February 17, 2011

Cayman SEO: TLD Wars: .KY vs. the .COM - which is better for my website?

A few years ago, a client asked me if it mattered whether the TLD (top level domain) of a website was a .com or a .ky for Search Engine Optimization and a couple of years ago, I answered 'No, it doesn't matter' because there were several factors that determined search results and not just the TLD.  Also it is important to note that Google's local search wasn't as strong as it is now.  The TLD informed Google where your site was located and that was a good thing.

Things have changed though and because we are a tourism destination and because we need to attract users in the US before they come to the islands, my answer then is wrong now.

Yes it matters depending on your target market's geographical location. 

If your business is in the Cayman Islands and caters to users in the Cayman Islands ONLY then it still doesn't matter - use the .ky because its FREE and available to everyone on island.  But if your business objective is to attract customers before they get to the island then it would serve you well to acquire a .com, which is a neutral domain and is not associated with any geographic location.
 
We recently redirected our website www.cayman4rent.ky to www.cayman4rent.com to address a major concern:  We wanted users in the US finding the website for Rentals in the Cayman Islands
When you search in the Cayman Islands for "grand cayman rentals" on Google, you will notice that www.cayman4rent.ky is no. 6 on the first page.
Google result in the Cayman Islands: Cayman4rent.ky is no. 6 for "grand cayman rentals"

But if you search for the same keyword, "grand cayman rentals" in the United States, you will not see www.cayman4rent.ky on the first or second page of the search results on Google.  Its actually on the third page of that search phrase.

This brings me to an important feature that Google unleashed... geo targeting or geographical targeting.  In the old days of SEO (ehem... 2 years ago) this meant that your top level domain (TLD), in this case a .ky meant that the .ky was associated with the Cayman Islands.  I use to highly regard the .ky TLD because it would automatically inform the search engines that your website should come up for searches relating to 'cayman' and it was FREE - who doesn't like free?   

It is also important to note that the IP address and location of your server is important to the search engines when returning results but that is a side topic.  Our dedicated server is located in the US so it didn't matter what TLD we took and since the .ky is free, I took the liberty of creating our website on it. 

But Google has changed its geo targeting tool and country specific TLD's (ie. .ky, .ca, .bs, .ph) are no longer welcome in Google's Webmaster Tools geo-targeting settings. This has resulted in our .ky's plummeting on search results in the US, UK and Canada (our major markets for tourism).  Because of this gigantic change, we made the bold move to redirect our .ky to a .com TLD.  Taking into consideration that our Page Rank was a 3/10 - which is pretty decent for a domain that is barely a year old.  Using proper 301 redirects, we have our fingers (and toes) crossed and hoping that our Page Rank for the .ky will transfer onto our .com.

Here is what Google has done under Webmaster Tools for our domain, www.cayman4rent.ky thats why it shows up highly for searches in the Cayman Islands but does not show up for searches done in the US, Canada or the UK.
Google's new settings include Geographic Target that automatically targets .KY TLDs to the Cayman Islands

When we validated the .com's site on Google Webmaster tools, here is the screen shot: 
We can now Target searches in the United States because we are using a .com or a neutral TLD

Will redirecting our .ky to a .com change our position in the United States?  We  hope so.  We don't know for certain even if Google says it does - Google sometimes has puzzling views.  They have provided 3 reasons on how your website is categorized for location searches: 
1. Your Top Level Domain (TLD) tells them what country you belong to
2. Your Hosting location 
3. Your IP Address

If a website owner does not change the setting on Webmaster Tools, the Search Engine crawlers will use hosting location and IP address in determining the geo target.  If it is changed, as we have done, will our ranking in search results in the US be better?  We will update this blog in 3 months to see if this experiment paid off.  

In the meantime, just to be safe, if you are registering a domain - depending on your target market.  Use a .com for neutrality if you are targeting other countries.  Use a .ky if you don't care about the Search Engines. It will be easier to geo target a .com than to change the geo location of the .ky because Google does not allow this function. 

When and if Google changes this function, you will be the first to know.

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