Launching into international markets comes with a whole host of considerations from an SEO perspective. Last year we covered some of the basics, and this post will go beyond that and touch upon some of the lesser-considered areas of international technical SEO.
One of the more popular approaches to domain structure is ccTLD (country-code top-level domain), which involves hosting separate domains for each of your international websites, such as .co.uk, .de, .fr and so on, as implemented by Coca-Cola.
However, something that isn’t widely considered is whether your brands desired domain name is available – or will be available in the future – in each of your target markets.
Sure, you may be able to buy YourBrand.co.uk and YourBrand.fr for your first foray into international markets, however, if five years down the line you attempt to buy YourBrand.es, there’s a possibility that this will have been taken by an eagle-eyed cyber squatter who anticipates your next move.
Companies will normally be able to stake a claim to rightfully own domains that utilize their brand name, as in the case of Pinterest.
But in some instances where a domain name is more generic or non-trademarked, a court might not find in favor of a brand especially if that domain is being used legitimately and not being squatted. This case involving Dyson is a perfect example.
Additionally, did you know that obtaining a ccTLD for Slovakia (.sk) is decidedly more difficult than most other countries on the planet? Due to a very interesting series of events, you must have a company registered in Slovakia (or apply for proxy-registration) in order to own a domain. Changing the ownership of a .sk domain has to be done through a written request with a notary signature!
Using subdomains is often seen as the weaker alternative to ccTLD and subfolder options due to it not possessing any of the strong benefits of either option, such as location signals or consolidation of link equity.
However, adopting subdomains can still be a beneficial approach and one significant advantage is around click-through rate.
The structure of subdomain URLs places the country/language identifier at the start, which can immediately catch the eye of the user.
For example, the two below listings appear in search results for the French query ‘robes’ (dresses):
When looking at the URL, the eye is immediately drawn to the ‘fr’ at the start of the Boohoo URL, and this would positively impact on click-through rates.
When deciding whether subdomains is a suitable structure, one of the best brands to reference is one of the largest (if not the largest) sites on the web: Wikipedia.
One of the more common approaches we see as an international SEO agency is setting up a website to target regions or continents rather than specific countries, for example .eu (Europe) or .com/apac (Asia-Pacific).
Whilst these websites can be great for hosting unique content for audiences in these specific regions and can be promoted on marketing material, when it comes to SEO they can provide a real headache.
All duplicate or translated content for different languages or countries should be marked-up with the hreflang code. This indicates to Google the language of the content and the country in which it should appear within search results.
Implementing hreflang involves identifying a language code (such as ‘en’ or ‘fr’) and – optionally – a country code (such as ‘gb’ or ‘us’), for example:
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://www.example.com/gb” hreflang=”en-gb” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://www.example.com/ie” hreflang=”en-us” />
Note that the country element is only valid when referencing ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 codes, and regions such as Europe, Latin America, APAC etc. are not recognized.
This is where the problems arise, as content that is hosted on any of these region-targeted websites cannot be marked-up with any valid hreflang code, so you run the risk of duplicate content being discovered and indexed.
The most effective way to solve this problem is to simply not take this approach when launching international sites. However, this is often unavoidable.
One solution that we often put forward is to identify the top target countries per region and add a large block of hreflang code referencing each of these countries individually. This is not the ideal solution when it comes to domain structure, but it does have a positive result when dealing with region specific URLs.
Google Search Console geotargeting
The geotargeting functionality in Google Search Console allows you to tell Google how you would like your content targeted, granting you a small ranking boost in that particular country.
To make full use of this feature, your sites need to be set up as separate Google Search Console properties with geotargeting rules for each site. This is possible even if they are hosted as subdomains or subfolders on a shared top-level domain.
A couple of things to note:
If you wish your content to be open and not associated with any particular country, you can take two approaches:
- Do not use geotargeting at all. This will leave Google to rely on other signals such as IP address and content language to determine how that content should be served.
- Select ‘Unlisted’. This is a more obvious instruction to Google and indicates that the content on that site, or section of the site, is not meant for any specific country.
Do not geotarget your content to one country if you intend for that content to appear globally.
For example, French content that is relevant to both users in France and users in Canada (French-speaking) should not be targeted to a country as it may restrict visibility elsewhere. As above, either do not use geotargeting or select ‘Unlisted’ instead.
If you need any help with your international technical SEO, our expert team can help. Please get in touch to find out more.