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To Dot-CA or not to Dot-CA?

April 28, 2010 by · 16 Comments
Filed under: SEO 

Many Canadian businesses are faced with a conundrum: do they set up their website on a .ca domain or on a .com domain.  There are pros and cons for each, and some of those are related to SEO, to the rankings that the website can achieve in the search engines.

The first question a business should answer is whether a website is targeting just a Canadian audience or whether it is targeting a world audience (including Canada, but also the USA, Europe, Asia, etc.).  This post will address only those businesses targeting primarily a Canadian audience. 

I will say only that if your business is targeting a world audience, and you do choose to use a .ca domain, we have seen no evidence that it will hurt your rankings in New York or London.  However, .ca does say “Canadian” and it is reasonable to expect change at any time – that Google and Bing might one day wake up and decide not serve up a .ca listing in results outside of Canada, or at least to reduce their rankings.

What we do know is that there are five ways to let the search engines know that your website is particularly relevant to Canadians: 

  1. A .ca domain makes it very clear that the site is Canadian.
  2. A site hosted on a Canadian server is usually considered Canadian
  3. A site with a significantly disproportionate percentage of backlinks from .ca or Canadian-hosted domains is likely to be relevant specifically to Canadians
  4. A website with an address located in Canada, or the word Canada written all over it is also likely to be of particular interest to Canadians.
  5. In Google’s webmaster tools, you can associate a website with “Canada”, but that doesn’t help at Bing, Yahoo, Ask or other engines.

 The order I listed the five methods above is purposeful; a .ca domain is generally believed to be the single most effective way to signal “Canadian” to the search engines.  My own anecdotal experience confirms this, although I have not seen any statistically sound testing to confirm this.

 How effective is a .ca domain?  It can make a very big difference at Google.ca, making a website rank much higher than at it does at Google.com .  Here are some sample rankings for the top 6 most important search phrases for a client of mine who is on a .ca domain —

KEYWORD       GOOLGE.CA       GOOGLE.COM
Keyword 1   #1   #52
Keyword 2   #7   #75
Keyword 3   #1   #11
Keyword 4   #2   #9
Keyword 5   #2   #14
Keyword 6   #2   #18

As an example, one of my clients with a .ca domain is competing is a highly competitive niche.  Here are a few sample rankings at Google.ca and Google.com:

Why this matters is because Google serves up Google.ca to all users whose IP address is designated Canadian.  That is a majority of Canadian searchers.  Having a .ca domain gives your business an advantage it does not have at Google.com . 

That does not mean you should ignore Google.com .  There are many applications, including the Google Toolbar and third party websites running Google searches, where geography is not factored in and Canadians are treated as if they were global nomads.  A .ca domain won’t help you in these searches, but other signals will.

Canadians searching through applications that ignore geography are much more likely to refine their search geographically (adding “Canada” or the name of their city and clicking “search” again).  This is just an assumption on my part; it would be interesting to see data, but I don’t believe there is any available.

Although right now a .ca domain does not give a business a natural advantage in Google.com searches from within Canada, there is no telling that it might not in the future.  If at any time it does, I know a lot of .ca domain owners who will be smiling.

By the way, I put my money where my mouth is.  Although my clients come from all over the world, I have a special interest in home base.  So my main, international website is at www.seo-writer.com, but I have a website just to attract Canadian clients at www.seo-writer.ca .

David Leonhardt left the offline world of public relations and issues management to found The Happy Guy Marketing.  SEO and SEM is really just part of the natural extension online of the old offline world of public relations…drop by for a look/see at this active Canadians site, eh!

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Comments

16 Responses to “To Dot-CA or not to Dot-CA?”
  1. Looking good! Keep up the handy posts :). They say that There are pros and cons for each, and some of those are related to SEO, to the rankings that the website can achieve in the search engines. SEO Thanks your post.

  2. Brian says:

    This is pretty good information and covers all the points of a country specific URL versus a generic URL very well. It would be good to consider what the implications are for a bilingual site as well especially as in Canada the publisher may want to appeal to both a French speaking community and an English speaking community.

    This is a problem I faced as an expat in France and there are ways you can use Google webmaster tools to target the French or English pages geographically according to preference. Same deal with the other search engines though doesn’t help with them.

  3. @Brian You are absolutely right about that extra layer of complexity dealing with an extra language. I do SEO in English, French and Spanish, and it gets even more complex in Spanish. However, that aspect is mostly not domain-related (certainly as it pertains to Canada), so it is another topic for another day.

  4. Having two domains is a great idea. Glad to see you’re already doing it!

  5. Ani Lopez says:

    Nice post Jim.
    What I would not recommend in any case is having the same site under .com and .ca (or any other). Pretty obvious from duplicate content side but I’ve seen that quite a lot of times.

    My experience with webmaster tools and locally hosted site by country is that nowadays it is more relevant to indicate region/country to set it up properly on webmaster tools than host in the particular country.

  6. CT Moore says:

    Call me old school, but if I can’t get the .com, I don’t want the domain.

    That being said, once I have the .com, I’ll make sure to get the .ca. But I’ve never done anything that was exclusively Canadian, so .ca’s have always been a secondary thing for me.

  7. Really interesting perspective!

    As someone who works for CIRA, the organization that runs .CA, I think it is also important to point out that prospective customers from all around the world look upon a .CA web site as being more secure than many other domain extensions. McAfee’s report “Mapping the Mal Web” ranks the world’s riskiest domains. .CA is rated among the safest, most trustworthy domains. The riskiest include .COM, .CM, .CM and .INFO.

    Canada has a an excellent reputation online. This is something that Canadians should use to their advantage through the domain they choose.

  8. If given the choice and both domains .com and .ca were available I would definitely go with .com any day.

  9. Kennedy says:

    Great article. We are operating under a .ca domain. You’re right though, so far it doesn’t make much of a difference whether you are .ca or .com, and good SEO practices should keep it that way in the rankings. It will be interesting however, if the search engines start to place different weights on these specific domains. For one thing, it will make the trade of buying domains more important and potentially lucrative for some people.

  10. This information is very good to serve as a valuable lesson.Very interesting link – I just did a quick check, looks like a pretty good tool! Thanks for the find!

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    To Dot-CA or not to Dot-CA?…

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