Google knows of and differentiates between a number of top-level-domains (TLDs). The two most well-known and most often used top-level-domains are the generic top-level-domain, also called gTLD, as well as the country-code top-level-domain, called ccTLD.
What is the difference between gTLDs and ccTLDs?
A generic top-level-domain is not used as a regional identifier by Google, as opposed to a country-code top-level-domain (ccTLD), and can be used to correspond to any region or language. This is achieved through the use of the hreflang attribute.
The country-specific ccTLD, on the other hand, is a strong signal for Google, showing that the domain’s content is overwhelmingly suited to that specific country or search market.
What influence do these new geoTLDs have?
For now, they have no influence – in terms of a concrete attribution. geoTLDs may gain a certain influence in the future, provided they are used in large enough numbers for Google to collect enough reliable data and learn what to make of these new domain endings.
geoTLDs should put a clear focus on a geographic-, geopolitical-, ethnic-, language- or cultural-collective and may be weighted accordingly by Google.
How does Google weigh new top-level-domains?
From time to time, Google checks the public interest in, as well as the usage of new domain endings and will decide on a case-to-case basis if the focus of the domain ending has to be re-evaluated.
Similarly, Google will wait and check out the usage and distribution of geoTLDs to see if the geoTLDs can be matched to a specific regional and/or local searchmarket, or if the website content fits such an allocation. This, of course, can only be decided by Google once enough data is available.
Example using the domain ending “.io”
The domain ending “.io” stands for the region of the Indian Ocean. Google noticed that, when evaluating the user behaviour, this domain ending is being used worldwide by many start-ups and new companies. This made it impossible to clearly assign the content to the Indian Ocean through the domain ending. This is why Google is now considering .io as a new generic top-level-domain (gTLD), which, as a result, has no regional character anymore.
Video explanation by Matt Cutts on this topic
Should I use ccTLDs for sites not targeted to those countries?
As memorable .COM domains become more expensive, more developers are choosing alternate new domains like .IO and .IM – which Google geotargets to small areas. Do you discourage this activity?