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I am thinking about starting up a travel agency website for booking vacation packages specifically in Costa Rica and I am trying to decide on a domain name. Costa Rica has the ccTLD .cr. To quote MOZ:

When a site uses a ccTLD, Google assumes that site (and all the content on it) is specifically relevant to the geographic area targeted by the ccTLD and should appear on SERPs in that area.

And this website:

Your market is located 100% inside the country of the ccTLD that you're considering?

And you'd never need to serve somebody outside that country?

Then sure, a ccTLD should perform fine for you.

In our case, our market customer is not currently located in Costa Rica, however the services rendered are in Costa Rica. The vast majority of our potential clients will be people who are physically searching from other countries, but looking for vacation packages in Costa Rica.

So my question is: If someone is searching for information about a specific country while they are not in that country, does that country's ccTLD get ranked better, worse, or the same as gTLDs?

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.cr domains won't rank in Google for anybody searching from outside of Costa Rica. If you have a local business that caters to foreigners, you should use what Google considers to be a generic top level domain (there is a list hidden at the bottom of that page).

There is no way to globally target a site on most country code domain names. Google just doesn't let you do it. Google has had this this brain dead policy for over a decade.

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It is impossible to answer this because there are to many variables and subtleties in the question to answer it definitively, but likely the .cr domain will not be found by your customers.

If the search engine concludes the client is looking for information available in Costa Rica it will likely rank it higher. Of-course, if its something like hotels/bookings it will be competing with the big guns who are .com's and who dominate the search engines through deals with Google etc.

I did a quick search (from my home - New Zealand) for "costa rica accommodation" and did not get any hits for .cr domains. I was referred to the big ".com" players, then the slightly smaller ".nz" players then lots more .coms. 8 Pages in, and still nothing in ".cr" space.

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  • The results were hardly better even when I specified ".cr" at the end of the search term :( – davidgo Dec 4 '20 at 7:30
  • That's very interesting. I did the same search from Costa Rica and in the first 8 pages I only got one single .cr result (tours.co.cr on page 3), so the results are not significantly better even when searching from here. However one is still more than zero. – Mike Dec 4 '20 at 19:47
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    You say it is impossible to answer, but then you provide a very concrete answer. I'd suggest editing your first sentence to be more confident about your results. – Stephen Ostermiller Dec 4 '20 at 23:22
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This is inherently subjective and no one anyway knows the precise algorithm used by search engines. Doing search runs will get results that can vary in time and space anyway, so one quick query is not a metric to judge how the underlying algorithm works.

As you seem to concentrate on only one specific search engine here is what its own documentation says at https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2010/03/working-with-multi-regional-websites

ccTLDs (country-code top level domain names): These are tied to a specific country (for example .de for Germany, .cn for China). Users and search engines use this as a strong sign that your website is explicitly for a certain country.

and later:

Google generally uses the following elements to determine the geotargeting of a website (or a part of a website):

Use of a ccTLD is generally a strong signal for users since it explicitly specifies a single country in an unmistakable way.

Be aware however (besides the old date) that:

  1. documentation, like patents or such, does not necessarily mean that what is running is what is described
  2. in general pay particular attention to the difference between country and language; some ccTLD intend to be country-related some others try to extend to the culture/language(s) irrespective of the specific territory. For the same provider this page at https://developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/crawling/managing-multi-regional-sites explains more how to properly handle languages
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