On the English Google SEO office-hours from September 3, 2021, John Mueller, who’s a Search Advocate at Google, addressed a question about moving a site from a .com to a .co.uk domain.
The video below has been queued to 38:12.
The question basically asked, “…Looking at rebranding–moving domains. Most of the content CMS and the website structure will remain the same. The main concern is we’re going from a .com domain to a .co.uk. A majority of our customers are based in the UK, but we get traffic from all over the world. Is that a problem?”
Perfectly Fine, But Keep a Few Things in Mind
To this, John Mueller replied, “From our point of view that’s perfectly fine.”
While that’s perfectly fine and doable from a Google and technical perspective, when it comes to geo-targeting, there are a few things to keep in mind.
“You Are Essentially Automatically Geo-Targeting the UK, But…”
“…it can be a global website,” John said. By this, he means that it can be a site that attracts visitors from around the world, almost like a .com can attract visitors from around the world, even though .com isn’t a geo-targeted top-level domain (TLD).
So, this is important to keep in mind: a .co.uk site can get traffic from around the world, but, as John goes on to say, “the one thing that you can’t do with the .co.uk domain is to create a separate section of your website like a separate subdomain and say ‘this is for a different country.’”
You Can’t Geo-Target a .co.uk Domain to Another Country Other Than The UK
So, if my understanding is correct, since .co.uk is specific to the UK, you can’t use it, or a subdomain of it, to try to geo-target another geographical location.
The example John gives is attempting to use a subdomain of a .co.uk domain to geo-target Australia: “If you had…a version of your site for Australia…and you called it australia.yoursite.co.uk, you would not be able to do geotargeting for that part of your website because essentially, we say everything on this domain is already geo-targeted to the UK.”
So, your site can have globally-oriented and UK-oriented content, but not necessarily content for a specific country other than the UK.
(Keep in mind that John said ‘we,’ as in Google. It may not be the same for other search engines.)
You May See Traffic Fluctuations
John implied that you would see traffic fluctuations, simply because, when moving from a generic to a country code-specific domain, it may take a while for things to settle down.
That said, in my opinion, that may always be the case when moving from one domain to another.
What Can Be Done With the .com Domain?
You can use the .com domain to target other countries (although from what John says, country-specific/geo-targeted domains would do better).
John said, “…with regards to ‘should you use the .com instead of the .co.uk?’ I think from an SEO point of view, there’s probably no reason, unless you plan on targeting other countries with that same domain…”
NOTE: I don’t think he was talking about geo-targeting, but more of targeting at a sub-domain level.
He also goes on to mention that you may have marketing considerations: “…but maybe there are reasons, from a marketing point of view, or kind of like general engaging with users’ point of view.”
What If You Want to Geo-target Other Countries?
John continued, saying, “…from an SEO point of view, if you want to target other countries, the approach you would have to take with a .co.uk domain is to, essentially, use a different domain name for the other countries so you would have yourwebsite.com.au…”
A Couple of My Thoughts
First, it’s good that the website structure of this person’s site will remain the same. That should make things easier.
That leads me to my second point: do 301 redirects. If you have, say, yoursite.com/about, then, assuming that the corresponding page on your new domain will be basically the same, you should do a 301 to yoursite.co.uk/about.
Moving domains can require a lot of planning and consideration, but hopefully, what I’ve shared here will help you make better-informed decisions.