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Your business is growing and you’re ready to break into international markets. Congratulations! However, your site is only structured to target domestic prospects. Before commencing down the path of multilingual SEO and other global marketing efforts, your site requires an established architecture to support an international presence. In this blog post I’ll walk through the pros and cons of using ccTLD (Country Code Top-Level Domains), subdomains and subdirectories.

First, let’s discuss your architectural options. When setting up your site, there are three industry accepted website structures to geo-target your content for specific locations. They include ccTLD, subdomains and subdirectories.

The tricky part is making the right architectural decision based your business goals.   So which one is right for your business goals and objectives?

ccTLD (Coudvntry Code Top-Level Domain)

smartsearch_international_blog_post_1

A ccTLD is a common practice for businesses wanting to rank internationally. Why you ask? It is because it can be the most effective way for you to localize / geo-target your content.   However, if you go the ccTLD route, be sure you have the resources available to execute this strategy properly. You should know in advance ccTLD’s can take time and resources to get the desired traction with the international engines.   For example: Using ccTLD requires that you host your site on in-country servers and interface with multiple hosting providers.

However, if you have the resources and time, this is the best long term strategy.

Pros:

  • Clearest geo-targeting signal for the search engines.
  • We have found with ccTLDs, the click-through-rate tends to be a bit higher because it is country specific to that audience. Ultimately, there is more credibility and trust with the searcher viewing the listing.
  • Easier to obtain country / regional specific links.
  • If executing this strategy according to international best practices, your pages can rank very high in the international engines. How you say? By hosting the site on regional specific servers, it provides credibility with the international search engine bots.

Cons:

  • If using ccTLD’s, such as a “.tv” or “.me”, the search engines may confuse it as a gccTLD (General Country Code Top-Level Doman) and this can prohibit your webpages from ranking in the international engines. Listen to what Matt Cutts says on the topic. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJqZIH_0Ars)   If you go the ccTLD route, ensure you are using country codes that are globally accepted.
  • The biggest con for marketers is the time and resources needed to get traction with this strategy. Since it is considered a different domain, the launch of the ccTLD will require some time and energy building authority and trust with the search engines. For example: you will need to execute a link acquisition strategy targeting each country.
  • The cost of maintaining this strategy can be high. You are looking at additional hosting resources. Also, you will have development, design and maintenance costs.

Subdomains

smartsearch_international_blog_post_2

A ccTLD is a common practice for businesses wanting to rank internationally. Why you ask? It is because it can be the most effective way for you to localize / geo-target your content.   However, if you go the ccTLD route, be sure you have the resources available to execute this strategy properly. You should know in advance ccTLD’s can take time and resources to get the desired traction with the international engines.   For example: Using ccTLD requires that you host your site on in-country servers and interface with multiple hosting providers.

However, if you have the resources and time, this is the best long term strategy.

Pros:

  • Clearest geo-targeting signal for the search engines.
  • We have found with ccTLDs, the click-through-rate tends to be a bit higher because it is country specific to that audience. Ultimately, there is more credibility and trust with the searcher viewing the listing.
  • Easier to obtain country / regional specific links.
  • If executing this strategy according to international best practices, your pages can rank very high in the international engines. How you say? By hosting the site on regional specific servers, it provides credibility with the international search engine bots.

Cons:

  • If using ccTLD’s, such as a “.tv” or “.me”, the search engines may confuse it as a gccTLD (General Country Code Top-Level Doman) and this can prohibit your webpages from ranking in the international engines. Listen to what Matt Cutts says on the topic. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJqZIH_0Ars)   If you go the ccTLD route, ensure you are using country codes that are globally accepted.
  • The biggest con for marketers is the time and resources needed to get traction with this strategy. Since it is considered a different domain, the launch of the ccTLD will require some time and energy building authority and trust with the search engines. For example: you will need to execute a link acquisition strategy targeting each country.
  • The cost of maintaining this strategy can be high. You are looking at additional hosting resources. Also, you will have development, design and maintenance costs.

Subdirectoriessmartsearch_international_blog_post_3

This is one of my favorite approaches when breaking into international markets. I know what you are thinking: it is because authority and trust is fully passed, that the site is likely to break into international markets quicker with this approach. Okay, okay, okay… you’re right. As an SEO, it is easier for us to pass authority with a well-established site.   Therefore, it is easier to get results in the SERPs. If your market isn’t saturated and the competition is low, this is a good choice.

Pros:

  • Link equity is passed to these pages because the pages are seen as an extension of the main site.
  • Since it follows the same convention as the main domain, the likelihood of a developer making a mistake is less.

Cons:

  • I personally have found that these types of sites may not perform as well in the international engines that are country specific. For example: Russia’s search engine of choice is Yandex and China’s search engine of choice is Baidu.
  • The searcher engagement may not be as high. This all boils down to trust. The searcher may not see your site as a credible resource (compared to a site utilizing ccTLDs)
  • If you go the subdirectory route, the domain cannot be hosted in the targeted country. As I have stated, this can affect your webpage’s performance in international engines.
  • I have found that obtaining link equity on internal pages can be somewhat difficult. The ultimate goal is to get links from quality resources in the country you are targeting.

SUMMARY

So where does this leave us? Have I confused you more?   Let me summarize…

  • If you go the ccTLD route, with sites hosted in each country, you will get the geo-target bonus that can help with ranking, but you lose domain authority and you are starting from the beginning. If you have the time, resources and patience, this is the best long term strategy.   However, you have to consider the maintenance cost. This strategy can certainly be the most expensive.
  • The subdomain avenue will receive the trust and authority of the main domain and maintenance can be easier.
  • Finally subdirectories, pass domain authority and have low maintenance costs. However, if you are in a competitive market, this may not be the best long term approach.

In part two of the series, I’ll discuss how to optimize and localize your webpages for maximum effectiveness in the international marketplace.