the best domain structure for SEO • Yoast

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Making your website rank high can be a challenge. Making your international sites rank high can be an even bigger challenge. There are just a lot more things you have to do for multilingual SEO: create content for different markets, set up sites for those markets and implement hreflang, just to name a few. Plus there are additional choices you have to make. Like this one: on which domains will you publish your internationalized content? Here we’ll list the most common options you have, and we’ll help you decide on the best option for your situation. 

ccTLD, subdomain or subdirectory?

Let’s say you own a site for your business in the US: myepicbusiness.com. You’re expanding to Australia and want to create multiregional websites. In general, you’d say, there are 3 options for your internationalized content to reside:

  • on a country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD): myepicbusiness.au
  • on a subdomain: au.myepicbusiness.com
  • on a subdirectory: myepicbusiness.com/au

All options have pros and cons, and it all depends on your business which one will suit you best.

ccTLD

Do you have a large multinational business with lots of resources? Then, a country code domain, like epicbusiness.au is a good option for a multiregional site. It’s the most effective way of telling Google and your audience which country your targeting.

However, it also means you have to acquire the domain and have to build up domain authority from scratch. Domain authority means that Google knows your domain epicbusiness.com and sees it as a trustworthy source. A ccTLD, like .au, will not profit from the domain authority of your .com domain.

Before you choose a ccTLD you should always properly investigate if it’s worth investing a lot in that market. You should only decide to go for the ccTLD if there are enough opportunities for growth in that country and if you have enough resources to exploit them. In general we’d say: if your .com domain ranks high and your marketing budget is limited, choosing one of the others probably is the better choice.

Subdomain or subdirectory

If the ccTLD isn’t the right choice for your business, you’ll have to choose between a subdomain or subdirectory. In that case, what would be the best choice: myepicbusiness.com/au or au.myepicbusiness.com?

Even though you might suspect differently, Google will not see a subdomain as the exact same domain. It’s not exactly clear how Google sees it, but it’s clear the domain authority of myepicbusiness.com won’t completely flow to a subdomain, like au.myepicbusiness.com. This means you can’t take full advantage of the domain authority you’ve built up for your .com domain. So in this case we’d advise to pick a subdirectory, like: myepicbusiness.com/au

Countries with multiple languages

There are countries that have two – or more – official languages. If you want to target audiences speaking multiple languages you’ll have to create multilingual sites. This will force you to make even more choices for your domain structure. In Canada, for instance, there’s a French speaking part and English speaking part. What if you want to show the French and English speaking part of Canada a different website?

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ccTLD

Let’s say you’ve got a major business and plenty of resources, so you’ve selected the ccTLD. This means that for Canada you’ve chosen myepicbusiness.ca. In that case you can easily add two language variations as a subdirectory to your site:

  • myepicbusiness.ca/en
  • myepicbusiness.ca/fr

Subdirectory

If you’ve chosen to place your Canadian content on subdirectories, you could best create the URLs below. Do remember to refer to the language first and then to the country:

  • myepicbusiness.com/en-ca
  • myepicbusiness.com/fr-ca

If you want to dive deeper into this matter, we’d advise you to take our Multilingual SEO training. In this course we explain in more detail which pros and cons there are, how you can do your geotargeting well, how to easily create awesome copy in different languages and other important stuff for international SEO, like implementing hreflang. Check it out now!

Multiple countries with the same language

But what about using one website in the same language for multiple countries? Can’t you just use the same English website for, for instance, Australia and the UK?

Country websites or language websites?

If possible, we’d recommend creating different sites for different countries, even if people are speaking the same language. Although it might require more resources, it will be easier to target that specific market with the right content. Things that can differ from country to country are the local vocabulary, contact information, product availability and the currency. If you don’t create different content for the countries you’re targeting, users might get confused about what service and products you deliver in their country.

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So this means that, in case of the example above, you’d choose myepicbusinness.com/uk and myepicbusiness.com/au Or, if you have enough marketing capabilities, you could use myepicbusiness.uk and myepicbusiness.au.

Don’t forget hreflang!

If you’re targeting multiple countries with websites containing content in the same language you should never forget to implement hreflang! With hreflang you’ll tell Google which of your websites should rank in which country and for which language. On top of that, it will prevent duplicate content issues, which is almost inevitable if you target countries with the same language. 

TL;DR

Choosing domains for internationalized content on your site can be a challenge. If you have a large marketing budget you should choose ccTLDs for every country your target and build strong domains for each country. If you’re not capable of doing that, you should choose subdirectories. In case you target countries with multiple languages, you can create subdirectories for each language in a country. In general, always choose country sites instead of language sites to target your audience with the right content and to prevent confusion. And, don’t forget to implement hreflang!

Read more: ‘How to create SEO friendly copy in a foreign language’ »



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