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Pros and cons of country-specific domains

Many times I have seen questions posted at forums similar to…”I want to sell to these three countries.  Should I set up a domain in each country, or should I just have a different section of my website for each language?”

I know this might seem obvious, but often it is not: language and country are not the same thing.  Spanish is spoken in many countries.  English is, too.  Canada has two official languages.  There are two languages in the USA, too, even if the second one is not official.  The point being, you cannot segregate nationality on your website by language; you can segregate it only by country.

How you approach a multi-national, multilingual market will depend on a number of factors:

  • Languages you can serve them in
  • Countries you can ship to
  • Countries you wish to target
  • Currencies you can accept
  • Whether you can appear local enough that a country-specific website will appear credible
  • Whether you want to manage multiple websites.
  • Which countries you are marketing to (read on to see what a difference this can make)

This post addresses strictly the aspects related to country domains, such as .ca for Canada or .es for Spain.

How search engines view country-specific domains

I recently wrote a guest post on whether to adopt a .ca domain for a Canadian website.  I provided examples of the advantage a .ca domain has with Google.ca rankings beyond where it would rank at Google.com.  A country-specific doain is likely the clearest signal you can send the search engines that your website relates to a specific country. There is no question that for many searches, a country-specific domain helps reach searchers in a local market.

How people view country-specific domains

Does that mean you should set up a domains with .fr, .de, .ca, .co.uk, etc. for every country you serve?  That could be an effective strategy, but there are obviously drawbacks, too.  From an SEO perspective, it is probably worth your while to have a country-specific domain for any major market. But SEO isn’t everything.  You really need to know your market and how you plan to promote your domain.  In Canada, for instance, word-of-mouth traffic, including people who hear a domain on the radio, will tend to type .com even if they hear .ca .  This even happens sometimes when they see a URL in print.  Canadians are so accustomed to websites beginning with “www” and ending with “.com”.

Not so in Europe, where people expect to see their own country domain.  In fact, in many countries the domain tells them whether they are likely to be able to read the website – whether it is even worth visiting.  For instance, wander a little around Budapest and observe how many website URLs are advertised – every one a .hu domain.

Beyond language, consider the alternative to a country-specific domain, that being every country and/or every language on a single .com site.  (Here is where it is wise to consider which markets you are addressing.)

In Latin America, .com means “international”.  There is a certain trust level that comes from dealing with a big international company that in many countries would be seen as above the local corruption.  .com is not the way to go if you wish to appear local.

In Europe, .com is very often seen as “American”.  And in Europe, that generally isn’t good.  A site likely will have a lower trust level, given the American image of being out for a fast buck.

And as I said earlier, in Canada .com is simply seen as the default for a website, just as it is in the USA.

There is no simple answer whether to choose .com or a series of country-specific domains.  Like so many things in running a business, there are many factors to consider and the final decision can be no more than a guess.  But with the information above, at least it will be an educated guess.

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3 Responses to “Pros and cons of country-specific domains”

  1. Otis (1 comments) Says:

    You are right about people from Europe, they like to see the domain from their own country. Know it because often talk to them.

  2. Dimitar Kolev (1 comments) Says:

    I think it is good to have country based domain if you work exactly there like .de or .co.uk rather than using domain .com. If you combine these domains with same country origin may be be will be even better I suppose.

  3. Cornwall SEO (1 comments) Says:

    Nice interesting post. Everyone prefers their own national domain extension, they put more trust in it.

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