International SEO Part 3: Building Sites So They Will Come


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In the first part of our series on international SEO, we looked at the different versions of Google. In the second installment, we examined the different factors that Google uses to determine whether a site is relevant for a specific country. In this third and final installment, we explore the ins and outs of site architecture, and weigh the pros and cons of each.

Site Architecture & International Rankings

There are three general options when it comes to building sites to targeting different countries: (1) separate sites on separate TLDs and ccTLDs, (2) country specific subdomains under a primary TLD, (3) country specific subdirectories on a primary TLD. There are both pros and cons to each of these, especially when it comes to the investment they entail. So the one that’s right for your business will depend on factors such budget, available IT resources, and just how important any given market is to your bottom line.

Separate Sites with Separate Domains

The most ideal option for ranking in different countries is to build unique sites with relevant ccTLDs. Of course, this option also requires the most investment – both to set-up and to maintain. So, this option is probably best for major ecommerce entities that are targeting several large national markets at once (i.e. the return will justify the investment) and have sufficient marketing budgets to do so.

Pros

  • ccTLD – best chances to rank locally.
  • IP Address – each site hosted in target country.
  • Conversions – users confident they found local business.
  • Linkbuilding – local sites are more willing to link to local ccTLD.
  • Interlinking – can interlinking each separate site to one another.

Cons

  • Maintenance – multiple sites to develop & maintain.
  • Investment – as many times SEO work as you have ccTLDs.
  • Usability – must target by country, not language.

Subdomains for Each Target Market

A decent, cost-effective alternation to maintaining a portfolio of ccTLD sites is to have country specific subdomains (e.g. uk.domain.com, etc.). It will be a bit more challenging to rank a subdomain locally than it will a ccTLD, but there are some economies of scope to be had.

First, site maintenance is much simpler. Second, each subdomain can have a country specific IP address. Finally, every link pointing to each subdomain will also increase the overall ranking of the parent TLD.

Pros

  • Maintenance – only one site to develop, host, and maintain.
  • IP Address – each site can be hosted in the country you’re targeting.
  • Backlinks – every backlink to each subdomain benefits entire TLD as a whole.
  • Interlinking – can interlinking each country subdomain to one another.
  • Usability – can group content by language instead of country.

Cons

  • Domain – your TLD must compete against ccTLDs in local SERPs.
  • Conversions – users will not have as much confidence as they would in a ccTLD.
  • Linkbuilding – more difficult to get links from local sites.

Subdirectories for Each Target Market

The lease SEO friendly option (but most cost-effective one), is to have country specific subdirectories (e.g. domain.com/uk). This option but might make sense for (1) targeting smaller markets that can’t justify a bigger investment, or (2) smaller ecommerce portals that must remain focused on their products and services rather than their IT infrastructure.

Pros

  • Maintenance – only one site to develop, host, and maintain.
  • Backlinks – every backlink benefits entire TLD.
  • Usability – can group content by language instead of country.

Cons

  • Domain – your TLD must compete against ccTLDs in local SERPs.
  • Conversions – users will not have as much confidence as they would in a ccTLD.
  • Linkbuilding – more difficult to get links from local sites.
  • IP Address – entire site will be hosted in just one country.

Different Sites for Different Markets

While some markets represent a source of sales or leads, they don’t necessarily offer enough of them to warrant a significant investment. For this reason, you might choose to develop comprehensive ccTLD sites to the US, Canada, and the UK, but might choose to target other countries through a subdomain or subdirectory on your .com site.

Basically, you should approach international SEO just like you would any other international marketing effort. Start by examining the market opportunity of any country, the value it offers your business, and then invest your IT and marketing resources accordingly.

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