Local TLDs, or Top Level Domains, were once incredibly important when it came time to try and reach the audience of another country. Google needed to know where you wanted your content targeted, so local TLDs were necessary for content that you wanted to show to a particular country. For example, if you wanted to target a German country, you would want to host this content with a domain extension .de and host the domain through an Internet provider from that particular country. In other words, it was a lot of work.

Fortunately, Google has made recent changes that make it easier to target different countries. First there was the ‘Set Geographic Target’ tool allowing webmasters to directly express where Google should target their content, and then there was the “hreflang” link component that allowed webmasters to not only dictate to Google where their content should be going, but also avoid any duplicate content penalties if you have one piece of content directed toward different countries. After all of the changes and improvements, it makes sense to ask: Where does this leave the once-almighty TLDs?

Why a Single TLD Solution Offers Significant SEO Benefits

While using a local TLD was once crucial, the changes that Google made changed the game. Using the hreflang tool allows Google to see where you want your content targeted, so the TLD indicator isn’t needed any longer. A few of the benefits of a single TLD solution include:

  • Less Optimization. If you have multiple TLDs, you have to employee link building tactics for each one individually. This costs money and can be difficult to manage.
  • CDN. Also known as a Content Delivery Network, is an easy way to make sure that you’re localizing content on search engines aside from just Google (Bing, Baidu, Yandex, etc.). All you need to do is use a CDN with exit nodes in the countries you’re targeting and you’re set to go. As an added benefit, you’ll find that your webpages are faster than usual!
  • User Benefits. This is a sticky subject (which will be discussed below), but some feel that having a single TLD can still have the same user benefits as having different domains for different countries. As long as you have a correctly written title, Meta description and something to grab the reader’s attention, you’ll be in better shape than if you’re worrying about the domain extension.

In essence, having a single TLD is clearly easier. Dealing with one instead of multiple anything is easier. However, it’s important to consider the other side of things and whether or not easier can still mean something efficient.

The Opposition: The Benefits of Multiple TLDs

As with all statements there comes an opposition, and the argument over local TLDs is one of the hottest topics. It seems as though a single TLD solution makes sense from a technical approach, but you cannot forget the users (something SEOs often forget). Link building and branding advantages are more present when using local TLDs as opposed to a single TLD approach, and this isn’t something to leave out. Consider some extra opposing points explained:

  • Linking. People are more likely to link to websites within their TLD. Webmasters of the German .de sites will likely link to other .de sites unless they find something incredibly relevant on a .org, .com, or .net domain. Aside from that, it’s unlikely that they will link to a country-specific domain (such as .co.uk).
  • Architecture. There are many differences in the way you would create a website for one country versus another, so it’s tough to stick with one TLD. In other words, the architecture of the sites should be different.
  • Eye tracking. Users do look for clues when it comes to clicking on an article, and users likely prefer specific TLD labels. As sharithurow explains in a comment on Search Engine Land, it’s all about eye tracking.
  • Social Signals. Links from authority sites along with social recognition are now more important than ever when it comes to SEO. This is favored by a multi-TLD approach.

In the end, it seems as though opinions differ much from SEO to SEO. So what do we think? Although technical standpoints are important, it seems too risky to ignore the reader in a way that a single TLD approach just might. In any case, this is a topic that still needs a bit more guidance before you can really make a true assessment. Until then, take matters into your own hands and run some tests to see what works best for your niche and your audience.

If you have thoughts on the topic and whether or not local TLDs are still important to local SEO, we’d love to hear your thoughts and get the discussion started.