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I am in the process of refactoring a number of rental portals I've built for a company with locations in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

Instead of the current setting of each country site running under its own domain name:

  • www.companyname.de
  • www.companyname.ch
  • www.companyname.at

I would love to merge them all in this way:

  • www.companyname.com/de
  • www.companyname.com/ch
  • www.companyname.com/at

with the country TLDs doing a 301 redirect to the respective .com address.

However, I have been repeatedly told not to do this due to likely problems with SEO - the business is very SEO dependent, and being a rental chain, needs to be strong in local results.

So the question is:

  • Is there an unavoidable hit in Search Engine Optimization when redirecting to a central .com domain?

  • What measures can be taken to soften the blow? What comes to my mind is explicitly specifying a lang attribute in the html tag.

  • Are there any other ways to specifically point out geographical location for sub-directories?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I can't tell you what the consequences of this will be for sure but I think you can do this and reasonably manage your rankings if you follow best practices.

If possible do a 301 redirect from the old URLs to the new URLs. This means for each and every page. This will let the search engines, and users, know the page has moved and let them know the location of the new page. If you keep your site structure and URLs the same (not including the root) then this should be as easy as a simple rule in your .htaccess file. If not then you'll need to make a rule for each page in your sites. There is a small hit taken when using 301 redirects but it's far better then not using them at all.

Google has a blog post about multi-regional sites that may be of use to you as well as one about multiple languages.

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Thanks John, I think I will indeed give this a shot. The geotargeting webmaster tool (which claims to work on subdirectory level) looks very promising, and the method I'm planning to use is actually there in the list without a big warning sign –  Pekka 웃 Jan 28 '11 at 9:34
    
The conventional wisdom, as well as Google's statements, are that 301 redirects EVENTUALLY pass almost all of the original ranking power on to the new location as long as they are reasonably similar. –  ArcticLlama Jan 28 '11 at 16:35
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I would suggest utilizing a 301 redirect to a new subdomain location. Subdirectories aren't handled as well from an SEO perspective, and it also diminishes the geo-focus of a site.

I say this based off of practice, lest you wonder.

Another question is where the hosting is occurring for the international domains? Do you have them hosted in those countries or in the US? One big factor in international SEO is the hosted location of a site, yet another reason to utilize sub-domains. For a comparison I would also point to the actions of the engines. Yahoo utilizes a sub-domain redirect, and Google utilizes a completely separate URL (try www.Google.ca).

Unless you really, really have to move these I would probably leave them separate.

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The hosting takes place in Germany and Switzerland - due to the hosting geography in that region, this should be fine. But thank you for your input on separating the sites. I would like to get around that for reasons of maintenance, but I am hitting many snags. –  Pekka 웃 Feb 4 '11 at 19:20
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SE robots do not know the term subdirectory (normally).

I've read that some SE robots do index content based on the language hinted by markup and http headers.

I dunno if a site can announce for which geo-coordinates it offers content. Would be new to me, might be possible.

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