International SEO: Which Domain Structure Should You Use?


Is your business really reaching worldwide customers? Think again.

In the early days of the internet, almost everything on the web was in English, because most internet applications back in the late 80’s and early 90’s started in the United States. Consequently, when the first search engine came out in the early to mid 90’s like HotBot, Excite, WebCrawler, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo, Dogpile, Google, etc were all strictly in English. Anyone oversee is wishing to conduct search had to do in an English and there was no other options back then.

As the internet technology caught up around the world, the web became a multilingual platform. In fact, the foreign web becomes the fastest growing segment of the internet every single year since 1997. Think about it this way, in 1996, 75% of the web is in English. But today, English only accounts 25% which, the proportion has been reversed. So we can conclude that search engines and directories understood the importance of language growth early in the game and started to feature multilingual platforms.

Today, foreign language natives have a better incentive to conduct the search in their mother tongue. As an example, a native user will access Yahoo with his native language and will search using keywords using his language by typing the exact language characters in the search field. Further, a Japanese native will have a better incentive to use Google in Japanese rather than in English. Over the last few years, companies have been given a solution allowing them to test the potential of their business to foreign markets without having to translate the content of the website.

International search engine submission is not about doing business with foreigners in their native foreign language but rather bringing foreigners to your website to do business with you in English. It is not necessary to translate your website in order to submit to foreign search engines. However, you need to have at least one page in specific language, optimize keywords and meta tags in that specific language in order to submit to the definite language to search engine or at least one page in other language and do similar process and so on.

Domain Structure And Its Importance To International SEO


One way to optimize your website for larger or international audiences is by knowing which domain structure to use. Web developer or website owner must ensure that their website has specific domain, sub-domain and file structure to meet the requirements of international SEO. Failing to organize the domain structure could affect a website’s potential and its ability to convert and give visitors the exact information they need.

Certainly, once you’ve decided to expand your business internationally, ensuring that your website will reach your new target audiences is one of the most important steps you have to take. In regards to international site structure, it involves three different options; subdomains, subdirectories and country code top-level domains or ccTLD.

As an example;

  • Subdomains appears as:
  • Subdirectories appears as:
  • Country code top-level domains (ccTLD):

How these domain structures are differ in terms of international optimization?

  1. Multilingual Subdomains

Multilingual subdomain website structure is suitable for organizations that are just starting to set up their global brand marketing. Moreover, subdomains can fit businesses that don’t have enough resources to build and maintain multiple domains using ccTLDs, have limited resources to invest in multilingual link profiles, have content with slight language tweak, have products that are not considerably different based on countries or languages and businesses that are planning to organize different localized websites on separate servers.

  1. Subdirectories or Subfolders

This structure enables a website to host all language versions in a single generic domain also known as gTLD and each language or country is provided with content organized in separate folders. In subdirectories, each language has its own folder since they are all located in one website. Subfolders are easier to organize and only need a little time and effort to create and maintain since all the folders are placed on the main domain. This would greatly benefit your website in the future in terms of international SEO campaigns. Subdirectories or Subfolders domain structure is ideal for agencies that wanted to save their time and resources in setting up ccTLDs for every targeted country or language, sites with high quality links and authorities, foreign language versions with less site structure distinction and content, products or services that are not quite different in languages or regions and businesses with no physical address of the countries they are targeting.

  1. Country Code Top-level Domains (ccTLD)

A ccTLD makes your site visible to the major search engines for your specific market by having a country level domain. Country Code Top-level Domains is a powerful domain structure in terms of search engine optimization for websites with country-specific domain. Websites in ccTLD, for example will let the search engine know that this website should serve in search results on its respective country. This domain structure will fit businesses with a well-established brand and producing numerous contents for their site, with physical address in multiple regions, with enough resources to establish and maintain a site for a specific country, with various products or services available in different locations and planning to host international versions on servers.

Search engine optimization for international audiences has aspects, all of which needs a quite different technique than the usual SEO for a single location. Structuring your domain name and your URL is one of the most crucial parts of optimizing your website in the global market. On the other hand, selecting between Country Code Top-level Domains, subdirectories and subdomains alone is not as simple as choosing a domain name particularly when talking about all the aspects involved in international SEO.

Although most international businesses preferred to use the above domain structures, that doesn’t mean that using .com domain is no longer necessary. The website structure varies depending on the industry you are in as well as the keywords you use for your website. Just remember that international optimization is not just the case in one or two targets but also in other areas across the globe. Therefore, performing full competitor analysis on a keyword by keyword level and country to country basis is fundamental to be able to determine how your local domains can benefit your marketing efforts.