.COM may be king, but that's not true everywhere. I admit that I didn't know much about the .US domain extension (in fact I had no idea that it was the domain extension for the US) before I started working for Dynadot, but not every country is like the US (despite our best efforts). In fact, in some countries everyone knows all about their country's domain extension (also know as a country code top-level domain or ccTLD) and almost everyone prefers to use it!
Each country has its own ccTLD, but some are more popular than others - and some are popular in different ways. There are a few who have branched out beyond their borders and sold their ccTLD as a "gccTLD" or a sort of generic country code. Examples include Montenegro's .ME, popular with bloggers and start ups, Colombia's .CO, a popular alternative to .COM, and the tiny island nation of Tuvalu's .TV, which is used for video sites. These gccTLDs are very popular, but not necessarily in their own country. To find ccTLDs that are popular in their home countries, we have to look elsewhere.
Let's start with Europe - and yes, I know Montenegro is in Europe, but let's move a bit north of there. As it turns out, the country that loves their ccTLD the most is Deutschland aka Germany! As of this writing, .DE, Germany's domain, has just over 16 million registrations to its name. Not only that, but the domain is widely used and recognized throughout Germany. In fact, according to DENIC, the .DE registry, "in every district and every city of Germany, you find .DE domains."
Since .DE is a restricted domain, a majority of the 16 million registrations are from actual Germans. Only about 1 million .DE domains are registered by owners not located within Germany. So what does this mean? It means if you're located in Germany, .DE is the domain for you! It means that if your business is in Germany, .DE is a must to reach your target audience! Not only will .DE give your website better recognition amongst Germans, but your website will also rank better for searches within Germany. Gewinnen-gewinnen! (Win-win!)
Leaving Germany and .DE behind, let's travel across the border to its low-lying neighbor, The Netherlands. .NL, The Netherlands' domain, may only boast around 6 million registrations, but don't forget that the country has a much smaller area and population than its bratwurst-loving neighbor. In fact, with a population of around 17 million people and 6 million registrations, that means there is one .NL domain registered for every three Dutch people! Of course, since .NL has been unrestricted since the early 2000s - meaning anyone in the world can register one - we can't assume that all of its registrations are from within The Netherlands.
That being said, it is very popular in its home country, much more so than anywhere else. According to research done by SIDN, the .NL registry, "no less than three quarters of Dutch businesses have websites with .NL addresses" and they also found that "among those planning to register a domain name for [their] business, 79% intended to use the .NL extension." Despite the influx of new domain extensions, it seems there has been little impact on the Dutch business market from these new TLDs. Dutch people and businesses have chosen to stay true to their domain: .NL.
Hopefully you've got your sea legs ready because next we're crossing the North Sea over to the United Kingdom, home of .UK. As an American, I would say that .UK, or more specifically .CO.UK (more on this below), is one of the most recognizable ccTLDs. I did actually know that .CO.UK was Britain's domain extension before I started working in the domain industry. Of course, since I don't speak German or Dutch, that likely gave .CO.UK a leg up on recognition from Americans such as myself who, sadly, don't speak any other languages (after all we Americans notoriously don't like to speak anything other than English).
Anyway, getting back to .UK, you may be wondering why there is a ".CO" in front of .UK. This is because up until recently, .UK did not allow direct registrations on it. Registrations were only allowed on second-level domains such as its most popular, .CO.UK. After the launch of direct registrations on .UK in June of 2014, the .UK registry, Nominet reported "almost 225,000 new registrations across .UK, .CO.UK, .ORG.UK, and .ME.UK," showing that .UK "continue[s] to be popular as hundreds of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) hit the market." Today, all levels of .UK domains have almost 11 million registrations total and they continue to grow in popularity in their home country, especially since direct registrations on .UK are now restricted.
We're going to need a bigger boat! Next, we're traveling across the Atlantic to oh, Canada (shouldn't it be eh, Canada?)! Sorry fellow Californians, but .CA isn't the domain for us, it's the domain for our neighbor to the north! The .CA domain is restricted to those who meet Canadian Presence Requirements and despite many requests over the years (including from none other than the great state of California), they have remained firm on their restrictions. This has helped make .CA very popular throughout its home country.
With just over 2.5 million domains, .CA may have the smallest number of registrations out of the ccTLDs on this list, but that doesn't make it any less popular. In fact, according to CIRA, the .CA registry, Canada's domain is "one of the fastest growing TLDs in the world" (and note that "TLD" means all types of domain extensions, not just country codes). Canada is one of the most wired countries in the world, boasting over 80% of households with home Internet access. It may come as no surprise then that Canadian online retail is growing, but what may surprise you is that Canadians report spending more on transactions with Canadian websites versus international websites. It turns out that Canadians like to shop locally - or at least within Canada - and the best way to capture their attention is through the domain they recognize: .CA.
Well, to sum it up or "TL;DR" as they say, if you're German, Dutch, British, or Canadian, you can't go wrong with your country's ccTLD. If you're not, well you might need to take a look through the now very long list of TLDs to find the right one for you. The good news is, there's plenty of options!
This post was written by Robyn Norgan, who has had the pleasure of visiting each of the home countries of these fabulous ccTLDs (the most recent being the home of .CA, as you can see) and highly recommends visiting them if you ever have the chance!