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I'm currently working on a website targeted mainly towards Japan (all content is in Japanese). This website's domain is registered as another country's ccTLD (in this case, Belgium's .be domain) as requested by my client (completely because of esthetic reasons).

When adding this site to Google's WebMasterTools, it is automatically registered as targeted towards Belgium, and there seems to be no way to change the country targeting to any other country, nor the choice not to target any country in specific.

My question is, how bad do you think this would be for our Japanese page ranks? If the domain choice is purely esthetic, would you suggest I recommend my client to change the domain to a country-neutral or Japanese domain instead?

First question here, and I apologize for any mistakes. If there is anything that can be improved, please tell me.

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Yes. You have a problem.

gTLDs and ccTLDs are treated differently in where they are placed. gTLDs enjoy great penetration throughout all of Google's data centers while ccTLDs do not. The reason is simple and two fold: one, language- Is the language understood within the region?; and two, search history- Has anyone searched and a result given been successful within a region?

Google performs a certain amount of sparing of resources by load-balancing (lack of a better term) their data throughout their data centers based upon likelihood that the results given will be used. There are several major factors for this; language, interest, and proximity.

It stands to reason that language is an obvious factor. As well is proximity. It is expected that .be sites will perform well in England and France. In Europe, many speak several languages and it is easy to travel from one country to the next. However, while in San Paulo Brazil people may speak German, but how may will speak Chinese? Proximity and language are key factors.

Another factor is interest. Google over a period of time has accumulated data about what sites perform well in what areas. This is not only by topic, but by ccTLD and language. This shifts somewhat over time and this can be measured by SERP performance, CTR, and bounce rates. Sometimes sites are tested in other areas and the results dictate what information appears in what data centers.

So the question you would have to ask yourself is this. How many in Japan are seeking Japanese sites in Germany? Are there Japanese language sites with the ccTLD of .be? Would my site enjoy better SERP placement with a .jp ccTLD?

The answer becomes rather obvious.

You will be seriously limited with a Japanese site and a ccTLD of .be. However, if you were to register a .jp site, you could enjoy unrestricted access to your customers in Japan. Even better yet, a .com site could gain access to all who speak Japanese wherever they are.

  • Thank you for your very detailed answer! I'm going to persuade my client into changing into a gTLD or the .jp ccTLD asap! – leaveyourfears Mar 30 '15 at 5:52
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Things are changing.

At the end of the day, it's mostly about your incoming links sources and anchor texts for localization. Get enough .jp links and it should work.

But the best/safest thing would be to use a .jp domain and redirect the .be one to it. Not gonna be easy if the boss doesn't want it. You can use the .be one in your stationary and such and just redirect the traffic to the real website.

  • Regarding "Buy the .jp domain and 301 it to the .be". Is there any source or did you have experience on that? Why should any SE be concerned about the 301 and take it into account for the .be-Domain? – Marcus Mar 14 '17 at 12:52
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This will be very bad for rankings in Japan. I expect google will think it is a site for Japanese speaking Belgians located in Belgium. and I bet there are not many of those!

My own experience is having a .au ccTLD (Australia) means I get very little traffic from New Zealand even though they are very close by, speak the same language and culturally very similar. My content is very relevant to NZ shoppers, I just don't get any NZ traffic from google/bing. I'm attempting to get out of the trouble you are heading for here: How to target another country when my website has a ccTLD

I would go for a gTLD and target Japan in the webmaster tools.

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