What is the best way to target internationally using SEO tactics and branding?
One of the most significant decisions you’ll have to make is which domains to use.
There are three main options when it comes to international domains:
- Country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs)
The prevailing wisdom is that ccTLDs (such as yourwebsite.co.uk) are the best way to go. In fact, Google uses the ccTLD as a primary means of country targeting; they give it more importance than even the server location or the Geotargeting settings in Webmaster Tools.
If you’re wondering where the HREFlang factors into this list, the short answer is that it doesn’t. Rather, the HREFlang does not come into play until after Google has already assigned the domain to a particular location and decided where to rank it. At that point, Google uses HREFlang to prioritize various pieces of content.
Another benefit to using a ccTLD is that it caters to the human user experience. The fact that a website ends .co.uk automatically indicates to the person using the Internet that the site is either based out of or related to the U.K. Even for a web-only transaction, users tend to be more comfortable dealing with businesses that are more local to them.
Are There Disadvantages Of Using ccTLD?
So are there any disadvantages to employing the use of ccTLD? For starters, the cost of purchasing a plethora of international domain names can quickly add up. In fact, some international domain names can cost upwards of $1,000/year for the registration alone! On top of that, for each country-specific domain name you’ll need to register as a local corporation and establish a local presence. So if you’re considering ccTLDs, you’ll need to weigh the cost-benefit analysis of using them.
After you’ve made the decision to get a ccTLD (or more than one!), you must narrow down which TLD to use. In the United States, there are specific domains for education, government, etc., as well as multiple generic domains like .com, .net, .biz, etc. The same is true of other countries – Mexico, for example. It has .com.mx and .mx. The ideal approach would be to purchase them both, but how do you know which to use as your primary domain?
The easiest way to do this is to research what the prevailing trends in each particular country. Alexa has a top domains by country report that reveals this information, but an even more simple approach would be to look up what the local media, the local telecoms, and big global brands are doing. Interestingly, only a handful of the top 500 domains listed on Alexa actually employ ccTLDs. Some of this may be due to the fact that brands like Apple, Facebook, Twitter, etc. that already have a massive global presence don’t really need ccTLDs because they are so well-known. For these companies, subdomains and subdirectories are sufficient to maintain their international presence.
Perhaps the best approach is to mimic what Google itself does. Any domain that they own is clearly one that they value – this can be a shortcut to seeing which domains are most important.
Determining whether or not to use ccTLDs, and which domains to use if you do decide to go that route, can be no small feat, but it will be well worth the research and time spent to grow your brand on a global scale.