Global Website & SEO Strategy – A Single or Multiple Top Level Domain Approach?

Whether you’re expanding your business to reach out to new geographical markets or starting an audit and re-build of your already global brand, here I’m going to discuss SEO best practice looking at top level domains (TLDs) and subfolders as areas to consider in your strategy.

As a side note we might as well start of at the beginning of a URL, which is the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or plain old http to most people. The secure version of this, https, is now preferred by Google and as such has recently become a ranking signal. Although it is somewhat of a lesser signal, I’d advise any sites take on this protocol from here on in.

Should a website use http or https

A Subdomain Approach for Regional and Global Brands

Using subdomains on one TLD to denote web content applicable to particular markets was previously a viable option, for example, could be where my website written in French sits. However, site authority as seen by search engines is not consistently passed to subdomains and they may be treated as separate entities; the site authority is therefore split and using multiple local ccTLDs would be more beneficial.

A TLD or Subfolder Approach for Regional and Global Brands

Using multiple Country Code TLDs (ccTLDs), recognised by Google, such as for France and for Germany better targets local search engines. There are disadvantages though, and I discuss these below.

Should a website use TLDs for global SEO strategy

A Generic Top Level Domain (gTLD), such as .com, .finance or (even) .beer would be a better choice if you want to use subfolders to denote different audience content. I would therefore, look at and create a /fr folder for France or French content. If the United Arab Emirates, was one of my targets, I could use /ae for the cc subfolder, or I might use /ar for the Arabic language making it a Language Code (lc) subfolder. A decision here might be influenced whether there are other Arabic speaking countries that need to be targeted separately; using a cc subfolder in this instance could result in a lot of duplicate content, in which case you would then need to apply Canonical tags… but that’s one for another day! Nevertheless, I will just add that duplicate content between different TLDs is detrimental too, but you cannot canonicalise pages across different TLDs.

Should a website use subfolders for global SEO strategy

So, which approach to take? There are pros and cons to each way of working, and you must look at the unique position your brand is in. Apart from considering whether a number of target countries speak the same language, do you have different business arms that may benefit from being on the one TLD, or is now the time for them to function on independent websites? You’re suddenly faced with options of a fully localised strategy, a bracketed audience approach or something in between with a lean towards one or the other.

Below I’ve detailed some of the advantages and disadvantages to the ccTLD and subfolder methodologies, so you can easily think about how they relate to your brand’s situation and overall SEO strategy.

Best SEO approach for TLD and subfolders - advantages and disadvantages

ccTLD Advantages

  • The site is clearly geotarged by its very nature
  • If hosted locally, you’re likely to get faster load speeds for each site
  • The separation of sites can make the build and ongoing upkeep easier
  • One less folder is beneficial for user experience
  • ccTLDs are preferred by local search engines meaning it can be easier to rank
  • A local strategy often brings more local link building opportunities
  • Studies show a ccTLD can increase trust in a website for users
  • There is the potential for a ccTLD to have a positive impact on PPC ad score

 ccTLD Disadvantages

  • It can be expensive to purchase, build and maintain a large number of ccTLDs
  • This approach generally requires more infrastructure and localised talent
  • Separate analytics and webmaster tools accounts need to be maintained
  • As each site needs to build its own authority and link profile, a greater long term SEO resource is required

Subfolder Advantages

  • Often easy to set up
  • Webmaster Tools can be used for highlighting geotargeting
  • One website brings lower maintenance, technical support and hosting costs
  • A single site’s authority can be quickly built through local and global SEO activity
  • Only one analytics package and webmaster tools account is required

Subfolder Disadvantages

  • The average search user might not recognize geotargeting and be wary of your website from the URL alone
  • There is a single server location meaning a local search engine could overlook your site and favour serving a site with a ccTLD in the results pages
  • It puts an additional folder into the URL and so is potentially less easily understood and compelling for both users and search engines

This is the first step in your SEO friendly global website strategy, and there isn’t a right and a wrong choice between a single or multiple TLD approach. One will fit your business and the needs of its audience better, while resource and budgets will have a significant impact on path your select.

Please get in touch with any questions about the structure of your website, and we’re always happy to create proposals for projects such as domain audits, keyword research or full SEO strategies. We also manage projects and have a great deal of account direction experience, should you just need a helping hand to put a strategy into practice.