How to find the perfect domain strategy for international SEO

As you look to expand the reach of your business to customers in different countries, your website setup and the content you have in place will need to change and evolve. Before you even begin thinking about content localization and local keywords for each market, the technical setup of your website needs to be considered. The first step of this process is domain strategy.

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Date published
January 30, 2018 Categories

As you look to expand the reach of your business to customers in different countries, your website setup and the content you have in place will need to change and evolve.

Before you even begin thinking about content localization and local keywords for each market, the technical setup of your website needs to be considered. The first step of this process is domain strategy.

What domain you use when targeting local markets can impact how your site performs. There are a number of options for your domain structure:

There are pros and cons for each of these. In this article, I’ll examine each of the different options, their benefits and drawbacks, and consider how you can find the best domain strategy for your individual situation.

Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs)

ccTLDs (or Country Code top-level domains) are specific to a country: for example, .de for Germany or .fr for France.

Pros of ccTLDs

Cons of ccTLDs

Subfolders or subdirectories

Subfolders (also known as subdirectories) for specific languages or countries can be added to any domain (www.yourdomain.com/de), but for this to work effectively, the site needs to be on a top-level domain such as a .com, and not a local ccTLD.

Pros of subfolders

Cons of subfolders

Subdomains

Subdomains add the country content to the beginning of the domain (de.yourdomain.com). Some CMS tools or proxies default to this behavior, so it’s been a popular technique for many international websites.

Again, this solution only works when the parent website is a .com domain.

Pros of subdomains

Cons

So which domain strategy works best?

All we’ve seen from the above is that there are pros and cons for all the available domain strategies, and no real clear winner for which works best.

IP serving is not the solution

From an SEO point of view, we need to avoid IP serving (serving different content to the user depending on their IP address) wherever possible. All the search engines need to be able to find and index all of your content, but have IP ranges which come from specific countries.

Google, for example, comes from the US, meaning that it will be automatically redirected to your US content. This can present issues with the indexation and visibility of your local websites in the search results.

Making informed decisions

The best way for your business to decide which domain strategy is right for your websites is to review a number of different elements. Here are some key ones to start off with:

Technology review

This is a good kick-off point; there’s no point in looking at all the options, doing your research and deciding on a domain strategy, only to find that your CMS doesn’t support the approach you’ve chosen.

There are a number of considerations here:

Top level marketing strategy

Another one which is well worth checking before doing anything else. If your business has a logo which contains the domain, or a set of brand guidelines which involve talking about the company as YourBrand.com, then you may find that any recommendation to move to a ccTLD for specific markets might not be accepted.

Check in with the decision makers on that before you begin roll-out of research into domain strategy (and save yourself time!)

Competitor research and ranking review

Look at the marketplace for the country you are interested in, and also at the domain strategies which work for the companies who are performing well in the search results. This should include search competitors and publishers on a similar topic, not just your known named competitor.

Budgetary considerations

Are you a small business with limited marketing budgets, but looking to expand into 19 markets? If so, a ccTLD approach could eat into your budgets.

You might find that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and in some markets, it might be better to have a ccTLD whilst in all of the other countries you are focused on a .com domain. At this point, your own marketing needs to kick in.

If you are comfortable having multiple domain marketing strategies, then do so; if you aren’t, then consider putting all sites on the same strategy. Just remember, it’s unlikely that your international customers will care that one site is on a ccTLD and another is on a .com!

Final considerations: Language

One final thing to consider when choosing domains for an international audience is the words used in the domain.

Although your domain is often your company name or something comprising this, one thing to consider for international audiences is whether this name, your domain, or the way words are combined in your domain, could look odd to audiences who speak a different language.

The worst-case scenario is that your domain looks like a swear word or insult in a different language. So, before you commit to a particular domain, check with local people living in that market that you won’t be accidentally calling their mother a hamster.

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