When starting a website you will be faced with a number of decisions regarding its domain structure – the information to the left of the full stop in a web address (domain name) and the combination of letters to the right (domain extension).
There are three broad approaches to domain structure that big companies use across their international sites, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
The first is using separate top-level domains (TLDs) such as Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. The second is spate language or location sub directories like Nike.com/gb-en and the third is sub-domains like us.asos.com and fr.asos.com.
Sub-domains make sense for businesses with operations across several countries in terms of both giving each country autonomy or having more central control, but they also have to take the language used in that country into account, which complicates matters.
Separate TLDs are a good option for businesses that are regionalised or have relatively separate divisions, but getting the same name for each territory can be problematic.
According to a blog post by digital marketing news website ClickZ Global’s Editor in Chief Graham Charlton the main problem with having separate TLDs is ‘semantic flux’. Semantic flux occurs when two or more interrelated domains show up under the same search term on on search engine results pages and Google fails to tell the difference between them.
This duplicate theming means Google treats them as the same domain only gives a position to one at a time.
This has happened accommodation rental website Airbnb, which has a .com site and a .co.uk site; because the content on both sites is virtually identical they compete with one another for search rankings.
Sports equipment company Nike uses separate sub-directories for language and location under one website. This is a good option for centralised companies that offer similar products and services content across all locations, but the drawback of sub directories is what Charlton calls ‘internal cannibalisation’.
Internal cannibalisation is when different landing pages compete against each other, making it difficult to get the relevant page to rank in the SERPs in the relevant country.
As the examples show, choosing a domain structure is far from straightforward, but according to search engine optimisation (SEO) platform Pi Datametrics’ Director and Chief Marketing Officer Sam Silverwood-Cope, sub-directories have the most pros because they are easier to manage from an SEO point of view, and less prone to cannibalisation than multiple sites.
Charlton adds that implementation has much to do with whether domain structure strategies succeed or fail, with content, which can undermine search visibility if duplicated and boost it if it is unique, playing an important role.