: SEO International Websites usage of sub domains and ccTLD domains Is it better to have separate country specific domains (which costs more money) or sub domains which define the country, for
Is it better to have separate country specific domains (which costs more money) or sub domains which define the country, for better SEO?
Assumption: The search engine web master tools, each sub domain are associated to a country. Example au.example.com is associated to the country Australia.
I understand that both methods do work, especially when i utilize the assumption, listed above. The question is about: Which method is better? Is there such a small SEO difference between them? Is the first method way way way better than the second with getting better SEO results?
A number of folks have suggested that the following is a good/better approach:
By adding a country specific ISO
code to the end of the url/the first
folder of the domain can be recognised
as the country.
But a number of SEO mates have suggested that this is a valuable waste of folder level space. Er.. how can I explain. OK, it's been suggested by some SEO experts that if the number of levels or folders in the domain exceeds 5 then the page drops dramatically in importance. Basically, you don't want to make it deep. As such, adding the country as the first level can be considered a waste, especially when it can be handled by the domain OR sub domain - hence the question :)
Google only associates top-level domains with geographic regions:
Sites with country-coded top-level domains (such as .ie) are already associated with a geographic region, in this case Ireland.
— Geotargeting - Webmasters/Site owners Help
Use top-level domains whenever possible to handle country-specific content. We're more likely to know that .ie indicates Ireland-focused content, for instance, than ie.example.com, www.example.com/ie, or www.example.com?country=ie. If you have a geographically neutral top-level domain (such as .com, .org, or .net), you can use Webmaster Tools to associate your site with a geographic location.
— Local businesses - Webmasters/Site owners Help
Microsoft’s Live Search does this as well:
Live Search uses information such as the website's IP address and the country or region code top-level domain to determine a website's market and country or region. You can alter this information to reflect the market that you want to target.
— About hosting your website in a different market
But I pefer the all-in-one, country neutral domain with a country specific URL path too.
Can you clarify why you would like to create three english-language sites with separate audiences (is it a localized service, for example)? Is there overlap between the three audiences (SEO is more important) or is the Australian site completely useless to UK users?
Can you confirm that all your content is in English?
[added later] I realize in re-reading the question that all the sites under consideration are in English. I'll leave my original answer in case it helps someone else.
You are much better off having local domain names if possible.
There are multitude of ways to indicate which country you're in, but the domain name is a clear and universally recognizable way to say to search engines where you are.
As noted in the comments, it's impossible to prove these kinds of statements. However this is a no-risk plan: if it doesn't make a difference you lose nothing, if it does, you win or lose big.
If you have the choice, do it. It's trivially easy to setup using .htaccess and makes managing the site much easier.
[original answer] I manage a large site in three languages. We set it up as /en, /es, etc. after the domain name and I sincerely regret it.
There are several issues, but the main problem we ran into is managing Page Rank flow and the home page.
If you have a site in three languages, the home page is in which?
Do you make it a combination of all three languages, or do you pick one?
Normally a good home page would have lots of links to different parts of the site, and a fair amount of relevant text.
In a multi-language environment, do you include all the links and text in all the languages? If not, your site will be less effective in SEO. If yes, it's a mess for users.
The question boils down to Page Rank flow. In a regular single-language site, you want the home page to get the juice from the other pages.
In a multi-language site, that is no longer clear. You want a Spanish user to end up on the Spanish homepage in as few clicks as possible. Automatic redirection can be penalized.
We wanted the French site to appear first in French search results, so that users don't have to click through a language selection page. Our experience is that it is necessary to optimize for each language independently.
Having multiple languages behind a single domain name made it much more complicated to say to Google: this is our French site, in French, this is our Spanish site in Spanish, etc. It's mainly a question of Google knowing what language each page is in. Which language specification do you include in the home page header?
Also, it's true that you are slightly penalized for deep folder hierarchies (that being a hallmark of old blackhat SEO).
By using separate domains, you can cleanly and easily optimize each site with good Page Rank flow. If you do use a single domain, the best option we found is just to sacrifice the home page and push the Page Rank to /fr, /es etc.
Being hosted in the country may help the rankings in the country specific search engine result pages so that is something to bear in mind.
Option 1 is recognized by most search engines. Alternatively, you can try finding a host in your target country as some search engines also check the destination IP. A lot more info can be found on an article from last year on Moz.
For the budget strapped, option 2 will work with Google since the webmaster tools enables you to target countries by subdomain.