In a recent column I examined the merits of two techniques for international SEO. Here we look more carefully at some elements of one of them, country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). Enterprise companies like Google or Amazon utilize ccTLDs and have one specific website for each different country; for example, companyname.fr for France or .co.uk for United Kingdom. There are other enterprise companies that don't use different domains for each country but change the language of the website depending upon where the user is located. Which way is more beneficial for SEO?
Unless it is a well-established business, Google tends to rank the TLD from the same country higher in the search engine results pages (SERPS) than the multi-regional websites. For example, if a user in the U.K. searches for the term "used BMW 328i," Google tends to show results with .co.uk over those with .com or other generic top-level domains (gTLDs). Taking this into consideration, it makes sense for most organizations to build a website for the U.K. audience rather than to use the multi-regional website.
What Are the Real ccTLD Benefits for the SEO Campaign?
Plan for Future Expansion Now
First, analyze the market and keyword landscape. The goal is to understand the return on investment (ROI) based on your company's key performance indicators (KPIs). Two of the most important reasons for implementing ccTLDs are of course traffic and conversions. Analytics tools like Google Analytics and Adobe Omniture can provide invaluable information regarding demographics and language. With that information in hand it becomes much easier to decide which country or countries to pursue.
The next step would be to purchase the TLDs for each country you intend to target. If an organization is purchasing an international variant of their .com domain, it should be pretty straightforward to acquire. If a new business is starting from ground zero, then it has become increasingly challenging to find domains to register in the past few years. After all, the web is growing at a pace of 150,000 new TLDs every single day, a 21 percent uptick from two years ago, according to VeriSign and DailyChanges.com.
The third step is building your website. It is common practice for many organizations to use the same structure and design of their main website. This strategy saves money in design and creates brand consistency across markets.
Duplicate content can be a significant challenge when dealing with more than one website for different countries that speak the same language. As Google Webmaster Tools says: "Google strongly recommends that the website provides unique content for each different group of users, they understand that this may not always be possible. In addition, you should follow the guidelines on rel-alternate-hreflang to make sure that the correct language or regional URL is served to searchers."
If your new website is in a country that speaks a different language, it makes it easier. The best idea is to translate and localize the existing content and present it as it is. Of course, it has to be a professional translation with local know-how!
The last step is to promote your new website. The process of building links to a website in a different country is generally similar to the home country. The main difference is the keyword research. The most profitable keywords might be different from country to country and even when translated, the terms might not be as popular. So ensure everyone involved is clear about the priority of keyword phrases being used for anchor texts, etc.
It is also a good idea to invest time and effort in social media in order to improve SEO as well. There are many indicators that Google uses the number of shares, likes, and retweets from reliable sources as a ranking factor in the SERPs. Remember, there may be social media channels not commonplace in the U.S., but popular in the country relevant to your new site, so do some research to identify those as well.
For organizations with international interests, utilizing ccTLDs and optimizing them fully is the strongest long-term solution for optimal SEO benefit. The process for doing so is extremely similar to that of optimizing in the U.S.: know your market and keyword landscape; register your ccTLD; carefully design and construct the site; pay strict attention to targeted keyword-rich content; and promote your site. As with much of SEO, the challenge lies in the nuances of each specific market.
Image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Crispin Sheridan is the Senior Director, Global Search at SAP. As part of the digital team, he established and leads the search and testing practices at SAP. Crispin is responsible for paid, natural, and mobile search and all online testing. Search and testing at SAP are fully centralized and globally funded and run under a hybrid in-house and agency model.
Crispin has proven that search learnings and keyword insights work hand in hand with social media marketing and together can effectively drive B2B lead generation. Furthermore, the development of the SAP.com Test Lab has contributed significant success to SAP's digital marketing efforts.
A frequent guest speaker at conferences, including SES New York, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Delhi, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Crispin was appointed to the SES Advisory Board in December 2009. He has also been a guest speaker at the e-Metrics Summit and ad:Tech, and is a member of Google's B2B Technology Council. You can follow him on Twitter at @crispinsheridan and read his monthly SEO column on ClickZ.
March 19, 2014