When creating a site designed for an international market, there are multiple hosting issues to question. Multilingual sites must be accessible to global audiences, differentiate between regions, languages and unique country content, yet still be relevant to individual as well as global searches.

But as there are a number of different hosting options (using root domains, subdomains and subfolders) which is the best approach to take when implementing an international SEO campaign? Which you choose is dependent on organisation size and international aspiration, target market locations and languages, and of course budget.

Domains

Domains, or root domain ccTLD’s (country code top level domains) such as ‘internationalseo.au’, ‘internationalseo.co.uk’ allow you to create completely separate domains to manage separate language content. Regarded as a best practice option, they provide Google with the strongest signals and authority of your intended target location.

Advantages

  • More straightforward geotargeting (useful if a site is targeted to different regions)
  • Infrastructures are simpler to manage and separate into individual languages/regions.
  • In-country hosting means ccTLD’s are region friendly, and local search engine relevant. It also means that server locations are not important.
  • Domains are more user friendly, removing potential searcher bias: users tend to show preferences for sites showing their specific country root domain as they are likely to be more relevant to them (Australian users would show a preference to ‘.au’ domains over ‘.com’ or ‘.co.uk’ for example).
  • Allows for specifically tailored content and currencies to suit specific country preferences. For example a ‘.fr’ site can have totally unique and individual content to the ‘.co.uk’ version.

Disadvantages

  • Having multiple region domains requires a more extensive supporting infrastructure.
  • Hosting in multiple countries means root domains are a more expensive option, often better preferred by larger organisations with bigger budgets. Because root domains are considered ‘best practice’ and because of their ease of unique domain management and user-bias friendliness however, investing in this approach may be wise if organisations intend to work with multiple regions and languages.
  • Though differentiating between language, content and region is simple, individual domains will not contribute towards a combined, singular domain authority. (So inbound links from the ‘.fr’ site will not boost the rank of the ‘.de’ site for example. Saying this, it’s worth noting that domains do not need as much ranking power as subdomains or subfolders to be authoritative.

Subdomains

Alternatively, language and region can be categorised through Subdomains; hosting under a gTLD (generic top level domain), for example ‘de.internationalseo.org’.

Advantages

  • Out of all three hosting choices, subdomains are the least complicated to establish and allow for hosting on multiple server locations.
  • gTLD’s have Google advantages: Geotargeting becomes simpler with subdomains as individual country targets can be specified in Google webmaster tools. Multiple countries cannot be targeted however.

Disadvantages

  • The region/language target is not instantly obvious to biased searchers; would ‘fr.internationalseo.org’ indicate language (suitable for French speakers worldwide for example), or is it directly targeted to a specifically French audience?
  • International sites hosted on subdomains hold a lesser degree of domain value and authority than that inherited by root domains.

Subfolders

Most commonly used, subfolders (or subdirectories) allow content to be hosted on one site under a gTLD, then categorised between language and region, for instance; ‘internationalseo.com/EN-UK’.

Advantages

  • The authority issues associated with root domains is resolved with subdirectories, as the overall domain ‘internationalseo.com’ accumulates all authority, regardless of subdirectory, before distributing that authority between them.
  • Subfolders are a more economical option for those on a budget, and have a much simpler infrastructure to establish and maintain due to only having one hosting location.
  • Like subdomains, subfolders also allow for individual country geotargeting specification via Google webmaster tools.

Disadvantages

  • Subfolders are hosted on a singularly located server, meaning unique country target differentiation in searches is more difficult.
  • As with subdirectories, subfolders still present the issue of searcher bias confusion between targeted language or locational region. Only root domain ccTLD’s resolve this problem.
  • Regarding SEO, subfolders need a higher level of authority, despite the simplicity of associating rank with each subfolder.
International Seo: Domains, Subdomains Or Subfolders
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