In the current worldwide marketplace, online businesses can now extend beyond their domestic borders. Due to technological and communication advancements, expanding online operations overseas has become simpler, enabling companies to bolster their global online presence and reach out to untapped markets, thereby attracting fresh customers and enhancing their earnings.
Expanding internationally can bring significant benefits to your business, but it also poses various challenges and risks. In this article, I will share my experience and insights on the opportunities, advantages, and disadvantages of international expansion for online businesses that want to use an existing domain or want to building an architecture from the ground up using the so-called ccTLDs (country code top-level domain).
Note: From a technical standpoint, both a dot com with a well-configured hreflang setup and a ccTLD are viable options and have the potential to achieve high organic rankings(!)
Opportunities of Expanding Internationally
Businesses can enjoy several benefits by expanding internationally, including:
- Access to New Markets: International expansion offers businesses access to untapped markets and a larger customer base, which can boost revenue and profitability.
- Diversification: Expanding globally can assist businesses in diversifying their revenue streams and reducing their dependence on domestic markets, thereby mitigating the risk of market fluctuations and economic downturns.
- Competitive Edge: International expansion can give businesses a competitive edge over their rivals. Online companies can leverage their unique products or services, technology, or expertise to stand out in the global market.
- Brand Establishment: International expansion can help businesses establish their brand in new markets and increase brand recognition globally. This can increase customer loyalty and build trust with potential customers, even in their initial/original market.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Expanding Internationally on an Existing Site
Expanding internationally on an existing website can offer several benefits, such as:
- Cost-Effective: Expanding internationally on an existing website can be more cost-effective and practical than creating new ‘country-specific’ websites (ccTLDs). It saves the cost of website design and development and companies that already have an established process for creating and publishing content online can easily add new content and pages that cater to the ‘new’ international audiences.
- Brand Consistency (probably my favourite part of using an existing .com domain): Expanding on an existing site allows international companies to maintain brand consistency (the practice of always delivering messages aligned with the core brand values) across all markets. This can help build trust with new customers and increase brand recognition globally. As more and more companies seek to make their mark in front of an international audience, knowing how to maintain brand consistency has never been more critical and building on an existing website is probably the easiest way to expand globally.
- Easier to Manage: It can be less complex to manage an expansion on an existing website as businesses only need to update and maintain a single site. This is particularly advantageous for small enterprises that lack sufficient budgets to develop and upkeep multiple websites.
However, expanding internationally on an existing website also presents some drawbacks, including:
- Challenges with SEO: Companies may encounter SEO difficulties when expanding internationally on an existing website, such as creating new content and optimising it for various languages and local markets.
- Cultural Differences: Failing to account for cultural disparities when expanding on an existing website can impact user trust, experience and sales negatively.
- Technical Limitations: The current website may not be configured to handle international traffic, leading to sluggish loading times or other technical problems.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Expanding Internationally with ccTLDs
Expanding internationally with country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) can offer a range of advantages for international companies that are looking to establish a presence in new ‘local’ markets.
There are numerous benefits to using country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), including:
- SEO Benefits: One of the primary advantages of ccTLDs is that they can offer significant SEO benefits in the specific country or region that a business is targeting. From my personal observations, I have noticed that search engines often prioritise local domains (although Google states otherwise), which means that websites with a ccTLD for a specific country have a higher likelihood of appearing in local search results. This can aid businesses in increasing their visibility in the local market and driving more traffic to their website.
- Cultural Relevance: Using ccTLDs can help international companies establish cultural relevance in the markets they’re targeting, which can help build trust with customers. By using a local domain, businesses can show that they understand the local culture and are committed to serving the needs of customers in that market. This can help to establish a strong brand identity and improve customer loyalty. For example I can tell you that from my personal experience, German consumers are very suspicious of websites that don’t look ‘German’. Not having a German ccTLD is generally not a good way to start an online business in Germany).
- Flexibility: Using ccTLDs allows businesses to tailor their content and marketing strategies specifically to the market they’re targeting. This can include using the local language, adapting product offerings to meet local preferences, and creating marketing campaigns that resonate with the local audience. By tailoring their approach in this way, businesses can improve their chances of success in new markets and build strong relationships with customers.
- Using a ccTLD is a more straightforward way of earning links for a publisher compared to using a .com/country/ domain. From my personal experience, the probability of obtaining a link is higher when using a ccTLD.
Overall, expanding internationally with ccTLDs can be a highly effective strategy for businesses that are looking to establish a presence in new markets. By taking advantage of the SEO benefits, cultural relevance, and flexibility offered by local domains, businesses can improve their chances of success and build a strong brand presence in new markets.
However, expanding internationally with ccTLDs (country code top-level domains) can have certain disadvantages that businesses should be aware of before making a decision to do so. Some of the main drawbacks are:
- Cost: One of the primary drawbacks of using multiple ccTLDs is the cost involved in registering them. Each domain registration comes with a fee, and the cost can quickly add up if a business wants to register multiple domains for different countries. Additionally, businesses may also need to pay for translation and localisation services to ensure that their website content is adapted to local languages and customs, which can add to the overall expense.
- Brand Consistency: Using multiple ccTLDs can make it challenging to maintain a consistent brand image across different markets. Each ccTLD may have different domain names, which can make it harder for customers to remember and recognise the brand. Additionally, different domain names may also imply different messages or associations, which can create confusion or dilute the brand’s overall message.
- Technical Complexity: Managing multiple ccTLDs (sometimes this also means managing multiple/different CMS systems) can be technically complex and may require additional resources, such as website hosting and maintenance. For example, businesses may need to ensure that their website is optimised for each country’s search engines and that their content meets local regulatory requirements. Additionally, managing multiple domains can create more work for website administrators, who need to ensure that all domains are up-to-date, secure, and functioning correctly.
SEO factors to be considered while optimising a website for international search engines.
SEO checklist for International SEO success.
- Hreflang Tags: Hreflang tags are HTML attributes that assist search engines, such as Google, to identify which language and/or geographic location a particular webpage is meant for. By using these tags, search engines can accurately display the relevant version of the website to the appropriate audience. Proper implementation of hreflang tags is critical to prevent any misunderstandings or incorrect indexing of webpages in global search results.
- Keyword Research: I hope that you already know that keyword research is an essential aspect of any SEO campaign. Well, when it comes to International SEO conducting keyword research helps to identify the relevant keywords that users are searching for in a particular country/region. It is essential to understand the language and search behaviour of your target audience. Using the right keywords can help you rank higher in local search results. For instance, let’s consider the term ‘fibre’, which has an estimated search volume of 4,000 per month in the USA, whereas the more commonly used spelling ‘fiber’ has a search volume of approximately 90,000 per month (April, 2023).
- Language and Content: Language plays a vital role in International SEO. To establish a connection with the local audience, generating content in their local language is crucial. But, simply translating the content is insufficient. It’s important to consider local customs and culture when creating content to establish credibility and trust. For instance, while red is considered a lucky colour in China, it is associated with danger in Western cultures.
- Website Structure: The arrangement of a website is a vital element of International SEO. A properly structured website facilitates easy indexing and crawling by search engines. The website’s structure should be tailored to the local audience. For instance, if you are targeting the British market, you may want to consider using a .co.uk domain extension and hosting the website in the UK.
- Mobile-Friendliness: Considering that over 50% of the global population accesses the internet through mobile devices, incorporating mobile-friendliness is vital for success in International SEO. A mobile-friendly website guarantees accessibility to the local audience on their preferred device, further enhancing the user experience. Moreover, search engines prioritise mobile-friendly websites in mobile search results, making it a significant factor in improving website ranking.
- Localised Meta Tags: Meta tags play a critical role in optimising a website for search engines. Incorporating localised meta tags can help search engines understand the website’s content and relevance to the local audience. Localised meta tags should contain relevant keywords, the website’s location, and the local language.
- International Link Building: Acquiring backlinks from local websites in the target market is a crucial part of search engine optimisation. This helps to establish the website’s authority and credibility in the local market. It is important to ensure that the websites from which the links are acquired are relevant and trustworthy.
- Local Citations: Local citations are mentions of the business on other websites, such as directories, review sites, and social media platforms. Local citations help to establish the business’s credibility and authority in the local market. It is essential to ensure that the local citations are accurate and consistent across all platforms.
- Social Media: Not many people talk about social media and SEO but social media is an essential aspect of International SEO. Social media platforms can help you reach a wider audience and build brand awareness in the local market. It is essential to use the local language and engage with the local audience on the social media platforms that are used the most in a particular country.
- Local SEO: In International SEO, prioritising Local SEO is critical. Local SEO comprises the process of optimising a website to appear in local search results, such as local business directories and Google Maps. Implementing Local SEO can enhance the website’s visibility within the local market and drive traffic to the website.
- Multilingual Customer Support: For International SEO achievement, offering customer support in multiple languages is crucial. Providing customer support in the local language can establish a sense of trust and credibility with the local audience. It is imperative to guarantee that the customer support team is adequately trained and proficient in effectively communicating with the local audience in their native tongue.
- Legal and Regulatory Issues: Expanding internationally poses various legal and regulatory challenges that businesses need to consider. These challenges may include compliance with local laws and regulations, taxation, intellectual property rights, and data protection laws, e.g. the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) in the USA are two very different laws. Businesses need to ensure that they comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries they operate in to avoid legal and financial consequences.
Expanding internationally can offer significant opportunities for businesses, including access to new markets, diversification, competitive advantage, and brand recognition. However, it also poses various challenges and risks, such as cultural differences, legal and regulatory issues, and technical complexities.
Businesses need to carefully consider these factors and develop a comprehensive international expansion strategy to ensure success. Whether a business chooses to expand on an existing site, with ccTLDs, or with subdomains or subdirectories, they must carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages to determine the best approach for their specific needs and goals. Ultimately, with careful planning and execution, international expansion can be a powerful tool for business growth and success in today’s global economy.