There is a little bit of a trend at the moment to register domain names that are a little unusual with the hope that they will be memorable. It is also the case that most .com or co.uk domains have been registered and so people are turning to alternate country top level domains (ccTLD) such as .ly (Libya), .io (Indian Ocean Territory), .tv (Tuvalu) and .co (Colombia). Is this an advisable strategy or is it likely to prevent you from ranking highly on search engines?
The answer depends upon which particular ccTLD you are planning on using. In a recent video Matt Cutts, head of Google’s anti-spam team, has said that much of it will depend upon whether the ccTLD is in popular use within its own geographic area. The example that he uses is of a company in Long Island who are thinking of registering a .li domain, here the company wants to infer that the .li relates to Long Island. In actual fact .li is the ccTLD for Liechtenstein, quite a long way from New York! Matt advises not to use this ccTLD as it is already heavily used within Liechtenstein. The reason that this makes a difference is that Google uses the ccTLD as part of its ranking algorithm. You may not be aware but depending upon which country you are using Google in will produce different results. Try it for yourself. Visit google.co.uk, google.de (Germany) and google.com.au (Australia) and search for one of your keywords, you will probably find different results on each version. Using your own country’s ccTLD is generally more beneficial to a site, unless you are planning on selling your goods and services in an international market. The reason is that Google assumes that if you are using a French domain (.fr) then you are likely to be aiming your content at the French market, so if two companies both have a website where one is .com and the other .fr and the search is being conducted in France and all other ranking factors are evened out between the two domains then the site with the .fr domain will rank higher than the .com.
There are exceptions to this, in the case of Tuvalu (.tv) Google recognises that websites that are using this ccTLD are probably connected to television rather than the small Pacific island of Tuvalu. Matt confirmed that they do keep a list of these sorts of ccTLD’s so that domains that include these “international” ccTLD’s will potentially rank highly anywhere in the world. This does not mean that by using one of these domains you will automatically rank highly. Let me be clear about this an international ccTLD such as .ly will not make your site rank more highly than a traditional .com unless you have optimised your pages well and followed other good SEO practices. My final example would be if a company in Blackburn thought that by using a .bb (Barbados) domain it would infer that the company was from Blackburn. In Google’s eyes the site would probably rank more highly in Barbados than in the UK.
If you are thinking of using a different ccTLD for your domain you should think long and hard as there are few potential advantages and possibly many disadvantages.