A country code top-level domain (ccTLD) refers to an Internet TLD primarily used or reserved for a specific country, sovereign state, or dependent territory identified with a country code. All American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) ccTLD identifiers comprise two letters. As such, all ccTLDs also comprise two letters.

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Organizations that want to be identified based on where they are based or their products and services are offered are the primary ccTLD users. One example is gov.ph, which is commonly employed by any government agency or state-owned organization in the Philippines.

When Were ccTLDs First Used?

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) started receiving country code extension applications from nations in 1985, ccTLD usage began as soon as they were approved. That year, organizations could start using the .us (for the U.S.), .uk (for the U.K.), and .il (for Israel) ccTLDs. 

In 1966, nine other ccTLDs—.au (for Australia), .de (for Germany), .fi (for Finland), .fr (for France), .is (for Iceland), .jp (for Japan), .kr (for Korea), .nl (for the Netherlands), and .se (for Sweden)—joined the fray. 

The following year, .nz (for New Zealand), .ch (for Switzerland), and .ca (for Canada) were registered. In 1988, .ie (for Ireland), .it (for Italy), .es (for Spain), and .pt (for Portugal) followed suit. 

By the 1990s, .cn (for China) and .ru (for Russia) made the growing list.

In 2018, IANA started implementing internationalized ccTLDs. As opposed to non-internationalized ccTLDs that used English characters only, internationalized ccTLDs allowed the use of characters for other languages.

To date, 259 ccTLDs exist, 58 of which are internationalized ccTLDs. You can see the complete list on this page.

Who Is Responsible for ccTLD Delegation and Management?

Based on the TLD’s history above, IANA is responsible for choosing an appropriate trustee for each ccTLD. It then delegates ccTLD administration and control to that trustee, which takes responsibility for the policies and operation of the domain.

The Colombian Ministry of Information Technology and Communication, for example, assigned .co (for Colombia) management to .CO Internet SAS, a joint venture between Arcelandia SA and Neustar, Inc.

What Are the Requirements for Using a ccTLD?

Every ccTLD may have unique usage requirements, including:

  • Local presence in the country the ccTLD is assigned to, meaning the individual is a citizen of the nation or the organization is based there
  • Fees, which vary from country to country

Why Use ccTLDs?

The main reasons for using ccTLDs is to improve international search engine optimization (SEO) results. ccTLD usage is the strongest way to show search engines and users that your site’s content specifically targets them. Everything on your page has been optimized to fit the local user’s requirements. While that may not necessarily include their language, all the offerings are available to them and typically priced in their currency.

Google assumes that ccTLD sites and their content are specifically relevant to the geographic area the ccTLD refers to and should thus appear on search engine result pages (SERPs) for that locale. Simply put, a site that uses.fr will rank better than a .us or .com page in a French user’s SERPs.

Other reasons for using ccTLDs are cited below.

Country-Level Localization

ccTLD users can make the same content available in different countries and languages. That is very useful for international companies that want to localize their Internet presence by using ccTLDs that point to its major business hubs.

Locale-Based Customization

ccTLD users can also make specific content available to a specific locality. Companies can use ccTLDs to announce sales and discounts, for instance, that are only applicable to stores in a certain state. Doing that shows their willingness to serve people where they reside to develop a loyal audience and spread a message.

Brand Aesthetic Management

In some cases, company names may use non-English characters. Spelling them properly or maintaining a brand aesthetic isn’t possible with a generic TLD (gTLD) like .com, which only allows English letters.

ccTLDs, as you’ve learned, are especially useful for international SEO, website localization, and maintaining a brand aesthetic.