International SEO: ccTLDs, Subdirectories or Subfolders?

Opening up your website to an international audience is one way to significantly grow your business. While you want to make sure your product or service is in demand in your international market, once you do know, it’s time to plan how you’re going to go about reaching that market.


How do you know if you’re ready to go international?

As mentioned in The Big Guide to International SEO, you have to evaluate foreign markets. Is there a legitimate place for your product/service offerings? Does more than 10% of your traffic come from other countries? Do you have the budget?

The Big Guide to International SEO asks six questions to help you decide whether your company is ready to step into the complex world of overseas marketing online. Taking a few minutes to review those questions can save you unnecessary loss in money, time and effort.

Planning Your Point of Entry into the World

When looking at international SEO as a viable movement, the first step is to decide the best way to reach your global market(s). -And, as a first step, it may be one of the most important in terms of starting out right.

For international targets, you have to first decide how you’re going to handle each language and location. Are visitors going to choose locations or languages? -And, if they choose the location, how do you make sure they have the proper language?

And finally, when you have multiple locations and languages, how do you ensure you’re visible throughout the search engines so people can find you?

Welcome to the universe of international SEO, with many possibilities and ways to get the job done right.

URL Pathways

What is your site structure(s) going to be? What will your URLs look like? How will you segregate the different locations and languages?

One of the most common questions at the beginning of a move to international marketing is, “Do we use separate sites, subfolders or subdirectories?” Each choice has its pros and cons.

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Your Multilingual or Multi-Regional Web Properties

An international site structure can consist of the following: Subdomains, subdirectories, or country code-top level domains (ccTLDs). Of course, any option you choose will have its own pros and cons. The right option is the one you choose as solutions will always vary on a case-by-case basis.

Subdomain Considerations

If your company is on the verge of building brand awareness across international borders, this could be a solution without having to create tons of new content to fill up multiple sites. Take this route with limited resources. It can also be a viable approach if your content addresses similar regional areas or needs only small language tweaks. You may also decide to choose this route if you plan on using separate servers to house sites with different languages or that target different regions.

However, there are limitations to using the “subdomain” approach. You will still have to invest quality time and resources to set up and maintain a number of different domains. The value of one domain, along with its link juice, may not do much to enhance the authority of another domain with this approach.

Subdirectory Solutions?

A subdirectory can enable you to host numerous language website versions on one generic domain. Site owners can store content in separate folders for each country or language. A site owner can create folders for countries and languages without much strain. A subdirectory is a relatively small investment and is easy to maintain. The good news is you can pass along link juice since all your folders exist on the same domain.

There are, however, a few disadvantages when using subfolders to address international SEO. Subdirectories can sometimes provide a weak signal to search engines. For example, if you have several websites written in the same language that you use for geo-targeting, the wrong website version may be the one that ends up ranking. Since you host your entire site on the same server, you may experience slower loading times on occasion. However, with today’s server solutions, this may not be a real issue of concern.

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Some Prefer to Send Strong Signals with ccTLDs

A country code top level domain can be one of the strongest signals to show your intent to reach users in different countries. Google also approves as its algorithm uses ccTLDs to help determine target audiences. This approach works well with global brands that are well-established. It is also an excellent approach for any brand that has a robust content production agenda.

This approach benefits marketers with the resources to build, promote, and maintain a site for each target country. Sites with a complete variety of services can benefit from ccTLDs as well. Think of country code top level domains when your site is headquartered in one country and you want to target other countries at the same time.

A possible drawback is the significant number of development resources needed to maintain your websites. You may also have to develop a unique SEO approach for every website. You cannot take advantage of any past acquired link juice. The same applies for existing domain authority. Are you ready to tackle the separate link building strategies, needed keyword research, and unique content strategies?

Partner with International SEO Pros

As you can see, international SEO is a huge responsibility to take on. One of the best reasons to work with a digital agency that understands international SEO is that your strategies will need regular appraisals and readjustments. In reality, there is no straight path that leads to success. Trust the professionals to take on the task with experience in planning your international strategies while gathering the right feedback.

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