Best use of top level domain for multinational businesses
A top-level domain or domain name (TLD) is the highest level of domain names in the root zone of the Domain Name System of the Internet. For all domains in lower levels, it is the last part of the domain name, that is, the label that follows the last dot of a fully qualified domain name. For example, in the domain name www.example.com, the top-level domain is com, or COM, as domain names are not case-sensitive (Wikipedia). There has been a continuing problem with the Internet in recent years, and that problem is trying to figure out exactly what TLD’s should be used for what type of website. For many people this doesn’t matter to them, other than the inconvenience of trying to remember whether is a .com (a TLD once meant for businesses), a .org (a TLD once used for non-profit organizations), and an International domain, such as .cn, .ca., .ly, or a multitude of others.
In the end the whole process of using a specific TLD in a URL has become a moot point…no one actually pays attention to the original meanings, and just buys whatever domain they feel will be most profitable for their venture. But skipping away from the usual Internet users, let’s look at the people that this problem does effect: those that are looking to create a site full of content that is available on an International scale, but easily picked up by search engines.
This is where the real problem begins. There are three different options you have in this situation, and each one has it’s up and downsides. In the end, you have to look at the three choices you have and decide which one will end up being most beneficial to your situation and desires. Keep in mind that no one will offer you the perfect solution, and that is just an unfortunate consequence of using International content for SEO. But you can create major improvements, which is still all you can hope for in most facets of SEO.
Let’s take a look at those three options:
Using a subfolder domain is going to be one of the better options for those that already have a website with decent traffic, but are looking to expand their domain to include International markets. Because it is within the same domain it won’t be considered duplicate content, which will also help if you are seeking higher Google rankings for your website.
A subfolder is basically a website that is directly connected to the original domain. For example: http://www.123abc.com would have a TLD that would become http://www.123abc.com/uk. This would then become a country specific site, but would be within the original. You often see this with multi-national corporations that are offering an online service to a global market that they have already built to generate revenue.
The pros to this system is that it costs less to operate, puts everything in one domain, will not register as duplicate content, and is just easier to manage. It will also provide hits to the website at large, rather than just on page. This will benefit your overall traffic and is great for anyone doing a pay-per-click deal, or who are looking to up their status in popularity on search engines.
The cons are that the chances of users trying to find it by the specified ccTLD (Country code top-level domain) is greater, such as when typing in .co.uk instead of .com/uk, the results will not rank that high, or sometimes even show up, on certain search engines that are not specific to a region (China is a good example of this), and you will be unable to have specific servers linked to those locations.
Slightly different than a subfolder, a subdomain is a portion of the original domain that can be hosted on the server of the intended country, with an appropriate IP address. Instead of having the page being directly linked to the original site, it is only linked to the original domain, and so operates as a separate International domain. An example of this would be http://uk.abc123.com/. It specifies the ordinance, which is a benefit in and of itself.
Other positive features of have a subdomain are attaching it to the reputation of the original domain, which should continue to draw those who are aware of the website, offer a way to connect on a local level with that domain, using a specific corresponding IP address and server that is associated with the country or origin.
There aren’t that many cons with this method (other than the obvious one of significantly lowering the popularity and metrics of your original domain). But there is a higher risk of confusing the user with this type of address. Subdomains are still relatively rare in the scope of URLs, and so most people will immediately put in a www address, leading them back to your original site. Because of this some webmasters may just want to link with a subfolder from their original domain and save the hassle.
Using a ccTLD is probably one of the better options for people who are looking for a very location specific site that is made almost entirely for the people within that location. For example, say that you own store that is almost always frequented by Britons. While there is a chance that others from different countries will occasionally buy your merchandise, it isn’t a high priority. You would build the site to match the needs of your target base, which would be regional, and so you would use something like http://www.abc123.co.uk.
The main pro to this option is just like the subdomains: it allows you to connect using a region-specific server and IP address. You will also be able to offer something familiar to the user, and so unlike the options above the region users are more likely to avoid mistyping the address. It is also comfortable to many people within that region that will be more inclined to buy from a more locally owned website that one from another country.
The major con with this option is that shared linking will not be allowed between your site and it’s foreign counterparts, as it is an entirely different domain type, but for certain types of websites and businesses this shouldn’t be a major problem. It will also make it less likely to be used by foreign markets, but since this isn’t your target base you shouldn’t lose a significant amount of revenue.
In the end, each one of these options could work for you as a means of creating a user friendly, search engine friendly website that utilizes SEO as a marketing choice. Each one has it’s good points, and each one has it’s bad points, so you have to choose carefully to find the perfect option for your personal situation. None of them are perfect, but nothing is in the real world, and at least you will be able to create you best chance of success.
Congratulations for this post. I enjoyed reading it, you explained very well the pros and cons of every option.