Using the right domain name is an extremely important factor because it can either assist you with promoting your online business or drag you down for the lifetime of your site. Your domain name is capable to impact both your online reputation and search engine rankings, especially in local search results. You’ll learn about a few available options that you may want to implement in your brand new country specific domain name and thus conquer your goals way faster.

What’s more, you’ll also be able to see how those country specific domain name options are successfully implemented on a real life site. The experiment will be based on an extremely famous brand.

Not Sure Why You Need a Country Specific Domain?

For starters, people in some countries (such as France) seem to be pretty country-biased and really willing to browse and make purchases on sites that have .fr in the end of the domain. Plus it’s some kind of guarantee that the site uses French as the main site language. So, it’s a matter of convenience as well.

Secondly, you also want to use country specific domains for search engine optimization benefits. Though Google and other major search engines are getting smarter to understand what country your content is for, you still want to make everything possible to assist with that because it’ll ensure higher rankings and consequently more customers from your target country.

Now that you know about the benefits of having a country specific domain, you should see the available options and what each of them involves.

Root Domain ccTLD

Before you go any further, you want to know what ccTLD means in the first place.The abbreviation itself stands for country code top-level domain. In layman’s terms, it’s just the part of a domain name that contains a country code. Every country code has two letters. For instance, .fr for France, .de for Germany (Deutschland), etc. As a matter of fact, that’s the approach Google uses, you can go to google.fr to see the French version of Google and to google.de for the German one.

You want to use a ccTLD in your domain name (for instance, mycompany.fr) if you really need to show your company’s decency, reliability and you can afford it. Thing is, you need to buy that domain (most likely top dollar) and you need to register a trademark in some countries to get it. So, it can both cost you an arm and a leg, and you’ll have lots of ccTLD purchasing mess to sort out. In case you eventually made up your mind to get a ccTLD, you get the following benefits with it. It dramatically strengthens your overall company image and shows that you’re to stay in the industry. And like I mentioned above, people in some countries really appreciate domain names with their country codes, which makes perfect sense. Especially if you also use their language on your site with a country code top-level domain. What’s more, you want to host your site in your target country. It’ll allow you to both make your site load faster and have a local country IP. Both factors are extremely beneficial for higher rankings in Google. Plus having a country code top-level domain gives you an extra SEO boost by default when it comes for keyword rankings in your target country search results. So, those two letters in the end of your site address can move your site a few position upper, which is always a good thing in modern SEO. Though it’s a great idea to have a ccTDL in general and you may feel really gung ho about it now, you still need to take it with a grain of salt. Here’s why.

Say, you already have a website at mycompany.com and now you create a website for France with the mycompany.fr domain name. Since it’s a totally brand new site URL, you’ll need to start your link building from scratch. There’s no way to somehow tell Google to magically distribute your link juice between your two sites. But again, if you do it for a huge company with a decent budget, that should not be a problem because you can just launch a new SEO campaign that will get your new site with the mycompany.fr domain name off the ground.

Subdomain

In case you decide to use a subdomain, your site URL may look like fr.mycompay.com. This approach allows to partially inherit your domain authority (DA) regardless of which exactly subdomain you’re building links for. That means if you build a link for one subdomain, it will pass along Google juice to the other just to an extent. As a matter of fact, that’s the method that Wikipedia is preaching and successfully using. For example, de.wikipedia.org is for the German version and fr.wikipedia.org for the French one. Though it does the trick with country specificity and brand awareness, it still looks a bit clumsy and clunky. In a word, not user-friendly.Plus like I mentioned above, it does not completely pass on link juice (Google juice). In case this option won’t work for you either, there’s one more possible solution.

Subdirectory

This method means that you can use the same branded domain (mycompany.com) and create subdirectories for specific countries and languages. So, your French site URL may look something like mycompany.com/fr/ and the German one mycompany.com/de/. It’s not that clumsy as a subdomain and it prominently highlights your brand name (mycompany.com). What’s more, all the links that you build for different subdirectories will positively improve your root domain authority in general. Problem is, such a site address does not look that appealing to country-biases users. So, you need to take it into consideration next time you decide which domain to use.

Country Targeting with Google Webmaster Tools

Neither the subdomain (fr.mycompany.com) nor the subdirectory (mycompany.com/fr/) options give you that extra SEO boost that a country code top-level domain does. You still can do one thing to help Google figure out which country you’re trying to target with your site. Thing is, you can go to your Google Webmaster Tools account and explicitly tell Google that your site fr.mycompany.com (or mycompany.com/fr/) is for French users specifically. Though it will give an extra boost, it won’t be so big as if you were using a ccTLD (mycompany.fr), but you still want to do that in case you’re just stuck with either a subdomain or subdirectory. Actually, it’s usually the case if you’re supposed to work with an already existing site and starting over is not an option.

Test-Drive Your Knowledge

To see how the concept works in real life, you can setup your Google search as though you’re browsing from France and search for a well-known brand such as Adidas. Sure thing, it’s not gonna be the cleanest experiment out there because Google still knows that your IP is not a French one, but the settings are good enough to prove my point.

So, just Google for any term and then click the wrench icon in the upper right corner on your search results page.

wrench-icon

Having that done, just select the Advanced search option in the drop down menu.

advanced-search

Now you just need to specify French in the Language drop down menu and select France in the region drop down. That done, click the blue Advanced search button at the very bottom.

settingsAt this point, you want to search for some internationally known brand. Adidas seems perfect for our experiment. You’ll see that the top results are definitely with country specific domains.

french-adidasSure enough, all the sites above use French as their main site language. So, you’ve just learned and saw for yourself that a country specific domain name is not just some fly-by-night craze. It’s a solid factor that ensures your success in that country. Since most countries have one main language, you also want to use it. Adidas perfect does it on the official site. You can just go to their French site to double-check that (Adidas.fr) or just take a look at the screenshot below.

adidas-site

Over and Done with Your Domain?

Should you have already figured out all your domain related issues and just want to take your SEO to the next level, you may want to check out the brand new video course on WordPress SEO. Note: you’re not supposed to have any search engine optimization background to take the course because it was designed for newbies from the ground up. What’s more, even SEO experts can learn a thing or two from the just baked video course.

Bottom Line

As you can see, all the approaches have both pros and cons. You just need to take them into account and understand what matters most to you and what makes more sense in the long run. In case you’re all about brand awareness and reputation, you want to go the ccTLD way. In case you want to benefit from link building, you may want to choose the subdomain or subdirectory approach. Now, it’s your call. Which approach makes more sense to you?

About the Author

Ken is an SEO at WebDesy.com Coming from a tech support background, he’s deeply convinced that combining mind-blowing deisgns with user-oriented search engine optimization can work real wonders.

4 Responses to “Country Specific Domains and SEO”

  1. chrys says:

    Exactly what I was looking for!!!
    I have spent so much time searching for a clear explanation on difference forum and this one is really helping me!
    Thanks for such a great article!

    Cheers!

  2. Thanks for your comment, chrys. I’m glad that my post is helping people.

  3. Sam says:

    Thanks! good explanation.

    What about this scenario:

    http://www.mysite.fr 301 > http://www.mysite.com/fr/
    http://www.mysite.co.uk 301 > http://www.mysite.com/uk/

    Would this provide the best of both worlds?

    What are you thoughts on it?
    thanks

    • Amir says:

      It might work, but I really doubt it. There will be posts under each of this domains. WPML needs to set the rewrite rules, which let WordPress correctly resolve each of the posts and decode the language information. I just don’t see this working with additional redirection.