Google’s John Mueller provided answers to the problem of whether to create international sections within an existing site or to build entirely new sites. I asked an international SEO his opinion on this matter and he shares insights on what he feels is the best course of action for SEO.
Use ccTLD for International Sites?
A person asked the question about the best way to expand internationally.
He explained that they have a strong search visibility presence in the United States but that they wanted to expand to other countries.
Because the main site is so strong there is a perception that the site could give a head start to international versions built within the dot com version of the site, since those versions would not be created on a non-established domain.
But there are many valid reasons for building new sites on domains that match the countries they are targeted toward.
These kinds of domains are like the .uk, .de and .jp and are called Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLD).
Google’s John Mueller Discussing International SEO
The person asking the question related his situation:
“…we are starting to build out into Canada and UK. And we are kind of at a crossroads today.
Should we go ccTLDs or keep it under just the dot com?
We are a real estate company so our pages are pretty location-specific.
We’re probably going to end up in about a dozen countries…
So may thought process is being able to take advantage of being able to target locally in Search Console with the ccTLDs, where I can’t do that with the global dot com.
…So I was just wondering, is there an advantage
of going one way or the other? Or is it easier for Google one way or the other?”
Multiple Considerations for International Business Expansion
Google’s John Mueller answered with no hesitation that there are multiple considerations and then listed those considerations.
“I think there are multiple things that come into play.
One is probably also the aspect of having multiple sites versus having one really strong website… If you’re talking about a dozen different locations, maybe that’s less of an issue. Maybe that’s something that works out.
The other thing is with geotargeting, we do use that when we recognize that people are looking for something local.
So either way that you go, I would try to make sure that we can figure out what geotargeting to use for the website.
And ccTLDs is super obvious. So that’s I think a good approach.
- Subdomains is an option.
- Subdirectories would be an option.”
URL Parameters for Indicating Different International Sections
John next discussed what not to do, calling out the use of URL parameters to indicate the country a section is targeted towards.
“What I wouldn’t do is just kind of use URL parameters or something like that where it’s like, well you have your main global website and you can search for an individual country. And then somewhere in the URL that country is also mentioned.
Because that would essentially mean that we can’t do geotargeting at all for the website.”
International Expansion May Depend on marketing Strategy
Mueller next suggested that a way to answer which way to go is to think about what the choice will mean for the consumer, how the company may be perceived by the locally targeted audience.
The person asking the question mentions that the US site 40 million pages and that the Canadian site would have about 500,000 pages. He also mentioned that because the content is so location-specific, only 5% of pages have a one to one match between the U.S. and Canadian versions.
“…I think from a technical point of view, they would all be kind of equivalent. It might be that kind of from an SEO ranking point of view you could have some advantages by kind of building on your existing domain.
But I think it also depends on a little bit on what your marketing goals are.
If you want to really position these as like, we’re the real estate company for Canada, then you kind of want to have your own domain.
If you want to position it as like, we’re a global company and we also do Canada, then having that within your existing domain might be okay.
So I think from a technical point of view, like all of these options are open. Which way you go is kind of almost like a strategic decision.”
SEO Considerations for Expanding to New Countries
I asked Michael Bonfils (LinkedIn profile), a highly regarded International SEO expert, what his thoughts are about the pros and cons of expanding internationally on an existing site or with ccTLDs. I asked Michael because he has extensive experience working within the Internet industry since the mid-90’s.
Michael said that building the site on a dot com is a viable approach, especially because of Google’s excellent ability to use the hreflang attribute to understand language a web document is targeting. But he also shared reasons why the ccTLD might be preferable.
Michael shared the following insights:
“Technically, with a dot com and excellent hreflang setup vs a ccTLD, both are good and both will rank.
With the technical advancement of Google’s algo, I wouldn’t be surprised if priority is given these days to the dot com with a the solid hreflang attributed directory structure because of its mass global link flow.”
He set aside considerations related to Google and next moved on to considerations related to how consumers will react, which ultimately decides whether a strategy is successful or not.
“However, I tend to lean toward and advocate for a proper ccTLD.
A ccTLD often promotes consumer trust, therefore engagement will improve.
For example, German consumers can be wary of buying anything non-German. This makes it difficult for companies with a non-German specific presence to compete.
Not only do you have to prove you have better quality than an equivalent German company, you can’t risk diminishing trust signals by not getting a German ccTLD.
In the example of an expansion into the German market, you want to be local as can be and as German as can be.
Outside of these trust signals, there is links. German sites considering linking to you from within Germany is a strong preference to those links from outside of Germany.”
International Expansion and Links
Michael next turned his attention to links. Links can be a foundation to a successful search presence and help launch a site to the top of the search results.
“It’s much easier to earn links for the publisher using a ccTLD than a .com/germany/. Using the ccTLD increases the likelihood of a link.
So technically, its easier with hreflang and technically, you can still rank and compete.
But keep in mind the goals of conversions and usability, building trust in the site visitors and gaining traction in an international market.”
Build Separate Sites When Expanding Internationally?
Watch at 20:20 minute mark in the video