Picture this: after endless hours of brainstorming, daydreaming, polling friends and family, and exercising your executive veto rights, you’ve finally settled on the perfect domain name. Before you can launch your website, your next decision is to choose a top-level domain (TLD).
Top-level domains, which occupy the highest tier of the internet's Domain Name System (DNS), are represented by the trailing set of characters that come after your domain name.
Though you’re probably very familiar with the most common generic TLDs like .com, .org, .net, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) maintains a list of more than 1,000 valid TLDs.
In addition to generic TLDs, referred to as gTLDs, country-code or ccTLDs are also prominent. These country-specific TLDs include .de (Germany), .au (Australia), .us, and of course, .CA (Canada).
With so much choice, how do you know what TLD is the best fit for your website? Are there any advantages to choosing one TLD over the other?
For Canadian businesses, choosing a .CA gives you a leg up with consumers—65% of Canadian internet users agree that Canadian businesses and organizations should use a .CA domain.
In addition, search engines such as Google give an advantage to .CA websites for searches taking place in Canada or about Canadian topics. In the field of search engine optimization (SEO), leveraging any and all advantages at your disposal can give a boost in visibility, traffic, and leads.
Let’s explore why choosing a .CA domain is the smart choice if you want to maximize your visibility with the right audience.
Who should use a .CA domain?
.CA domains are best suited for local, regional, or national businesses that operate within Canada. Whether you are a rock band from Edmonton, operate a chain of barbershops in Montreal, or run a national pop culture website, a .CA domain name is a good fit. Additionally, .CA names are well suited for Canadian divisions of international companies—think amazon.ca or yelp.ca.
.CA domain names are only available to those who meet the criteria for Canadian Presence Requirements. Among other eligibilities, registrants must demonstrate an official connection to Canada through means such as operating a registered Canadian business or organization, holding a Canadian trademark, or being a Canadian citizen.
How and why Google gives an advantage to .CA domains in searches
Google and other search engines have a mission to help searchers find the information they need. Whether it is shopping for shoes, learning about history, or choosing a good restaurant for dinner, Google wants serve users with the best possible answers to their query.
For searchers in Canada, this typically means serving hyper-localized search results. It is not in the searcher’s best interest to be presented with an online shoe store that only ships to the U.S. and displays prices in US dollars, nor would it be helpful to be served a list of restaurants in London, England instead of London, Ontario.
This practice, known as geotargeting, is essential to serving relevant results to searchers.
How does Google know where searchers are located? Google uses WLAN BSSID information to identify the approximate location of users. This information helps Google show you coffee shops within walking distance of your current location instead of ones halfway across the city when you search “coffee.” To see where Google thinks you’re located, scroll to the bottom of the Google search results page.
How does Google know where websites are located? In a 2015 post on the Google Webmaster Central Blog, Google Webmaster Trend Analyst John Mueller confirmed that Google uses ccTLDs to determined geotargeting. In a 2017 tweet, Mueller reiterated that ccTLDs or search console settings are used to determine geotargeting.
In other words, if you operate a .CA domain and/or set the site-wide country to Canada in Google Search Console’s International Targeting Report, Google will give a preference to your website in search results over websites that do not meet this criteria. If you use a ccTLD, the International Targeting Report settings are locked in automatically. A .CA domain will automatically be set to Canada, fulfilling the two geotargeting criteria confirmed by Mueller and Google.
Anecdotally, I worked with a client who originally operated a .CA domain. They had the chance to acquire the .com version, and excitedly switched over. Unfortunately, their SEO performance struggled with the switch. When they reverted back to the .CA domain as the primary domain, their performance recovered.
Why searchers give an advantage to .CA domains in searches
Canadians have a strong preference for .CA as a uniquely Canadian identifier. According to data collected as part of Canada’s Internet Factbook, this preference is strongest for websites related to accessing government services, banking, shopping, community organizations, product research, news/current events, travel research, and more.
In addition to the patriotic affinity for .CA domains, Canadians have a practical reason to prefer interacting with .CA websites. Canadians are more inclined to conduct online transactions on .CA websites since they don’t have to worry about currency exchanges or international shipping fees or duties.
Since Canadians have a preference for .CA websites, they are more inclined to click through on a .CA listing in a search result. Click-through rate (CTR) is a popular SEO metric and search engine ranking signal that calculates the percentage of users that click on a search result. According to research by Larry Kim, pages with a higher than average CTR got a rankings boost.
.CA is the TLD of choice for local businesses
When establishing your online presence, there are hundreds of competing priorities and decisions to make. From choosing a host and a platform for your website to choosing that picture-perfect Facebook cover photo, you will continuously be weighing pros and cons.
Given the significant advantages when it comes to optimizing for both SEO and users, choosing a .CA domain might be the easiest decision yet.
Search to see if your .CA domain name is available today: