When building an international SEO strategy, the debate most webmasters face is what strategy to pursue when going global…

The choice is normally between having a ccTLD (country code top level domain e.g., plan vs. a sub-domain approach ( vs. a sub-folder (.com/Spain or .com/India) strategy. There is no right or wrong answer in choosing one of these strategies as each has its own advantages and disadvantages, some of which are mentioned below.



1.       Local Country TLDs present an advantage in penetrating the local market as they can be perceived to be more trustworthy from local visitors to the site

2.       Benefits from targeting in local search engine as attaining various types of local links may be slightly easier

3.       Provides the strongest geo targeting signal used by Google

4.       Server location is less relevant as a geo targeting factor

5.       This approach works best if your company has a smaller footprint or a simple product offering.


1.       Can require more maintenance to manage all these sites and can be more expensive

2.       Link building scalability is tough since more link building would be required to cover all the different domains

3.       There may be cross-domain tracking issues or complications when setting up web analytics.



1.       Easier to set up and provides an effective way to establish sites as different identities while still retaining the global corporate branding

2.       Can rank alongside the main domain in search engine results for two/more very similar pages

3.       Possible to “host crowd”, i.e. have more than 2 results of the main domain in search results (although recently sub-folders can now rank too)

4.       Sub-domains can be treated as a semi-separate site and can be hosted on a different server; therefore links from these can have slightly more value

5.       Global brands with bigger product offerings and larger footprints might be better to use this approach.


1.       Sub-domains can be treated as a separate site, therefore don’t inherit the main domain’s SEO benefits and require their own link building effort

2.       Can be more difficult to setup and more expensive

3.       There may be cross-domain tracking issues or complications when setting up web analytics.



1.       Content is hosted on one site which is easier (and likely cheaper) to set-up, handle and maintain. Tracking can also be easier

2.       Easier to manage when dealing with a country speaking different languages (e.g. Canada)

3.       Sub-folders can be registered individually in Webmaster Tools and geo-targeted to the country you are working in

4.       Link juice is flowing to sub-folder within just the one domain (that probably already has good site authority) which only enhances the value of the sub-folder and the site as a whole

5.       Similar to sub-domains, global brands with bigger product offerings and larger footprints might be wise to use this approach.


1.       Ranking in local SERPs can potentially be hard because of competition from local country players

2.        Perception from search can vary. For example, some European countries prefer a ccTLD over a .com domain when clicking on a search result. Hence a sub-folder might not be preferred over a ccTLD in this case.

3.       There is a small chance that duplicate content issues can arise (different websites targeting multiple countries and languages with largely the same content). The likelihood of this is minimal especially if your site is geo-targeted properly.

Personally I think “perception” or the “trust” factor is the most important element. Trusting a local domain (especially for long-tail terms) is likely to have a higher click through rate (leading to higher traffic and greater conversions) especially if you want to be perceived as an international brand. However, if you are restricted by a CMS, a sub-folder strategy is another option that you can work with. To determine what works best for you, consider a Cost-Benefit analysis for all three strategies and always remember to apply and follow the general principles and tactics that are usually recommended by search engines when optimising your site.

Rohit Padgaonkar
Senior Internet Marketing Consultant