Google’s John Mueller provided answers to the question of whether to create international sections in an existing site or build entirely new sites. I asked an international SEO for his opinion on this question and he shares his thoughts on what he thinks is the best course of action for SEO.
Use ccTLD for international sites?
One 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 want 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 in the dot com version of the site, since those versions would not be built on an unestablished domain.
But there are plenty of valid reasons to create new sites on domains that match the countries they are targeted to.
These types of domains are like .uk, .de and .jp and are called Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs).
Google’s John Mueller discusses international SEO
The person asking the question described their situation:
“…we are starting to expand into Canada and the UK. And we’re kind of at a crossroads today.
Should we use ccTLDs or keep them under dot com?
We are a real estate company, so our pages are quite location specific.
We will probably meet in a dozen countries…
So the thought process can take advantage of the ability to target locally in Search Console with ccTLDs, where I can’t with global dot com.
…So I was just wondering, is there an advantage
to go one way or the other? Or is it easier for Google somehow? »
Multiple Considerations for International Business Expansion
Google’s John Mueller answered without hesitation that there were multiple considerations and then listed those considerations.
“I think there are several things that come into play.
One is probably also the aspect of having multiple sites rather than having one really solid website… If you’re talking about a dozen different locations, that might be less of an issue. Maybe it’s something that works.
The other thing is with location targeting, we use it when we recognize that people are looking for something local.
So either way, I would try to make sure we can figure out what geo-targeting to use for the website.
And ccTLDs are super obvious. So I think that’s a good approach.
- Subdomains are an option.
- Subdirectories would be an option.
URL parameters to indicate different international sections
John then discussed what not to do, calling for the use of URL parameters to indicate the country a section is targeted to.
“What I wouldn’t do is just use URL parameters or something like that, well, you have your main global website and you can search for an individual country. And then somewhere in the URL, this country is also mentioned.
Because that would basically mean we can’t do geo-targeting for the website at all.
International expansion may depend on marketing strategy
Mueller then suggested that one way to answer the way forward is to think about what the choice will mean to the consumer, how the company may be perceived by the local target audience.
The person asking the question mentions that the American site would have 40 million pages and that the Canadian site would have approximately 500,000 pages. He also mentioned that because the content is so location-specific, only 5% of the pages have a one-to-one match between the US and Canadian versions.
“…I think technically they would all be kind of equivalent. It may be that from an SEO ranking perspective, you may have some advantages by building on your existing domain.
But I think it also depends a bit on your marketing goals.
If you really want to position them as, we’re Canada’s real estate company, then you kind of want to have your own domain.
If you want to position it like, we’re a global company and we do Canada too, then having that in your existing domain might be fine.
So I think from a technical point of view, all these options are open. The direction you take is almost like a strategic decision.
SEO considerations for expanding into new countries
I asked Michel Bonfils (LinkedIn profile), a highly regarded international SEO expert, what are his thoughts on the pros and cons of expanding internationally on an existing site or with ccTLDs. I asked Michael because he has extensive experience working in the internet industry since the mid-90s.
Michael said 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 the language a web document is targeting. But he also shared the reasons why the ccTLD might be preferable.
Michael shared the following insights:
“Technically with a dot com and a great hreflang setup versus a ccTLD, both are good and both will rank.
With the technical advancement of Google’s algorithm, I wouldn’t be surprised if dot com is given priority these days with a strong directory structure attributed to hreflang due to its mass global link flow.
He set aside considerations related to Google and then moved on to considerations related to consumer reaction, which ultimately decides whether a strategy is successful or not.
“However, I tend to lean towards an appropriate ccTLD and defend it.
A ccTLD often promotes consumer trust, so engagement will improve.
For example, German consumers may be hesitant to buy anything non-German. It is therefore difficult for companies with a specific non-German presence to be competitive.
Not only do you have to prove that you have better quality than an equivalent German company, but you can’t risk diminishing trust signals by not getting a German ccTLD.
In the example of expanding into the German market, you want to be as local as possible and as German as possible.
Apart from these trust signals, there are connections. German sites that plan to link to you from Germany have a strong preference for links from outside of Germany. »
International expansion and links
Michael then turned his attention to the links. Links can form the basis of a successful search presence and help launch a site to the top of 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 it’s easier with hreflang and technically you can still rank up and compete.
But keep conversion and usability goals in mind, building trust in site visitors and gaining traction in an international market.
Build separate sites when expanding internationally?
Watch at 20:20 minutes in the video