, or gTLD. This means that a website with a country-code domain can still be as well-made and stable as, for example, a website using .COM.. Furthermore, people may feel more confident when recognizing the ccTLD, and it’s definitely worth keeping in mind that many people prefer to visit websites and complete transactions under their own country’s code, in their own native language, with their respective currency.
Lastly, ccTLDs allow a measure of creativity in the process. Also known as a domain hack, it’s a cool trick some websites have used in order to build a strong brand around their domain name. This can be a great use for a ccTLD, as a domain name can be highly complementary when used correctly. For instance, a United States website could register help.US, Spain could use beach.ES, and Ireland could use food.IE for an additional quirk. There’s really no limits with ccTLDs, you just have to think a little outside the box!
And the disadvantages
There are some disadvantages to ccTLDs.
Ultimately, it comes down to “different strokes for different folks.” In terms of ccTLDs, as I’ve mentioned before, there are different rules and regulations for different countries running their own domain registries. It can be quite confusing to keep up with it all.
Additionally, a ccTLD isn’t nearly as flexible and can actually be a turn-off for some people.
Lastly, a ccTLD can be risky business, especially if you’re aiming to be an international company. In that case, it might be better to opt for a .COM domain name extension. Moreover, because a ccTLD’s requirements vary from country to country, there can be risk involved regarding registration or verification requirements or even how quickly issues can be resolved in the first place. The stability of ccTLDs can also be affected, taking longer to register, or even if the registry is completely down.
A ccTLD is useful in more ways than one, showing your website’s aim at a specific target audience. ccTLDs create brand and customer value and are on the same level of generic TLDs like .COM or .NET in Google searches.
Hopefully now it makes a little sense as to why certain countries opt for ccTLDs and why others don’t.