Choosing A Domain Structure To Sell Abroad

Localizing Your Website For International Shoppers

Growing a business internationally can be expensive. It often requires a more secure checkout process, additional shipping options, and offering support to customers who may not speak the same language as your phone support team.

Shipping internationally is a fantastic way to grow your company, bringing your products in front of an entirely new audience. For eCommerce sites that offer unique or niche merchandise, they’ll often discover that these international customers will quickly become a substantial part of their revenue.

In fact, you may find it beneficial to open a warehouse or storefront internationally to exclusively target this growing audience. While international customers can discover your website on their own, HubSpot recently discovered that customers were more likely to purchase from websites that appeared tailored for their country.

3 Ways To Optimize International Content

There are three primary ways to create a portal to target these international customers; folders, subdomains or by utilizing Country Code Top Level Domains.

Create A Folder In An Existing Route Domain

This is the cheapest, and often simplest solution. For example, if Trinity Insight wanted to market our services to the France, we could place a folder with the French translation of our site in “trinityinsight.com/france.”

When using this method, it’s important to use the proper name for the folder so that search engine’s can properly parse the URL. To do this, you’ll want to use the same words that residents of that country use to refer to themselves. For example, “/france” and “/fr” would both be acceptable folder names but “/paris” or “/FrOffice” would not be rendered properly.

While this is the cheapest and simplest method to implement, it can potentially cause confusion with your readers who may be unable to determine if the content is intended for their country by the URL alone.

Create A Subdomain For Countries Or Languages

In our Trinity France example, we would create a new subdomain. This could be france.trinityinsight.com to target the country or fr.trinityinsight.com if we wanted to target all french-speaking customers.

Similar to folders, a subdomain is easy to implement, though it can be more expensive depending on your hosting plan, but if you hold a collaboration with bluehost, then the prices would be significantly less. This method is generally easier for your users to parse, but it can still be confusing, particularly if they are following a link from another website.

Create A Separate Top Level Domain For Each Country

Nearly every country offers their own Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD), for example trinityinsight.fr. This is the most expensive option, since it requires that you register a unique domain name for each country that you want to target. There is also the chance that another company in that country has a name similar to yours, which could lead to branding issues if you’re trying to establish your company there.

For example, in Australia there is a retail chain named “Target” that is independent of the US based company. Their website, target.com.au, is well known to Australian customers so if the US based Target wanted to build an online presence, they’d have to either come up with a wholly unique URL or re-brand themselves in that country.

Google Prefers ccTLD

According to their official webmaster’s blog, Google uses ccTLD as the first way to determine the country target of the website, so if your company can afford it, it’s best to invest in multiple top level domains. Google will use additional, visible elements on your website to determine the language and country you are attempting to target, but a ccTLD will be something nearly instantly recognized by the search engine.

Furthermore, Google allows users to filter search results and display only websites built for their country. While this is an option that the user must select, it can prove popular in certain countries (such as the UK). If you open a physical storefront abroad, having a country specific domain will make it far easier to get your website listed on directories listing companies specific to those locations.

Customers Are Sensitive To ccTLD

ccTLD Customer Identification
Originally From HubSpot Survey

In his HubSpot survey, Eli Schwartz asked users a question and asked US customers to identify which website would be more likely to offer express shipping. You can see from the results above that more than 40% of respondents correctly identified Best Buy as the “local” website. Amazon’s brand equity likely led to some confusion for users, as many likely associated the Japanese website with it’s American counterpart, but unless you’re Amazon, chances are that this notoriety will not be as effective for your own brand.

While their results were inconclusive, with a portion of users showing no preference for domain extension, a surprisingly substantial portion do. As users become more familiar with how the web works, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the percentage of customers sensitive to ccTLD will increase.

Choosing An Implementation

If you have the financial and technical resources to do so, invest them in creating a ccTLD architecture. Not only is this Google’s suggested method, but it is something that your customers will take note of and they can make their purchasing decisions based, in part, on the domain you choose.

If you’re unsure how effective country specific domain’s will be with your current customer base, you can test how effective it will be using Adwords. When building search display ads for your targeted companies, you can modify the display URL to show a ccTLD. For example, while the ad we display might direct users to trinityinsight.com, we could make the text display trinityinsight.fr. By monitoring the click through rate (CTR), we’ll get an idea on how much the domain of our site matters to users.

Implementing language or country specific domains should always be what your company is aiming for if you’re serious about growing internationally. Root folders or subdomains will give you the ability to tailor your content to reach these other countries, but they will not be as effective from a branding perspective as a separate domain would.

Thanks to the internet, your business can reach more customers than it ever could before, often with far less overhead. Building out localized versions of your content can be expensive and difficult, but it can also lead to increased revenue by putting your brand in front of an entirely new market.

Whether you’re ready to make the jump and launch entirely new websites, or you opt to start with a subdomain, a international launch can prove to be one of the most financially rewarding investments your company can make.