From the moment you decide to register a website for your business, you start making important decisions that can impact your long-term success.
One of the first decisions you’ll need to make happens during the domain registration process: Whether to choose a .ca or .com domain extension.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of which extension is best for SEO; it all depends on your business and your goals. Here are a few things we’re assuming in this article:
- You have a Canadian business or a business with operations in Canada
- You’re weighing the options between .com, .ca, or both
- You care about your website ranking well
Here’s what we’re going to discuss:
- What domain extensions are
- How (and if) domain extensions affect SEO
- How domain extensions affect customer expectations
- How to optimize your site for Canadian and international customers
- A summary of whether .ca or .com is right for your needs
That’s a lot to cover, so let’s get moving!
Understanding domain extensions
Domain extensions—also known as top-level domains (TLDs)—are the string of characters you find after the “.” in a URL. You’ve seen dozens of different TLDs in your life. Some of the most common include:
- .com – the most commonly used TLD in the world
- .ca – the TLD for Canadian websites
- .org – the TLD for not-for-profit organizations
- .gov – the TLD for U.S. Government entities
- .net – a generic TLD, often used by people who can’t register a .com address
Some TLDs can be used by anyone, like .com and .org—though by convention, .org is mostly used by not-for-profits. Other TLDs are restricted—only Canadians can use the .ca extension, and only official US government sites can use the .gov extension.
How domain extensions affect SEO
The effect that your domain extension will have on SEO is complex—and that’s why it’s difficult to say whether .ca or .com is best without knowing the specific details of your business.
Let’s start by talking about how Google treats domain extensions. For the most part, Google treats all TLDs the same—your chances of ranking are not directly affected by whether you choose a .com, .org, or .net domain.
The exception to this rule is country code domains (ccTLDs)—extensions like .ca. These extensions send important signals to Google and other search engines about the country your website is targeting—Google will assume that .ca domains are creating content that’s designed for Canadians.
Some of you may feel like you’ve got the answer to the question that brought you here—go with a .ca domain if you’re targeting Canadians! Things are a little more complicated than that, though. While a .ca domain is great if you want to target Canadians almost exclusively, it can cause problems when you try to branch out into international markets.
Here’s a breakdown of the advantages of .ca and .com domains:
|Advantages of a .com domain
Advantages of a .ca domain
Customers form opinions based on domain extension
As you can see from the breakdown of the advantages of each domain, customers care about which domain extension you use. That can have a substantial impact on your SEO—and that’s why the conversation of how TLDs affect SEO is more nuanced than one might expect.
Your domain extension affects how much people trust your content, and whether or not they think your content is made for them. A Canadian who sees a .ca domain with listicles about the best spots to hang out in Toronto might be more prone to trusting the content than if they saw the same listicle in a .com domain. Remember, .ca domains must be owned by Canadians, so having the extension lends legitimacy to your content.
Conversely, a .ca domain extension might scare off international users, who will assume your content is not meant for them.
These qualities can affect both your click-through rates (CTR) and user engagement. You want users to click on your site from the SERPs (obviously), and you want them to stay on and interact with your page. The fact that .ca and .com domain extensions each build trust in their own way can have a huge impact on both your CTR and your bounce rate—and both of those metrics send important signals to Google.
Another consideration is that it may be easier to earn links from other Canadian sites with a .ca domain. In a similar vein, it’s easier to convince consumers that your products are “made in Canada” with a .ca domain.
Should you use a .ca domain over a .com for SEO?
Now you’ve probably got a good idea of whether or not you should use a .ca domain. Are you chiefly targeting Canadian audiences? Are you a local business? Your best bet is probably .ca.
What if, however, you’re a business that wants to target multiple countries—say, the U.S. and Canada? You’ve got a few different options.
The first is to register multiple domains—both a .com and a .ca domain, for example. The advantage of this is that you can target all of the content on your pages to the markets you care about, and you send important location signals to Google with your .ca domain extension.
The second is to use subdomains (or subdirectories) and to mark Canadian pages using the hreflang (en-ca) attribute. We could make an entire article dedicated to hreflang—and we will if you’d like us to. The hreflang attribute is especially useful for Canadians who serve bilingual markets, as you can easily distinguish between your French and English pages.
Hypothetically, you could also use hreflang on your .ca website in order to target other countries—but if you have large audiences in those markets, it’s probably best to either create a .com domain or separate domains for each country.
The domain extension you choose has a surprising effect on your SEO. A .ca domain sends strong signals to Google about your location, and while .com domains don’t directly send any signals to Google, they do influence how much users trust your page—and that can impact your rankings.
Different businesses should take different approaches to domain extensions. We recommend that businesses that are chiefly targeting Canadians use .ca domains—that goes for most local Canadian businesses.
Generally, it’s best practice to create a .ca domain for your Canadian content—even if Canada is only one of your many markets. This practice can help you generate goodwill and links from Canadian sites. This practice is resource intensive, however, and businesses that aren’t going to generate a substantial amount of Canadian content should opt instead to create Canadian subfolders or subdirectories with the hreflang en-ca attribute.
Jacob Kettner is the owner and CEO of First Rank Inc., a digital marketing agency based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He currently sits on Manitoba Chamber of Commerce Small Business Advisor Council which assists people grow their small businesses in Manitoba.