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Australian Domain Names – What is a ccTLD and .au vs .com.au Domains

Recently, auDA (the administrator of Australia’s ‘.au’ top level domain) has started offering a new country code top level domain for Australia. This has been raising questions from confused business owners asking us if it is ‘better’ than the ‘.com.au’ that we are used to, and if they should buy an ‘.au’ domain. What is all the fuss with these new .au domains? Continue reading to learn more about the new AU domains & find out, between ‘.au vs .com.au’ what is a better choice for you.

We will start by covering the all the necessary basics (without getting too technical), if however, you would prefer to get professional help with managing your presence on the web get in touch with us by calling 1300 659 035, e-mailing [email protected] or using the online form on our contact page.

What is a Domain Name?

In the sense relevant to this article, an Internet domain name is a website’s address on the web. For example, you are currently reading a blog post on a website which is located on the domain resurgedigital.com.au

In the simplest of terms, Internet domains are a way of assigning easy to remember and read addresses for websites and other internet services.

What is a Top Level Domain?

In the domain name resurgedigital.com.au, the ‘.au’ part of the domain is a top level domain name. Specifically, it is a country code top level domain name. All country code top level domains are also top level domains, but not all top level domains are country code top level domains. For example, top level domains such as ‘.org’, ‘.gov’, ‘.com’, ‘.edu’ or ‘.net’, to name only a few examples, are also top level domains, however, as they do not pertain to any specific countries, rather than being called a ‘country code top level domain’, they are referred to as ‘generic top level domains’ and are typically associated with a specific type of organised entity.

  • com – primarily intended for commercial entities and businesses, but unrestricted
  • org – originally intended for organizations but now unrestricted
  • net – originally intended for network infrastructures, now unrestricted
  • edu – typically associated with educational institutions
  • gov – reserved for governmental use

The above options were intended to make it easier to immediately see what kind of an organisation a given domain belongs to. Using resurgedigital.com.au as an example, this domain name immediately suggests that the website in question is probably a business. That said, what complicates matters a bit is that in domains which use a country code top level domain additionally to already using a generic top level domain name such as resurgedigital.com.au, the ‘.com’ part to the left of the ‘.au’ part is referred to as a ‘second level domain’.

What is a ccTLD or a Country Code Top Level Domain?

In simple terms, a country code top level domain is generally the short string of letters at the end of an Internet domain name associated with a specific country and indicating that the domain is associated with that specific country. You may have seen website domains ending ‘.nz’ for New Zealand, ‘.uk’ for United Kingdom, ‘.fr’ for France and so forth (and of course ‘.au’ for Australia).

As you may have noticed by now, generic top level domains and country code top level domains are sometimes combined to create names such as resurgedigital.com.au which now immediately suggests that the website in question is specifically an Australian business.

What are the Available Australian Domain Names / AU Domains?

When it comes to Australian domain names, the ‘.au ‘ country code top level domain has historically always been bundled with a generic top level domain and you may have encountered website domains ending in the following combinations.

  • .com.au – intended for Australian commercial entities
  • .net.au – historically used mainly by Internet Service Providers, but the use has since been broadened
  • .org.au – typically intended for and used by associations and non-profit organisations (historically only for organisations that did not fit in one of the other categories)
  • .edu.au – intended for use by educational institutions
  • .gov.au – restricted to use by governments and their departments
  • .asn.au – for use by associations and non-profit organisations
  • .id.au – for use by individuals
  • .csiro.au – restricted to use by CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation)

N.B., ‘.edu.au’, ‘.gov.au’ and ‘.csiro.au’ are not available for general public use and are restricted to use by their associated entity types in Australia.

‘.au vs .com.au’ – Australian Domain Names in Practice

Marketed as ”.au Direct“, the new ‘.au’ option has been made available to the general public in March 2022. .au Direct is intended to be an addition rather than a replacement the existing second-level domains. It is meant to provide an option to register shorter and simpler domain names. The basic reality is that both options are just an address where one is shortened for simplicity. In some ways it is not too different shortening a physical address as “17C/455 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley, QLD 4006” as opposed to using a longer “17C/455 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley, Queensland 4006”.

Those of our clients why ask us about ‘.au vs .com.au’ are typically interested in the SEO benefits of one option over another. When registering a brand new domain, neither is better than the other in terms of SEO. ‘.au’ is just shorter and may catch attention a little bit more for now, because of its ‘newness’. For SEO outcomes, we have no evidence that either will rank better than the other just because one is longer or shorter. If you already have a ‘.com.au’ domain, you should stick with it because it is already known to your audiences and search engines already know what real world entity it represents. In that sense, if you have been a holder and a user of a ‘.com.au’ domain name for an extended time, you may have some advantage due to the fact that you are already established on the web under such a domain name.

Note well that, while in the physical world the street address example used further above denotes the same physical place, domains such as resurgedigital.com.au and resurgedigital.au can point to the same place, but they can alternatively point to completely different websites and even businesses. If, to continue using the same example, resurgedigital.com.au and resurgedigital.au are both registered and found by search engines, they will be treated as completely different locations on the web, they can be connected to the same website (this scenario is referred to as a mirror) or one can redirect to the other. Web mirrors can cause duplication issues which may be an SEO problem (it does not have to be however, there are ways of working around the duplication issues inherent to mirror websites, the explanation of which is beyond the scope of this article). More commonly, we would recommend setting up your website as being viewable from only one domain variant (usually the older and the more established one, unless for example you have received a Google penalty in the past and need to move to a new address) and redirecting the newer domain to the older one. Again, in most cases it is much easier to rank an established domain higher, compared to building up the rankings for a new one from nothing (while there are some ways of working around this problem, for example there are ways of indicating website migration to a new domain to Google, their explanation is also beyond the scope of this article).

Any business owner could reasonably consider registering their preferred name under both options to prevent rogue ‘parking’ or ‘cybersquatting’ of domains (as an example, as Resurge Digital, if we own resurgedigital.com.au we would want to purchase resurgedigital.au as well, to prevent someone else buying it and potentially impersonating us or otherwise taking advantage of our well-established and trusted business name). Buying a second domain does not mean that it has to be used, it can simply be held onto (i.e. if you were to purchase an ‘.au’ version of your existing ‘.com.au’ domain, there is no need to connect the new purchase to a live website).

As with ‘.com.au’, when buying a domain ending in ‘.au’ there are certain requirements that have to be met when making the purchase – an individual has to be an Australian citizen, an organisation needs to be either incorporated in Australia or hold an ABN.

Australian Domain Names in Conclusion

While when comparing ‘.au vs .com.au’ neither has an inherent SEO advantage built into it by default, depending on your situation and on a case by case basis, using one rather than the other can be leveraged as a way to avoid or work around some very specific SEO problems. That said, because having one website live on both variants of a domain name can also be problematic in many cases, the safest but still forward-looking strategy would be to own both variations of your domain name, sticking to using the older one and holding onto the newer one.

There is a lot to consider when making the right decisions here, why not get professional help with managing your presence on the web? To start, get in touch with our Brisbane digital marketing agency by calling 1300 659 035, e-mailing [email protected] or using the online form on our contact page.

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