One size does not fit all, with some markets favouring .com sites, while others prefer local domains

International SEO domain strategy

SEO domain strategy is a critical international search engine ranking factor. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all, with some markets favouring .com sites, while others prefer local domains designated by a Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD).

Making the right decision has significant long-term SEO implications, so research is vital. We must understand the common domain strategies that can be seen to be winning within your region, market, vertical sector and most relevant search engine.

A primary element to the implementation of your domain strategy is technical setup, so the first port of call should be a conversation with your development team to ascertain if there are any limitations to which approach you can choose. Restrictions could occur because of the CMS you are using or the server on which you host your site host.

Next, we have to decide what URL you’ll use for a new market. If your current top-level domain (TLD) is non-country specific, such as a .com or a .org, you have options.

The first is to use subfolders to host each new market website – so your domain name will remain the same in all countries, but the end will contain a country-specific code. For example yourwebsite.com/de/yourproduct (for Germany) or .yourwebsitecom/cl/yourproduct (for Chile). This option works from an SEO perspective because new subsites benefit from the SEO authority of the main site and the age of the domain.

Another option is to use subdomains to add new country folders to your site. They look like this: de.yoursite.com (for Germany) or cl.yoursite.com (for Chile). Some websites have to take this route because their CMS or server set up only supports this implementation. But regarding SEO, it’s not ideal: search engines treat each new subdomain as a new website, so you get less authority from the canonical domain.

If you have a ccTLD, like .co.uk in the UK, you have to take a different approach.  When search engines see a website with a country-specific domain, they automatically assume the site is intended for the market mentioned in the URL.

If you want to stick with your ccTLD, you may want to introduce new ccTLDs for each market (so .de for Germany, .ae for the UAE etc.). One benefit of this approach is good the automatic connection between the new domain and the new market you’re targeting, so your visitors will experience a faster load time. But, as with subdomains, you get none of the domain authority of your original site. That means starting your SEO from scratch for each market.

To avoid this, you might have to migrate your entire site to a non-specific TLD – i.e. a .com or a .org – so you can take the subfolder route outlined above.

Deciding on the option that’s right for you is key to our domain strategy approach and recommendations. If you choose to go down the route of migrating a ccTLD site to a generic domain, then you will need to consider a site migration plan to ensure that you don’t lose any of the existing authority from your original site.

Oban delivers a uniquely international perspective to domain strategy and planning. Our consultancy addresses best practice in market-specific planning, and how to optimise for particular search engines, all based on over 12 years of SEO experience and the skills of a team of industry renowned international SEO experts.

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