Many people ask me what implications “domain name class” have on SEO and Pay Per Click (e.g. Google AdWords) rankings and results.
“Domain name class” is another word for “Top Level Domain”, or the extension on the end of your domain name (e.g. .com, .net, .com.au). In particular, you should know the implications that country code top level domains (or ccTLD for short) can have on your search engine marketing efforts.
ccTLDs and Organic Search Engine Optimisation
Should your “main” website URL be a .com.au if you’re primarily targeting Australia?
A site with a country-specific top level domain will rank better in that country than elsewhere, although you do see other websites with other countries’ ccTLDs ranking in google.co.uk, google.co.nz and so on.
If you’re primarily interested in targeting Australia, you should definitely go with a .com.au domain.
If you’re interested in targeting multiple places, the tactics get a little more involved, but for one nation, this is fine.
Another option is to go with a .com (or .net, .org, etc) but geo-target the domain to the correct country within the domain’s Google Webmaster Tools account.
This presumably works just as well, but a .com.au is really a sure thing in terms of telling Google where your intended audience is.
ccTLDs and Pay Per Click (e.g. Google AdWords) Performance
How about ccTLDs and Google AdWords performance?
The domain name you display in your ads or “Display URL” can certainly influence the click through rates and performance of your ads, and a country-specific domain name (YourSite.com.au) will nearly always perform better than the .com (YourSite.com) for users in the target country.
In some cases, the effect can be large (50% or more), which helps to increase your click through rates and decrease your average cost per click.
If you operate in multiple markets, then ideally you should test multiple ccTLDs in each market — and as a general rule you should avoid serving ads with the “wrong” ccTLD in foreign markets.
If you’re targeting multiple countries and you can’t get hold of a ccTLD for certain countries for whatever reason, then a trusty old .com works best. Bear in mind that in our tests, .com domains normally perform better than .net, .biz or other extensions — but your mileage may vary.
You have to test.