Commentary

How To Set Up Your Site For International SEO

People have always debated the best way to set up a Web site for international SEO. The truth is, the best configuration for one site isn’t necessarily the best for others. Deciding to take your Web site international is a daunting prospect. Deciding how to structure your Web site for international SEO doesn't have to be.

Before embarking on your international journey, there are a few things to consider first.

  1. How much time, money, and developmental and technical resources do you have available?
  2. Will you target countries, languages or both? How many?
  3. Do you have any plans to grow or expand into additional regions in the near future? What about three years from now? Five years? Ten?
  4. What is your goal for entering this market and how much of an investment can you reasonably make to reach those goals? Be honest.

Multilingual Versus Multi-regional

Once you have answered those questions you can begin to look at your options:

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ccTLDs (AKA Country Code Top-Level Domain) are used for separate domains explicitly tied to specific countries.

i.e. -- example.mx for Mexico or example.ca for Canada

Subdomains are seen as separate domains by search engines but can have the same gTLD (generic top-level domain) and can be used to target separate countries or languages.

i.e. -- es.example.com for Spanish, ca.example.com for Canada, or fr.example.com for French or France

Subdirectories are built on a single existing domain and target countries, languages or both by organizing content into a hierarchical folder system.

I.e. -- example.com/mx/ for Mexico, example.com/es/ for Spanish, or example.com/mx/es/ for Spanish-language speakers in Mexico

Locale-Adaptive Content serves different content from the same URL based on a user’s perceived location or preferred language.

So how do you decide? Let’s break down the pros and cons.

ccTLDs

Pros:

  • Automatic geotargeting
  • Separate keyword tracking
  • Strongest local relevance
  • Server location irrelevant

Cons:

  • Most expensive
  • Labor-intensive setup and maintenance
  • Domains do not share authority
  • Requires substantial investment in regional link outreach and content customization
  • High cost for country expansion; limited language targeting
  • Potential for duplicate content

Subdomains

Pros:

  • Google Search Console geo-targeting
  • Separate keyword tracking
  • Indicator of local relevance
  • Ability to host on separate servers

Cons:

  • High technical support costs
  • Labor intensive maintenance
  • Domain authority does not necessarily flow between subdomains
  • Requires substantial investment in regional link outreach and content customization
  • High cost for expansion
  • Potential for duplicate content

Subdirectories

Pros:

  • Google Search Console geotargeting
  • Easy setup, low cost
  • Domain and page authority flow freely
  • Single, consolidated backlink profile
  • Most opportunities for expansion
  • Separate keyword tracking
  • Strong indicator of local relevance

Cons:

  • Requires investment in local optimization
  • Potential for duplicate content
  • Single server location

Locale-Adaptive

Pros:

  • Low cost setup
  • Little ongoing maintenance
  • Domain and page authority flow freely
  • Single, consolidated backlink profile
  • Single URL to optimize

Cons:

  • No geotargeting or separate tracking
  • Potential for inaccurate user location and/or language identification
  • Potential for inaccurate indexation
  • Limited opportunities for expansion
  • Single server location

The Best International Web Site Architecture for Your Company

Still don’t know what’s best for you? See which of these scenarios best describes you.

  1. If you have one of the following, then a ccTLD setup might be best.
  • Global brand-name recognition or established presence in your target markets
  • Ample resources to invest in technical development, local optimization, and ongoing maintenance
  • Products or services that are markedly unique to each region
  • A high volume of localized content to build, maintain, and promote multiple sites
  • International physical locations or local support available
  1. If you have one of the following than a subdomain structure might work best:
  • Solid international brand awareness
  • A desire to retain a generic TLD, but separate sites for international business
  • Enough resources to invest in ongoing technical maintenance and content to support multiple sites
  • Products or services that do not vary greatly by region
  • International physical locations or local support available
  1. If you have the following, a subdirectory system might work best:
  • Average to no international brand name recognition
  • A desire to expand to any number of countries and/or languages
  • Strong domain authority and a robust backlink profile
  • Fewer resources to invest in maintenance costs, local optimizations, and maintaining multiple sites
  • Products or services that are not significantly different per region
  • No physical location in your target regions
  1. If you have the following, locale-adaptive content might work best:
  • A small to average-size company
  • A desire to expand into a small number of countries or languages
  • Very limited resources and funds for geotargeting and ongoing technical maintenance
  • Products or services that only differ in currency by region
  • No physical location in your target regions

If You Still Can’t Decide

Unless you have the time, money, and resources (and desire) to invest in optimizing separate ccTLDs, I would recommend subdirectories because of their lower cost, existing authority and infrastructure, and low barrier for scale and expansion.

I’m not saying that subdirectories are the best International SEO structure for everyone, as there are clearly many factors to consider. Just remember that there are always additional SEO opportunities to support, whichever setup you choose.

Now go conquer the world!

 

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