During the last few weeks website localisation and internationalisation seem to be a hot topic around the blogosphere.
Domain management for multinational websites is a very important SEO factor to consider, this ensures you maximise the amount of referred local search traffic whilst applying the most effective strategy overall. There are several different approaches which can be taken to manage country-specific content, I’ve taken a look at how many big brands combat this issue below.
Amazon are a great example of how to manage domain internationalisation issues by using a country-specific top-level domain (TLD) for the UK website. This separates content for UK (www.amazon.co.uk) and US (www.amazon.com) audiences, while still maintaining excellent rankings across Google global and UK search engines. This is carefully structured to ensure that there are no major duplicate content issues which may harm Amazon’s rankings.
Yahoo! take a different approach by using the subdomain uk.yahoo.com which is recognised as a UK website. Using a subdomain is a method which may be more suitable for smaller websites. This is because they may not be powerful enough to use multiple TLD’s, benefiting from consolidating all inbound links into a single domain strategy. This shouldn’t be an issue if you’re the size of Yahoo though!
Microsoft used to miss out on a large percentage of Google UK traffic due to their domain strategy, this is because they use a .com hosted in the US which meant they weren’t being indexed for UK filter queries. The hosting hasn’t actually changed but other factors seem to have been triggered which means they are now indexed for a pages from the UK Google search. A possible reason could be because www.microsoft.co.uk redirects to the /en/gb/ subfolder which may have triggered a locational filter in the algorithm, Microsoft may have also set themselves a UK geographical location for the subsite URL in Google Webmaster Central. While this method has worked well, for the average website I would recommend having at least one of either a UK server location or a .co.uk domain to ensure indexing in Google UK (UK filter search).
Tesco are slightly different to the above sites, being that they are only targeting the UK as opposed to multiple countries. However, because they use a .com TLD Tesco need to ensure Google are aware this is a UK based website and this is achieved by having their web hosting geographically located in the UK. Tesco are also in a position where they could easily add additional locational sections of the website in the future by using a subdomain, subfolder or country-specific TLD.
IMDB seem to take several of these approaches, by using imdb.com for main website in addition to www.imdb.co.uk and the subdomain’s uk.imdb.com and us.imdb.com. This is an extreme over-usage of unnecessary extra subsites and also confuses the search engines by creating a duplicate content issue. The ideal approach here would be to scrap the subdomain’s entirely, either using the .co.uk containing content with a UK focus, or host the domain in the UK and manage all content underneath the same version on imdb.com.
As noticed by Duncan Morris, instead of applying an SEO strategy to target Google “pages from the UK” search traffic, Apple have instead ignored this and must spend thousands of pounds bidding for it’s brand and product keywords on Google AdWords instead. They’ve also let someone else pick-up apple.co.uk instead of paying the £2.99 registration fee!
There is no “one-fits all” internationalisation strategy suitable for all websites, the selected approach will depend largely upon the main target audience. However, there are certain things you can look to avoid to ensure you’re not reducing the strength of your website with duplicate content or missing out on potential traffic in countries which are important to your business.