So your business is doing well and you want to expand to foreign markets; first off, congratulations! Now what you will want to do to ensure the success of this next business venture is to look into a country specific domain name so that your customer base in that market can access your website in their own language.
The benefits are obvious, but how can you make sure that domain extensions register back to your primary domain in order to accurately measure brand success?
Multilingual Web Domains
First you need to decide on which regions you want to target and which languages you will make available for these regions. Once you have that figured out, then you need to choose your domain or URL structure strategy. That is, you’ll need to decide whether you want to use ccTLDs (country-code top level domain names) or more nonspecific gTLDs (generic top level domains names).
ccTLDs offer a stronger signal to users that the domain is country specific and is probably a better option for expanding your website into foreign markets. However, if you do choose to use a gTLD, then you will want to consider including a regional tag, which displays in the green URL on SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
This will help to improve search results within your target demographic, thereby increasing traffic to your site. You can get country specific domains, or ccTLDs from providers like 1&1, which then need to be registered with your web host.
Multiple Domains Pulling from Primary Domain
Once you have all of your desired country-specific domains, you want them all to route back to your main domain (e.g. your .com domain) when they are crawled.
The first thing that you need to do is set the DNS so that all of your domains point towards the same website. You can read up on how to do this here. Then you will need to discuss with your webhost the terms of hosting all of your domains.
The best method for ensuring that your multilingual domains point back to your primary website is through using the Rel=”Alternate” Hreflang annotation. Put simply, this annotation works by helping the search engine identify which URLs are to be served to searchers based on geographic location and language keys.
You can read more on exactly how to use this Hreflang annotation here; however, to summarize, this annotation can be used in the HTML link element header, the HTTP header, or the Sitemap. Of all of these options, HTML is most popularly used.
Of course not all of the searches for your site are going to come through these targeted markets. Therefore, it is also good to employ the x-default markup in order to differentiate a specific landing page for un-specified searchers outside of target regions. If both the Hreflang annotation and the x-default markup are applied correctly, you should not have issues with duplicate content.
Another good way to avoid running into crawling issues with your main site is to set up subdomains in a directory format instead of individualized domains. For example, using website.com/en, website.com/fr, and so on.
As far as duplicate content issues are concerned, there are some basic fail-safes in case the annotations mentioned above are for some reason not implemented correctly. Obviously if you are creating a geo targeted domain, you must create language specific content for that domain and include pricing using the appropriate local currency. However, it is always a good idea to create unique content for each domain.
Not everyone has the time to do this, however, and often include only basic translations on each site, which works too, but certain things should be taken into consideration.
Normally if languages are completely different than the default site, you will not need to hide duplicates by disallowing search engine crawling with a meta tag. However, if you have duplicate information on a U.S. site and UK site for example, which only differ through slight variations in spelling, then there is cause for disallowing crawling by using a ‘no index’ meta tag. or robots.txt. However, the alternate and x-default is the better of the two options.
Once you have your desired domain names, you may want to learn more about protecting those domain names, which you can read about here.