Can the Wrong TLD Hurt SEO?
by Ethan Glover, Fri, Feb 06, 2015 - (Edited) Tue, Jul 21, 2015
In short, no. Many people who think they know about web marketing claim that choosing .net instead of .com can harm your SEO.
The confusion on this topic is understandable. For whatever reason, people have become to prefer the sound of ‘.com.’ Because it is the most common; people associate it as the best.
Some people even argue that others type in brand names followed by .com as a habit to go to company websites. If that company doesn’t have their .com registered, they could be losing out on a lot of traffic.
Yet, I should mention that there are no real studies or statistics that show major losses in traffic due to TLD choice. People are intelligent and will recognize right away that they’re on the wrong website.
So long as you aren’t dealing with a situation in which someone is trying to rip off your site and pose as you, there shouldn’t be an issue.
Not only that, but many people have become comfortable with searching for sites before typing them in blind. Browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox make it easy to a search through the URL bar without going to Google.com.
The fact is, TLDs (top-level domains) have no effect on ranking websites.
Google has even made it clear that they have reduced the influence of things like exact match keywords in domains. They mention that it harms sites that use branding in their URLs that have nothing to do with the site. (ycombinator, Zynga, bit.ly)
Another claim says that country domains such as .ca (Canada) and .cn (China) effect search results in that country.
Again, I disagree. If you go to google.cn and search for something in English, you’ll get .com domains for the most part. (Which are dominant in the United States.)
Do that same search in Chinese, and you’re likely to get .cn results. Especially if you’re searching for a local product that isn’t available in the United States.
Here’s what’s going on. People in the US use .com as the default. There are more .com’s registered, for this reason, there are more .com results.
In countries other than the US, you will see a lot more results with that countries specific TLD. You may still come across .com but again, that’s more because it is a default for most people.
If you’re afraid that the wrong TLD will harm your rankings, don’t worry. Plenty of people use .com in a way that contradicts its purpose.
It’s supposed to represent commercial websites only. Hobby bloggers use Blogspot.com every day. (Not to mention Google uses Blogspot.com for a blogging site.)
.io has become popular for startups, and I doubt most of them are based out of the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Google gets it. The search engines aren’t out to punish the practice of using TLD’s for vanity purposes, or because the .com wasn't available. Their job is to interpret the searcher's intent and return the right results.
UPDATE: John Mueller recently published a TLD Q/A on the Google Webmasters blog that verifies everything I've explained here.