UX Lab - Structuring your International Domains
As you look to grow your business you may choose to expand your online operations internationally in order to open up new markets and new revenue streams. In fact, tradeit has been specifically designed to enable this with support for multiple channels, multiple languages, multiple currencies, multiple warehouses, different shipping, taxation, & payment options etc…
One other important consideration, which is often overlooked, is how to structure your websites to serve different countries and/or languages, and the implications of those choices. Let's explore the options and their pros and cons.
So, there are three main ways to structure website domains for international sites:
1. Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs)
A ccTLD is a domain extension that is specific to a country or territory, such as .co.uk for the United Kingdom or .de for Germany. Using a ccTLD is the strongest signal you can send to search engines that your website is intended for users in a specific country. It can also help to build trust with potential customers in that country.
A subdirectory is a folder within your main website. For example, example.com/en-us is a subdirectory of example.com. Subdirectories are the cheapest, simplest and most common way to structure international websites. They are also the most flexible, as you can easily add or remove subdirectories as needed.
A subdomain is a separate domain name that is part of your main domain name. For example, ca.example.com is a subdomain of example.com. Subdomains can be used to create separate websites for different countries or languages. They are also a good option if you already have a strong brand associated with your main domain name.
There is a fourth method, which is to use URL parameters, but we wouldn’t recommend it. It's very labour-intensive for anything but the smallest of sites and the amount of work involved when trying to scale across multiple channels, allied to the likelihood of making errors during such a manual process, doesn’t really make it a viable option. So we'll discount that option and focus on the main three.
Which option is best for you?
The best option for you will depend on your specific needs and goals. If you are targeting a specific country, then using a ccTLD is the best way to signal your intent to search engines. Google states that is uses ccTLDs to determine country targeting. If you have a strong brand associated with your main domain name, then using subdomains may be a good option. And if you are looking for a simple and flexible solution, then using subdirectories is the way to go.
Here are some additional factors to consider when choosing a domain structure for your international websites:
- Your budget: ccTLDs can be more expensive than gTLDs (generic top-level domains, such as .com and .net). Subdomains and subdirectories are typically included in the cost of your web hosting plan whereas additional ccTLDs won't be.
- Your resources: If you have a large team and a lot of budget, then managing multiple ccTLDs or subdomains may not be a problem. However, if you have a smaller team and a more limited budget, then using subdirectories may be the best option.
- Your target audience: If you are targeting a global audience, then using a gTLD with subdirectories is a good option. However, if you are targeting a specific country, then using a ccTLD is the best way to signal your intent to search engines.
No matter which option you choose, it is important to implement hreflang tags on your website. Hreflang tags tell search engines which language version of your website to serve to users based on their location and language preferences. This can help to localise your site and improve your website's ranking in search results for different countries & languages.
The domain structure of your international websites can have a significant impact on your SEO. Search engines use the domain structure of your website to determine which country and language your website is targeting. This information is then used to rank your website in search results for different countries and languages.
Here are some specific ways in which your domain structure can affect your SEO:
- Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs): Using a ccTLD is a strong signal to search engines that your website is intended for users in a specific country. This can help to improve your website's ranking in search results for that country.
- Subdomains: Using subdomains to create separate websites for different countries or languages can also help to improve your SEO. This is because subdomains are treated as separate websites by search engines. This means that you can optimize each subdomain for its specific target audience and country.
- Subdirectories: Using subdirectories to create separate sections of your website for different countries or languages is also a good option for SEO. However, it is important to note that search engines may not always be able to distinguish between subdirectories and subdomains. This means that you may need to use hreflang tags to tell search engines which language version of your website to serve to users based on their location and language preferences.
No matter which domain structure you choose, it is important to make sure that it is consistent and easy to understand for both users and search engines. You should also avoid using too many subdomains, as this can confuse search engines and make it difficult for them to index your website.
So, to recap, here are some best practices for choosing a domain structure for your international websites:
- Use ccTLDs if you are targeting a specific country.
- Use subdomains if you have a strong brand associated with your main domain name.
- Use subdirectories if you are looking for a cheaper, simpler and flexible solution.
- Stay consistent, don't use a mixture of options as this is likely to generate more complexity, confuse search engines, and potentially compete with each other.
- Use hreflang tags to tell search engines which language version of your website to serve to users based on their location and language preferences.
- Make sure that your domain structure is consistent and easy to understand for both users and search engines.
- Avoid using too many subdomains.
By following these best practices, you can choose a domain structure for your international websites that will help to improve your SEO and reach a global audience.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to structuring international domains, but there are some basic guidelines to follow. Your business goals, budget, resources, hosting package and ecommerce platform may all affect your decision or determine which approach you are able to adopt.
Not all ecommerce platforms support all options, especially at the lower end of the market where you may be restricted to a single domain and channel. Some platforms also limit the number of top-level domains or subdomains you can use from a single installation. For example, Shopify Plus has a limit of 11 channels and 20 languages, which could hinder any expansion plans before they really get going.
So it's important to understand how many international channels you want to launch now and in the future, what your preferred approach is, whether you have the budget and resources to do it how you would like, and whether your ecommerce platform and hosting infrastructure will support it. Once you reconcile that, you can set about implementing your preferred method.