International domain strategy is arguably one of the most important aspect of your international SEO. Yet, it seems like not a lot of entrepreneurs care enough to actually give a thought to the domain structure they use. Is really the .com domain as almighty as one might think? Is it possible to rank internationally without using the ccTLD type of domain? And can you rank well without using anything but your local TLD? It all comes down to what kind of business you are / want to be, aka to your geotargeting strategy. Let’s dig a bit deeper into that.
When you’re pure local, you’ve got it simple
Say you’re an owner of a small local brewery near Dresden, Germany. You probably want to rank on the very specific local queries, such as “local brewery Dresden” (obviously), “best beer in Dresden” or “what to do in Dresden”. On the contrary, queries such as “small breweries” or “best beer” are not that interesting for you as they are way too general.
In the above-mentioned case, the best thing you can do is to obtain a single TLD domain. In case you have a lot of foreign-language-speaking visitors, which in the case of our small brewery is quite likely, don’t hesitate to create multilingual content for them. You can then place this content under different /country-subfolders/.
Global business operating locally? There are several ways to go.
You are in a bit different situation when you run a global business, but you’re still operating in a local scale. In such a case it depends mainly on how local your services really are compared to how strong your global brand should be.
Target locals the way McDonald does
Let’s show some examples. For McDonald’s, the local aspect of their business is pretty important. Yes, they’re operating globally and working hard to maintain their global brand as strong as possible. But at the same time, each market they approach is different in terms of influencers, events, special offers and the customization of the website.
That’s why McDonald’s goes for the multiple ccTLD option, creating customized content for each of the countries they operate in. Apart from that it sends a clear signal that the business focuses on the specific country. The obvious disadvantage is more difficult maintenance and higher costs.
…example of the Czech version of McDonald’s website…
…and the German one.
Build your global brand IKEA-style
If you, on the other hand, care more about building up the global brand of your business, using a gTLD is a way to go. You can then create separate /subfolders/ for different markets and different language versions. It’s something IKEA does, to name an example. They have all the content located under .com domain, separated into subfolders based on the country and the language of the visitor. A cool feature is letting visitors choose which version they want to visit while suggesting the one that should fit them the best.
As I visit the website from Denmark, I am automatically offered the Danish version of the website, while being able to choose any other version as well.
Of course, you can always go for a combination of the two approaches. For example, you can choose your strategic markets and create websites under ccTLD domains for them, while using subfolders for the markets that are of less importance to you. That’s the way Amazon does it. Or you can use a common ccTLD for the same-language-speaking countries (using .de domain for Austria, Germany and Switzerland) and then use subfolders for each country.
For online global businesses, stick to a single gTLD
It’s still more and more common to find business that operate mainly online and the local aspect doesn’t really matter to them that much. Should this be your case, obtain a single gTLD domain and use subfolders for different markets. In case you have an super-important strategic market to take care of or one that is very distant (China, for example), you might use a separate ccTLD for it.
Never forget that creating a good content plan is a key to success on every international market!
There’s no one right way, but several wrong ones
As you can see, the optimal domain strategy depends on variety of factors. What you certainly must take into consideration are the specifics of your business, your target audience and the importance of the markets you’re present in. The strategies are also significantly different in terms of costs, so be sure to plan your budget well. That being said, there are a few simple rules to follow.
- If you’re a local business without the ambitions to become global, get a single TLD domain. In case you have clients from different countries too, use subfolders to create multilingual content.
- Being global business with strong emphasis on your local branches, go for individual ccTLD for each of your markets. Keep in mind that it’s not going to be particularly cheap.
- If you care more about your global brand than about the individual branches, go for a strong TLD and create subfolders for individual countries. You can also combine the two attitudes to put more focus on your strategic markets.
- In case you you operate purely globally, for example as an on-line business, go for single gTLD and use subfolders for different-language-speaking audience.
If you still struggle with choosing the right domain strategy, check how we make things happen in GFluence!
PS. Where did all the sub-domains go?
You might have noticed that there are no sub-domains mentioned in the article. Sub-domains are not a no-no per se, but one could say the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. It is true that they allow you to build multilingual content and target users from other countries.
The issue with sub-domains is that Google often sees subdomains as new domains, which might cause all your previous SEO efforts go in vain. In other words, you’d need to start building up the SEO for your new sub-domain from scratch. What’s more, when there’s content of the same kind on a sub-domain and the root domain, such as pricing pages or contacts, the root domain might win over the sub-domain.