We recently published a webinar special, looking into the challenges with International SEO and how that impacts areas such as website structure, content and brand strategy.

Today we’re zeroing in on one of the topics discussed as part of the webinar: Is it best to go for for separate top level domains (TLDs) for each country website?

Jump straight this question in the webinar video below:


'if you’re serious about a market, it’s best to develop a site with a CCTLD.' @michaelbonfils Click To Tweet

Transcript:

DAVID BAIN: I think one of the biggest challenges working as an SEO for a really big company, is obviously you’re going in there, and there are lots of pre-existing websites, and there are lots of issues that already exist. The nicest thing possible would be to be able to actually get in there from the ground level and create a whole set of international websites based upon your own architecture, not having to look at the horrible errors that perhaps already existed, and perhaps you couldn’t do anything about.

In an absolutely ideal world, if you could go in there, and you could create a website from the ground up with your own recommended SEO architecture to start off with, Michael B., would you focus, would you actually recommend going, for instance, for TLDs for each country website? Or would you think .com and country folder is sufficient? Or perhaps you might even go for subdomain instead? Have you got any opinion regarding that?

MICHAEL BONFILS: Yeah, I’m a big advocate of CCTLDs. So I think if you’re very serious about a specific market, it’s best to really develop a site with a CCTLD. There’s a number of reasons for that besides in search. In search there are factors, because you are now competing local to local, rather than multi-national to local. That actually helps. The other thing is trust. You’re trying to develop trust. Germans aren’t fond of anything that’s not German, for example.

So if you’re not a German company, and you’re trying to compete against a German company, you’d better be way better than the German company for them, and you’d better find a way to convince Germans that you’re way better than a German company. One way to do that is, of course, CCTLDs. Now, that’s not possible for everybody, and it’s not possible for every country.

So you go into Latin America and you’ve got Bolivia or Peru, and you’ve got all these different countries. There are cases where, depending on your business model, when it makes sense at all to have CCTLDs in all these markets. My opinion, I’m not an advocate of subdomains because I think there’s too many errors and problems that can happen with subdomains, especially when it comes to linking.

Subdirectories and folders are probably okay to use when you’re concentrating on markets that aren’t your core focus, or you’re just trying to regionalise something. Latin America is a great example of that. So I’d say CCTLDs first, subdirectory folders second, and subdomains last.

DAVID BAIN: Michael F., I’ve seen quite a few companies that actually have their top-level country-level domains, but actually forward them to folders on the .com. So they’re controlling everything on the same server. I mean, they could do that with top-level domains, but perhaps it’s a little bit easier to manage with everything on the .com, and just forwarding these domain names to the URL that they’re actually hosting the home page of the country on. Do you think that’s an acceptable strategy? Or do you think really, if a company already has that .com structure in place, they should even think of moving to top-level domain names in each country?

MICHAEL FLEISCHNER: Yeah. It’s such a challenging question to ask and answer for a couple different reasons. One is, it largely depends on the authority of the domain. If it’s a large international company, they have so much equity built up in their top-level domain that they may want to, like Michael was talking about, have a… Because I also believe in folders as opposed to subdirectories.

They may have the countries sitting in folders, and they may want to point everybody back to the main site because they have value and authority built up. I don’t think that’s as strong as a top-level domain in the country. That being said, you could always mask that domain so it appears that you’re there, but ultimately someone’s going to discover, once you get past the home page, that you are in a subfolder, so to speak.

So I think the answer to that question is really based on a lot of factors. Ultimately I believe, as long as you are avoiding some of the more common mistakes, like Lukasz was talking about earlier with duplicate content, not following basic SEO optimisation strategies, like using proper meta-data, or using your H-ref language tags if you’re going to be redirecting people, I think either is okay. It’s largely based on the equity that you have built up in your own top-level domain.

DAVID BAIN: So Lukasz, the two questions to you; is a top-level domain for each country the ideal strategy that you would recommend? And also, if an international company already had lots of different country websites on a .com, is there ever a case where you’d actually recommend moving from that to a top-level domain strategy?

LUKASZ ZELEZNY: So I think what Michael has said very much covers this topic. From my side, I just wanted to add that I also like to look on various access for big companies. Take a look on Google; they have CCTLDs, and they covered all the possibilities. The problem with CCTLDs is that if you register something kind of cool for the UK market, this domain may be taken for Poland, Germany, Russia, and so on and so on. So you may find it difficult to implement this strategy from the first point if your name is kind of a general record.

Because of that, I think it’s good to, in the stage of planning what the company name should be and what the brand should be, to answer the fundamental question – can we reserve all the CCTLDs that we want, and how much will it cost? Because if we will go with 200, that’s probably a kind of cost that start-up needs to consider. If we want to target ten countries, and we know that probably we won’t be in South America in the next 20 years, maybe that’s a good strategy.

Answering your second question, I think that if your .com domain, with the folders which are targeting specific countries, have been there for years, good authority, my advice to everybody would be not touch things. Don’t destroy what you have, because it’s always like, it reminds a little like people are trying to move furniture in their room. If you’re moving furniture in the room, the room won’t be bigger. You’re just moving the table from one side to another.

Rather, think about how to make your website stronger, better, more content, more engaging things. Don’t worry about the fact that all is .com, and there is a folder, and now lots of people are talking about something which is more trendy. I will give you an example from the history. Take a look, 300 or 400 years ago, constitutions became a very trendy thing. Every country wanted to have a constitution. England stayed without a constitution. There is no constitution in England because they were maybe thinking that what they have is good. So if you have a good authority with your .com domain, please stay. Don’t destroy what you have.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, great. Going back to what you were saying just a couple of minutes ago in relation to top-level domains, if you were going for that strategy, you mentioned that it might be a little bit more expensive.

LUKASZ ZELEZNY: Yes.

DAVID BAIN: Do you think that it also would take more time? Do you need more people to manage a strategy that involved multiple domains as well, do you think?

LUKASZ ZELEZNY: Not really. If you do this the right way, you can really use a similar number of resources. Let me give you the easiest example. If you’re using WordPress-based websites, it’s not that difficult to manage multiple instances of WordPress. I saw companies which are dealing with four or five WordPress sites in the same team. So that’s not an issue.

The problem is that some country domains are really expensive, and we’re talking about £100 or £200 a year, and the question is, when you have a start-up which only has a couple of thousand in the beginning, that can be quite a huge cost. What makes me also worry is, the first question to answer; are these domains available? Can you take them all? Because if not, maybe you should change strategy, or maybe you should change the brand name to make sure you will secure all the CCTLDs that you want.

DAVID BAIN: You mentioned WordPress there. Do you know if using multi-site by WordPress is the best way dealing with that?

LUKASZ ZELEZNY: Yes, that’s the best. This is what I was thinking about, actually.

Remember to watch the full international SEO webinar recording here.