July 24th, 2019

You’ve made the decision. You’ve started looking beyond your own borders and want to start selling your service or products to customers abroad as well as domestically. But how do you get your website ready for international expansion, and how do you make sure it’s SEO optimised for targeting users in multiple countries? When it comes to implementing country-specific SEO, country targeting is the best option available to you.

Country targeting is when you market your services and products specifically towards audiences in more than one country. Often, when a company expands globally, they’ll expand into designated countries instead of targeting speakers of a language globally, so country targeting is the more logical step if you can only offer your services or product in certain locations.

How to approach SEO for multiple countries?

As with multilingual SEO targeting, there are various ways to prepare your website for your expansion into other countries through multinational SEO or country targeting. The main thing you need to decide before you make any changes is how you are going to adjust your site structure to fit with your expansion overseas. There are three main options for your website when it comes to country targeting.

ccTLDs

A ccTLD (for example, weareyellowball.fr) is a country-specific top-level domain that will target an audience in a particular country. Lots of large, multi-national corporations use ccTLDs to target their various audiences across the globe, such as Lush. ccTLDs allow them to effectively tailor their on-site content and services to each audience, maintaining a strong brand identity in every country. 

From an international SEO point of view, this system provides search engines such as Google and individual online users with an independent site for each country. This should help each individual ccLTLD rank successfully in their particular country, meaning your English site should, in theory, rank highly for search terms inputted by users in England, the same goes for the Chinese site, German, American etc. Sounds the perfect answer for country targeting, right? But there’s a catch – two, actually.

For one, when using ccTLDs, you have to register and host each domain for each individual country and have a local IP address for every single domain. Purchasing and maintaining all the different ccTLDs domains can be time-consuming. You also have to ensure that each country that you want to target now (and in the future) is available. The second sticking issue with ccTLDs is that link juice of one ccTLD domain isn’t passed between its retrospective cousin domains of different countries. This is because ccTLDs are viewed by search engines as entirely separate, independent sites. So all your link juice, online credibility, and domain authority will not be passed on from your English site to your Italian one or Australian one. For every new ccTLD, you’ll have to start all over again to establish the site’s search presence and authority, which can take a lot of work.

Subdomains

A subdomain is a major section of a domain that is often indicated by character change before the root domain (e.g. fr.weareyellowball.com/). Subdomains are easier to maintain than ccTLDs, and you can still have your domain hosted in your main country but have a local IP address. You can also use Google Search Console for geotargeting. This all helps you to effectively target country-specific users and separate out your different sites, all under one main domain. Because they are an extension of your root domain, in theory subdomains should benefit from the link juice and domain authority of the main domain. However, in practice, this isn’t always the case. 

Sometimes, for unknown and mysterious reasons, subdomains don’t inherit the domain authority, trust, and value from their root domain. This is likely to be because Google views the subdomain as a new domain, so like with ccTLDs, you have to start from scratch. Also, if you have duplicate content across your root domain and subdomain, such as on contact pages, your root domain is likely to rank instead of your subdomain, which isn’t helpful if the content is in different languages. 

Subfolders/Subdirectories

You don’t necessarily need multiple websites or subdomains to rank internationally. Many global brands have only one site, using subfolders for their country-specific content. A subfolder (also known as a subdirectory) is a section of a subdomain or domain that is marked by a trailing slash (e.g. www.weareyellowball.com/fr). Similar to subdomains, a subfolder is easy to set up and maintain in comparison to the more time-consuming ccTLDs. Using a subfolder will allow you to have everything on the root domain, passing along all the authority, link juice, and user trust to the subfolders. This prevents you from having to start again with every country. 

However, there is an issue with choosing the subfolder option, ominously named the ‘French Searcher Problem’. The French Searcher Problem, refers to the fact that French users are more likely to click on ccLTDs that end with .fr as opposed to gTLDs (global top-level domains) that end in .com, .org etc. This behaviour is not limited to just French users – it’s also evident amongst users in different countries, as they prefer to click on ccTLD sites that are specific to their own country. However, not every internet user will choose a ccTLD over a subdomain or subfolder of a gTLD. It depends on what type of company the user is looking for – if I was deliberately trying to find British-made clothing brands, I’d be more likely to click on websites ending .co.uk than .com. But if I was looking for, say a globally recognised online marketing course, I wouldn’t necessarily notice if a URL ended .co.uk or .com. It very much depends on what their searcher intent is. It stands to reason that if your main domain is a .com, then a subfolder is likely to be far more effective than if you have a ccTLD as your main domain – it looks a bit strange having yourwebsite.co.uk/fr.

Content

It’s important to remember that with every new locale-specific ccTLD, subdomain or subfolder, you’ll require new targeted content for each country. This does not mean that you can simply batch translate your current content into a new language and insert it into the country-specific section of your site. You run the risk of duplicate content issues. For every country you are wanting to target, you need to research your new target audience in that country to gauge how your content needs to change to meet their needs. Common factors that will change the content include:

  • Naming Schema – product names can often change from country to country.
  • Keywords – the words or phrases used to describe your products/services may differ 
  • Pricing Structure – the prices of your products/services may differ from simply converting one price to the new currency due to the country’s economic climate 
  • Imagery Changes – cultural differences can often affect the choice of visuals used
  • Laws, rules and regulations – you need to ensure that your content, products and service are meeting the country-specific regulations.

If you’re looking for an international SEO expert to advise your expansion into new markets online, you’re in the right place. As a knowledgeable SEO agency with a wealth of experience in helping a range of reputable clients go global. To find more about our international SEO services, contact our team on 0203 176 7662 or email us to learn how we can make your international expansion as smooth as possible.

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