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I have a main domain, let's call it example.com which I've had for years and it's doing pretty good in Google search ranking. This domain is set up so it redirects www and http:// to the canonicalized URL https://example.com.

I have localized my site into four languages; english, swedish, german and danish. I'm using https://example.com/eng/<whatever>, https://example.com/swe/<whatever> to display the same content translated into different languages.

I recently registered the domains example.de, example.co.uk and example.se (I don't have many visitors from Denmark, but most are from Germany, Sweden and the UK). I did this hoping that those localized domains would be more "clickable" for a person in the respective country - I find that I prefer to click search results that lead to a domain that is local rather than a generic .com address whenever possible, and I suspect I'm not the only one.

So there are a couple of ways to set up my new domains

Domain masking

Simply serving the same content on all domains. Easy to set up by configuring nameservers and addon domains.

301 redirect

Redirecting the localized domains to https://example.com/<language>/<whatever>. Not too difficult to set up using .htaccess.

And there are a couple of different ways to handle links on my site as well

Canonical links

All links, even from subdomains, point to https://example.com/<whatever>.

Relative links

Links on the respective domains point to http://example.de/<whatever>, http://example.co.uk/<whatever>, etc.

From what I've gathered when researching this topic, most people seem to recommend 301 redirects and canonical links. This would mean that my localized domains are simple "entry points" which are never actually used for anything more than redirecting to the main domain.

So then my question is - how would these domain names get any SEO ranking? Will Google give them ranking based on the ranking of the domain they're redirecting to (https://example.com)? Or will they just simply be "ignored" by Google, since my .com domain is the "real" domain, and that's the only domain that is of any interest to Google?

Not much point in having localized domain names if they never show up in search results :/

  • Google doesn't index URLS that redirect, only the resulting URL. Keeping them all under one roof (sub folder) is tactically better because the authority will help page rankings of deeper URLS. The moment you start using different domains your instantly going to lose rankings on the deeper pages. If you decide to use canonical links from geo domains to main domain then you shouldn't expect them to rank very well either, because at the end of the day, yes your telling Google not to duplicate punish these sites because its a canonical to this, its not offering anything 'new'. – Simon Hayter Apr 6 '17 at 18:55
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There are almost never SEO benefits from domain masking or 301 redirecting an entire domain. Google doesn't index the redirect domain, and users won't know it exists. Similarly google won't index the localized domains if you use canonical links (although if users get on one of them, they will be able to use it.)

The best SEO solution is with relative links. Google allows duplicate sites (or translated sites) targeted at different countries. With country code top level domains, Google will automatically target the sites only to users in the proper country. Your .co.uk site will rank in the UK instead of the .com. It will enjoy better rankings than the .com could.

You could accomplish some of the same SEO by keeping things in folders, and setting geo targeting through Google Search Console. But then users wouldn't see the top level domains.

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