When it comes to launching a multilingual website, you’ve generally got two options in regards to the approach you can take, these being either using one main domain which includes the appropriate language variations within or using separate ccTLD (country-code Top Level Domain). There are benefits and disadvantages to each, however the route you take can have a significant impact when it comes to online visibility, and choosing the most suitable approach for your business is absolutely vital.
As such, we thought we’d take a look at these two alternatives, sharing, in our experience, which of these makes for a stronger multilingual marketing approach.
A country code top-level domain (ccTLD) is an Internet top-level domain generally used or reserved for a country, a sovereign state, or a dependent territory, with examples being .co.uk (targeted to the UK), .de (targeted towards Germany) and .fr (targeted towards France).
In comparison, a TLD (top-level domain) is the likes of .com or .org, which aren’t targeted towards a specific country or territory. You wouldn’t use a .de to target the UK market, for example (you’d generally go for a .co.uk), however you could also opt for a .com, often to showcase a country with an international market.
When launching a multilingual online strategy, the traditional approach would be to launch an independent website, in a territory’s native language, on a branded ccTLD. As an example, if your main English language website sat on www.website.co.uk, you may launch www.website.de to target Germany (with the website being a full German translation, of course) or www.website.fr to target France.
In one respect, this offers the benefit of a country-specific domain name which, when seen listed in the search engines, can offer a better representation of a ‘local presence’ (even if you’re not physically in the country you’re targeting), however there’s a reason why .coms are so valuable and sought after; because they’re seen as the one true international domain; one which looks as much at home ranking on Google.de as it does Google.co.uk or .com.
Using one main domain – localising your .com
The other approach to launching an international digital marketing strategy is to keep your main domain (usually for this purpose you’d want to be using the .com variant) and launch regional-specific language versions, either on subdomains or within subdirectories. Going back to our example, this would see the international versions sitting on, for a German site, either de.example.com or example.com/de.
The ‘subdomain vs subdirectory’ debate could fill a whole post itself, however for further reading as to which is the best approach (both can be argued) there’s a great article by Moz here.
Whilst, in order to take the ‘right’ approach, you’ll still need a manually translated version of your site’s content (Google Translate is a big no-go – it’s dynamic and will never be indexed as a language variant), the benefit comes from the fact that you’re keeping it all under one roof, as it may be.
From a user perspective, your landing page will still display in their native language, however there are apparent advantages to keeping everything on one domain, the primary one being the fact that any additional languages added will benefit from its authority.
When you launch multiple ccTLDs, you’re almost starting from scratch with a brand new website on a brand new domain. When you use one main domain, however, so long as you implement the correct language targeting. (You can read a bit more about hreflang in Google’s own words here, with the key point being: “Use when your site content is fully translated. For example, you have both German and English versions of each page.”)
Yes, there’s technical work involved, however in many cases, it’s a simpler (and less time consuming approach) than launching multiple ccTLDs and the benefit of utilising the main domain’s authority is that you could see strong rankings on the different country-specific search engines relatively quickly.
Which to go for?
Unless there’s a specific argument (usually technical) for not doing so, the benefits of using either subdomains or subdirectories on your main domain far outweigh any disadvantages. By taking this approach, you’re strengthening one domain rather than ‘spreading your load too thinly’, as happens when you start launching multiple ccTLDs. For many businesses, organic, natural, quick wins are welcomed and it’s no different in this situation.
Yes, there’s a place and a purpose for such an approach, however in most instances, the quick wins come from utilising a domain’s authority – something you’ll be missing out on if you take the decision to launch multiple country-specific domains.