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Choosing A Domain Structure To Sell Abroad

Challenges of International Trade

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 speak a different language than your customer service team.

Shipping internationally is a fantastic way to grow your company, bringing your products to 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 found that customers were more likely to purchase from websites that appeared to be 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 
  • Country Code Top Level Domains

1. Create A Folder in an Existing Route Domain

This is the cheapest and often simplest solution. For example, if OuterBox wanted to market our services to France, we could place a folder with the French translation of our site in

When using this method, it’s essential to use the proper name for the folder so that search engines can adequately parse the URL. To do this, 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 render correctly.

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.

2. Create A Subdomain For Countries Or Languages

In our OuterBox France example, we would create a new subdomain. This could be to target the country or if we wanted to target all French-speaking customers.

Like folders, a subdomain is easy to implement, though it can be more expensive depending on your hosting plan. If you collaborate with Bluehost, the prices will be significantly lower. This method is generally easier for your users to parse, but it can still be confusing, particularly if consumers follow a link from another website.

3. Create a Separate Top Level Domain for Each Country

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

For example, in Australia, there’s a retail chain named Target that’s independent of the US-based company. Their website,, is well known to Australian customers. So if the US-based Target wanted to build an online presence, they’d have to create 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, you’re better off investing in multiple top-level domains. Google will use additional, visible elements on your website to determine the language and country you’re attempting to target, but the search engine will instantly recognize a ccTLD.

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

In his HubSpot survey, Eli Schwartz asked US customers to identify which website would be more likely to offer express shipping. 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 its 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 some users showing no preference for domain extension, a surprisingly substantial portion do. As users become more familiar with how the web works, it’s reasonable to assume that the percentage of customers sensitive to ccTLD will increase.

Choosing An Implementation

If you have the financial and technical resources, invest them in creating a ccTLD architecture. Not only is this Google’s suggested method, but it’s 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 domains will be with your current customer base, you can test them 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, we could make the text display By monitoring the click-through rate (CTR), we’d get an idea of how much the site domain 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 allow you to tailor your content to reach these other countries, but they won’t be as effective from a branding perspective.

Thanks to the internet, your business can reach more customers than ever before, often with far less overhead. Building out localized versions of your content can be expensive and complicated, but it can also increase 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 opt to start with a subdomain, an international launch can prove to be one of the most financially rewarding investments your company can make.

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