MatteoMonari.com
14nov/103

Top Level Domain, Folder or Subdomain?

To inaugurate this English section of MatteoMonari.com, dedicated to international SEO, I thought I would address the 1st question anybody thinking about going international asks me:

Should I get a local domain, use a folder of start a subdomain?

The answer, as almost always in SEO, is "It depends".

The best choice varies from case to case, ad it often depends on a complex series of factors, but here is a quick overview of the (purely SEO) pros and cons of each choice and a quick rule of thumb:

Using a Local TLD for your Local Site (.it, .fr, etc.)

Pros:

  • It gives more power in the SERPs than non-local TLDs.
  • It allows local hosting, hence more localization, hence more power in the serps.
  • Is is not connected to your main site in case of penalizations and bans.
  • It allows you to choose a country-specific, keyword-rich domain.

Cons:

  • It is a new domain, with no history nor authority.
  • It may be hard to obtain and keep (due to local rules, legislation, etc.).
  • It may force you to disclose whois info.

Using a Folder for your Local Site (/it/, /fr/, etc.)

Pros:

  • It inherits some authority from the main site, allowing a faster start.
  • It can be geotargeted in Google Webmaster Tools (Google will consider it as local, though not as much as a local TLD).
  • It allows you not to disclose more whois info than you are doing right now.

Cons:

  • It gives you less power in local SERPs than local TLDs do.
  • It can not be hosted locally, giving you less power in local SERPs than locally hosted sites.
  • It is directly connected to your main site, hence more risky in case of local penalizations or bans - which may spread to the whole site.

Using Subdomains for your Local Site (it. , fr. , etc.)

Pros:

  • It allows local hosting, hence more localization, hence more power in the serps.
  • It inherits some power from the main site, allowing a faster start.
  • It can be geotargeted in Google Webmaster Tools (Google will consider it as local, though not as much as a local TLD).
  • It allows you not to disclose more whois info than you are doing right now.

Cons:

  • It gives you less power in local SERPs than local TLDs do.
  • It is directly connected to your main site, hence more risky in case of local penalizations or bans - which may spread to the whole site.

My rule fo thumb for this Local SEO issue

After this comprehensive list, here are 3 questions that will make your choice easier:

Do you plan to actively build links to the local site and dedicate a proper amount of attention to it? If so, get a local TLD.

Is the SEO competition much harsher in the country you are about to enter? If so, get an unconnected TLD - you may have to be more aggressive in your SEO activities, hence risk more than you would with your main site.

Do you just want to give this local market a try and see if you can make some extra bucks? If so, use a localized subfolder to piggyback on your current authority.

As you may have noticed, I never recommended the use of a subdomain. Some people may not agree, but I see local subdomains as in-between solutions that I would avoid.

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  • http://davidwickstrom.net/ David

    Great post. More like a manual than anything else. I do have a question though. How significant do you think the difference in degree of localization is, between a TLD like for example .com .net or .org, geotargeted towards Italy through Webmaster Tools, and a local .it domain? It depends? :)

    • http://www.matteomonari.com Matteo Monari

      Hi, thanks.

      Honestly, I do not think the difference is so big. If you are not using a
      loca TLD but you are addressing a specific country, geotargeting in WMT is a
      must. Once Google has understood what your target is, having the local TLD
      is a plus, but I would not get crazy about it…

      • InfoMike

        Nice artile. I have a similar dilema now – (hostin g in England or Italy). I will be chosing to use an Italian subdomain hosted locally.