If I target UK customers but could expand to overseas, what TLD should I use?

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In today’s #asktheukdomain video I look at the different TLD options available for businesses targeting UK customers but looking to expand overseas in the future, and explore the pros and cons for each including:

• Having one website for all locations using a GTLD
• Having one website for all locations on a CCTLD
• Having one website per location on different TLDs.

Video Transcript

♪ [music] ♪ Hello, and welcome to “The UK Domain.” Today’s question comes from ‘Entrepreneur M’ on Twitter, who asks, “If I’m starting a new website targeting mainly UK customers, but with a view to target internationally in the future, which TLD should I choose? Should I choose a .com, a .uk, or a .co.uk, and why?”

So to answer this question, I’m going to present a few different options, and I’m going to show you the pros and cons of each. There isn’t one correct answer. So which option you choose depends on your particular circumstances. And, you know, once you’ve weighed up the pros and cons, you might find that one’s better suited to you than the other.

So let’s start off with option number one, which is to have one website for all locations using a gTLD. So a gTLD is a generic top-level domain. An example of a gTLD is .com. Another example is .blog. Microsoft use a .com for all their territories. They specify which language the website is in depending on where you are as a user by using a subfolder. So, for example, we’ve got en.gb, which is English Great Britain. We’ve got en.us, which is English in the U.S., it.it, which is Italian. They have one of these subfolders for every single region. And that basically contains the same website in a different language within that folder.

Another option, if you’re using a gTLD, is to use a subdomain. This is a made up subdomain because Microsoft don’t do this. But, for example, they might have italy.microsoft.com. They might have uk.microsoft.com. So, generally, if you are using a gTLD for all locations, the advantage is that you’ve got one website to manage. That makes it easier already. A gTLD is effective at targeting multiple locations. Do bear in mind, and we’ll talk about this later, that if you’re using one domain to target multiple locations, you’re not telling Google that your website is for one particular location, which may affect your search rankings in some instances, but I’ll talk about that in a minute.

Also, if you are going to be using this option, you need to make sure you’re using one of these, which is an hreflang tag, which, again, I’ll talk about. But this is a very, very common option. Like I say, it’s easier to manage because you’ve got one domain. This is definitely more preferable than using the subdomain. Because if you think about this option, you’ve got all of your links, hopefully, you’ve got lots of links coming into your website. If you’re using a subdomain, Google actually treats each subdomain as almost being a different website. So let’s say you’ve got lots and lots of links pointing to italy.microsoft.com. Then you’ve got lots of links pointing to uk.microsoft.com. Those links aren’t necessarily shared. But if you’ve got lots of links coming into microsoft.com in these various different languages, all of those links will be benefitting each location. So from an SEO point of view, this is probably the strongest. But again, it’s not all about pure SEO, as you’ll see.

So, option number two is that you have one website for all domains, all locations on a ccTLD. So it’s actually a bit hard to find an example of this, and I’ll talk about why. One example could be whittard.co.uk, the tea and coffee merchants. The advantage of doing it this way is that, again, you’ve got one website to manage. Another advantage could be that by having a .co.uk in this instance, you’re promoting the kind of heritage of the company. You know, you’re promoting the UK heritage.

The disadvantage is that when Google looks at .co.uk, which is known as a ccTLD for a country code top-level domain. When Google looks at ccTLD, it infers that your website is for people in that location. So when it sees .co.uk, Google goes, “Okay, your website’s for UK customers and UK users.” If you’re trying to use .co.uk to target internationally, it’s certainly possible to do, but your targeting isn’t going to be quite as specific and you’re not giving as clear a signal to Google.

Which leads us on option number three, which is where you are using ccTLD through different locations. So you have one website per location using different TLDs. So Amazon is a fine example of this. You’ve got .com for the U.S., you’ve got .co.uk for the UK, you’ve got .de for Germany. For every location that Amazon is targeting, they have a different website using a different ccTLD.

So quickly, the disadvantage is that you’ve got multiple domains to manage. You’ve got multiple websites to manage. From an SEO point of view, if you’re building links to .com, those links will not benefit your .co.uk. Unlike our Microsoft example, where no matter which location you’re on, if you’ve got links coming into .com. it’s helping all locations. In Amazon’s case, they have to build links for .com separately from .co.uk. So their SEO team has even more work to do.

So why do people do it? Well, there are lots of benefits, and the biggest one is that your TLD will signify to your customers where you are. And, as a result, you generally achieve higher click-through rates. So in the UK, for instance, searches in the UK are more likely to click on a .co.uk than they are to click on a .com. They’re also more likely to trust a .co.uk in the UK than a .com in the UK. And that’s because this carries a big signal to the customers of where you are and where…well, which location this website’s for. And that’s exactly why Amazon do it. And lots of retailers do have this approach, a different TLD for every location.

It also means that because these are separate websites, if you’ve got a business where each location has very different types of content, this also lends itself very effectively. So there are the options. Some are stronger than others, each has it’s advantage and disadvantage. No matter which option that you choose, there are four tips that you should bear in mind when you’re trying to target different locations.

Some of these tips apply to different options more than others, but I’ll go through them one by one. So tip number one is to use Google Search Console. Google Search Console is a tool offered by Google that gives you stats about your website and also allows you to give Google certain bits of information. One of these bits of information is which location your website is meant to be targeting.

Now, if you’re using a ccTLD like .co.uk, you’re already signaling to search engines that your website is for people in the UK. If you’re using a gTLD, like .com, you need to tell Google, “My website is for people in this location.” You can do that using Search Console. Even though I’ve spoken about Google Search Console, let’s not forget about Bing Webmaster Tools too. You can do the same things in Webmaster Tools as you can in Search Console, but Google’s the bigger search engine and we tend to kind of focus our attention there.

Hreflang tags. So I won’t go into too much detail about these tags. They’re basically metatags, bits of HTML that you can put on your website. This will only apply if you’re using either the subfolder option shown here, so you’ve got a subfolder for each language, or if you’re using separate TLDs that have different languages based on which TLD you’re using, so, you know, German for .de. An hreflang tag simply tells search engines which language that website is in. So you’ll have a different tag for en-GB than you will have IT, for example. So it’s just another way of telling search engines which language that this is meant to be in.

Tip number three is localize your content. So the basic tip is, of course, make sure that your website is translated. What you’ll see some people do is that they’ll have…you can choose the language the website’s supposed to be in, but it uses Google Translate and automatically translates. This is not such a good idea because translations don’t always work so well using Google Translate and you’ll find lots of mistakes.

What is much better is to get a custom translation for each location. But it’s so much more than just translating your content. Because you may translate something perfectly, but one phrase or one idiom may apply to one location more than it does to another, or it might make no sense in Italian even if it makes perfect sense in the UK. So just make sure that your content considers the audience and the language that they speak and the certain idioms that they have in their culture and all that sort of thing.

And the final one, build local links. So link building is important for SEO full stop. It’s particularly important with international SEO because you need to build links from websites in a particular country to the subfolder or to their website that you wish to target in that country. So let’s use Amazon as an example. If Amazon wanted to rank very highly in the UK, they’d want to build lots of links to amazon.co.uk from UK websites. If Amazon wanted to rank very highly in Germany, they’d want to build lots of links to amazon.de from lots of German websites.

So the final thing I want to say is just to come back to the original question, was if I started a website that was targeting the UK initially and then later on, you wanted to target internationally, well, which option should you choose? So again, what approach that you take does depend on many factors, such as how long are you going to be only targeting the UK? You know, is it one year, is it 10 years? Also, even when you start targeting internationally, how important are those other markets? Are they, you know, are they very small? You know, do they have very little importance because they won’t make so much money? So one option is that you just stick with a ccTLD at the start. That means that you’ll, you know, you’re targeting the UK better than any of the other options. Then when you do target internationally, you could go for option number one, choose a gTLD and have separate languages. Or, you may go, “Well, I’ve got co.uk already for the UK. I’m just going to make a new website using a different TLD for the different locations.”

Again, I can’t say one is better than the other. Both have their pros and cons. But, you know, if you’re targeting the UK for a significant portion of time, before you target internationally, you’re certainly better off starting with a ccTLD. So, hopefully, that answers your question. If you’d like to ask a question about digital marketing, about how to achieve more online, simply ask your question using the #asktheukdomain. Goodbye. ♪ [music] ♪

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Peter is the Head of Content at Nominet. He's passionate about helping small businesses make the most of being online, especially through the use of content marketing.

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