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ccTLDs, Subdomains, and Subfolders – An Explanation of International SEO

International SEO, Subdomain, Sub folders

As your business expands internationally, increasing traffic to your website should be one of your primary goals to attract new customers. As such, you will need to focus on developing your international search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, which optimizes your website for a global audience and helps search engines recognize which countries or languages you are targeting.

To achieve the best SEO plan for your website, you first have to select the appropriate domain structure that will suit the needs of your site. It is easy to get bogged down in this part of your SEO strategy, especially when deciphering the differences between country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), subdomains, and subfolders. The first step in choosing a domain structure is to decide whether your site will focus on a country or a language because each brings about its own set of requirements.

Here is a look at different domains to consider when developing your strategy:

Country Code Top-Level Domains

A ccTLD is specific to a country, not to a language. When using a ccTLD, you are letting search engines know that the intended audience for your site is from a particular country. As an example, the domain, .co.uk, is specific to the United Kingdom.

A ccTLD is best suited for companies that:

  • Are located across several regions
  • Have a strong international brand
  • Support a wide array of services and products across geographic locations
  • Have the resources to build and maintain a unique website for each specific country
  • Is located in a country that has legal requirements which specify that a local domain is necessary to conduct business

Although there are advantages of ccTLDs, you should take into consideration that such a domain can be costly and technically difficult to implement, especially since you will have to maintain multiple versions of the site with their own SEO strategy, including keyword searches and link building.

Subdomains

Contrary to a ccTLD, subdomains allow you to concentrate on a specific language, rather than one country. Subdomains are often used when you have content to share that is different from the rest of the website. If your site has an international audience, separate subdomains allow for variations in content and languages, but all versions are linked together under the main site.

Some advantages of subdomains are:

  • If a subdomain is created for a site that currently ranks high, it will be swiftly indexed, allowing it to reap the benefits of the parent domain’s position.
  • As part of the subdomain, you can use a keyword to further optimize searches, as well as for promotional and marketing purposes.
  • Subdomains can target a certain country or market segment, which also helps to promote a product or service.

Perhaps the main disadvantage of subdomains is that search engines view them as separate websites, which can adversely affect their rankings.

Subfolders

Along with subdomains, subfolders are based on target languages instead of a specific country. A subfolder is the section of the website that contains a subset of content; they are the most effective and straightforward way to organize sections of information on your website.

Here are some of the advantages of subfolders:

  • Sometimes, companies inadvertently compete with themselves because their subdomain might have newer information than their main domain. With subfolders, that issue is eliminated, because the focus is on optimizing a single website.
  • If your website includes a blog post that highlights a new product or feature, customers can efficiently toggle between the blog and the site’s service pages.
  • Since you will likely be updating content and adding information to your site through subfolders, your SEO position will affect the ranking of your primary website.
  • If you track your site’s rankings in a platform such as Google Analytics, the data is merged for the complete website, instead of having to focus on data across multiple domains.

The primary disadvantage of subfolders is that the number of pages within the URL will increase, causing the rankings of some pages to decrease.

However, even with that disadvantage, subfolders remain the choice of numerous companies with multinational websites. Ultimately, subfolders are easy and efficient to set up, and their structure leverages the ranking of the main domain to increase traffic and optimization of the other website pages.

Considering that 93% of a user’s online experience begins with a search engine, deciding on a solid SEO strategy is a critical part of helping your business expand to international markets. As such, choosing the best domain for your website can have a tremendous impact on how many new customers you can reach.

Summary

When you decide to expand your business internationally, your SEO strategy is vital to the success of your website. As part of that plan, choosing the best domain structure is critical to driving more traffic to your website, which influences the number of new customers your business will attract.

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