Is it better to have separate country specific domains (which costs more money) or sub domains which define the country, for better SEO?


  • example.com
  • example.com.au
  • example.co.uk


  • example.com
  • au.example.com
  • uk.example.com

Assumption: The search engine web master tools, each sub domain are associated to a country. Example au.example.com is associated to the country Australia.

Update #1

I understand that both methods do work, especially when i utilize the assumption, listed above. The question is about: Which method is better? Is there such a small SEO difference between them? Is the first method way way way better than the second with getting better SEO results?

Update #2

A number of folks have suggested that the following is a good/better approach:

  • example.com/
  • example.com/au
  • example.com/uk

By adding a country specific ISO code to the end of the url/the first folder of the domain can be recognised as the country.

But a number of SEO mates have suggested that this is a valuable waste of folder level space. Er.. how can I explain. OK, it's been suggested by some SEO experts that if the number of levels or folders in the domain exceeds 5 then the page drops dramatically in importance. Basically, you don't want to make it deep. As such, adding the country as the first level can be considered a waste, especially when it can be handled by the domain OR sub domain - hence the question :)

  • 2
    If it's a waste of folder level space, why not just put everything in your root directory? I'm sure that's a spectacular solution :) Commented Jan 26, 2009 at 23:21
  • ?? what do u mean d03boy? example please (even though i hint some sarcasm).
    – Pure.Krome
    Commented Jan 27, 2009 at 0:39
  • 1
    .com is an international domain. If you had as in your examples .com/au or .com/uk what different content would you have on them? Wouldn't you run into duplicate content issues since these are English speaking countries. If you need translated versions of your pages folders is the method most companies use. /en/ /fr/ /es/ etc
    – Anagio
    Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 14:47

11 Answers 11


Purely from SEO point of view, it's better to have one single domain and move international versions into subfolders (not subdomains) like:

  • example.com/us/
  • example.com/au/
  • example.com/uk/

IBM is doing it this way.

Pure.Krone wrote

But a number of SEO mates have suggested that this is a valuable waste of folder level space. Er.. how can i explain. Ok, it's been suggested by some SEO experts that if the number of levels or folders in the domain exceeds 5 then the page drops dramatically in importance.

It's possible that some search engines could lower page-rank for sites with deep structures because ultimately keyword in URL has likely more weight than keyword on the page. But unless Google or Yahoo confirms this, it's a pure guess by SEO people. Page-rank can drop for many reasons (especially if your site is optimized by SEO experts), maybe they are just wrongly attributing it to deep folder structures. But what's the problem anyway? Just make your folder hierarchy flat just in case.

One thing we know for sure because it was confirmed by Google a few years ago is that every single domain (no matter what level) is isolated site for page-rank purposes so having all resources under single domain will always improve your page-rank. That's why weblogs.asp.net host all their bloggers in subfolders, so their posts rank very high on Google no matter which blogger wrote them.

  • ok, so how would a search engine know that anything from stackoverflow.com/uk/ is 'United Kingdom' content?
    – Pure.Krome
    Commented Jan 16, 2009 at 7:21
  • 1
    From the url. This solution is well known to and recommended by the search engines.
    – allesklar
    Commented Jan 18, 2009 at 14:27
  • 2
    Links please (to prove this)?
    – Pure.Krome
    Commented Jan 26, 2009 at 22:53
  • I agree. You should have a page in that directory serving either as a regular page or at least a sitemap. This should indicate clearly to the search engine what it is. Commented Jan 26, 2009 at 23:17
  • interesting edit, Lubos. I wish one of the big search engines can shed some light on this.
    – Pure.Krome
    Commented Jan 28, 2009 at 2:59

Google only associates top-level domains with geographic regions:

Sites with country-coded top-level domains (such as .ie) are already associated with a geographic region, in this case Ireland.
Geotargeting - Webmasters/Site owners Help

Use top-level domains whenever possible to handle country-specific content. We're more likely to know that .ie indicates Ireland-focused content, for instance, than http://ie.example.com, http://www.example.com/ie, or http://www.example.com?country=ie. If you have a geographically neutral top-level domain (such as .com, .org, or .net), you can use Webmaster Tools to associate your site with a geographic location.
Local businesses - Webmasters/Site owners Help

Microsoft’s Live Search does this as well:

Live Search uses information such as the website's IP address and the country or region code top-level domain to determine a website's market and country or region. You can alter this information to reflect the market that you want to target.
About hosting your website in a different market

But I pefer the all-in-one, country neutral domain with a country specific URL path too.

  • This is great info. Would you please expand on why you prefer the non-documented method instead (country specific URL)?
    – Codex73
    Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 15:32

There is a combining effect of all of the above. What really makes a difference is, if www.example.co.uk carries entirely different content to www.example.fr

If they are largely the same with just some subtle differences {regionalizations/ language etc then using www.company.co/uk /fr might be better in terms of a css is one template for all 1 mod and all sites change look to suit graphics/logos shared content in say english can be loaded from one location to all english uri's as includes ie say product page with regional variations in {say recommended use/utility}
can all have their technical-details link linking to /en/productx/technical-description to avoid duplicate content issues

From a SEO perspective most look at the tld & the hosting country so a .fr hosted in the US will never beat a .fr hosted in france for french market, but a .com/fr hosted in US will get in there if its content beats the other.

Content is king in SEO all the rest is just tweaking a minor amount and not really worthy of a lot of effort unless it does you or your users any good the /uk /ie /de etc method is handiest for most users as they land maybe on a /uk and see that from a simple menue option/pulldown list they can flick to the region most suitable to themselves {obviously offering the folders and not letting users quickly flick from /uk/productx/ to /fr/productx/ is counterproductive and will make the entire point of folders moot though}

  • quote: "be better in terms of a css is one template for all", you can use one css even with different domain, you don't need 2 fo them, you simply load your css from one of the two domains http://example.co.uk/yourcss.css that's it! Commented Aug 16, 2011 at 17:59

From Google, “If no information is entered in Webmaster Tools, we'll rely largely on the site's country domain (.ca, .de, etc.). If an international domain (.com, .org, .eu, etc) has been used, we'll rely on the IP address.” So I recommend doing one or more of the following:

  1. Use a country specific domain

  2. Host your site in the targeted country

  3. Tell Google Webmaster Tools and all the other search engines which country you are targeting. If you are targeting multiple countries be sure to use different directories so you can specify them in Webmaster Tools.

  4. Treat the country name like any important keyword - use it in the URL, title, h1, copy, etc.

The last point is often neglected and is sometimes your only option. If your widgets are only available in Canada then say "Widgets in Canada" in the text.


I'd do it as lubos hasko said, but also (if money allows) purchase all the domains and 301 forward them to the correct site.

Example, www.example.com.au forwards to www.example.com/au.

  • 1
    I think 301 redirects will be considered duplicate content. But I might be wildly wrong. Commented Jan 26, 2009 at 23:18
  • I'll look into it when I have some spare time - let me know what you find d03boy
    – alex
    Commented Feb 3, 2009 at 1:56
  • @JoePhilllips Interesting. Have you found more info regarding 301 redirects and duplicate content?
    – Codex73
    Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 15:33

Can you clarify why you would like to create three english-language sites with separate audiences (is it a localized service, for example)? Is there overlap between the three audiences (SEO is more important) or is the Australian site completely useless to UK users?

Can you confirm that all your content is in English?

[added later] I realize in re-reading the question that all the sites under consideration are in English. I'll leave my original answer in case it helps someone else.

You are much better off having local domain names if possible.

There are multitude of ways to indicate which country you're in, but the domain name is a clear and universally recognizable way to say to search engines where you are.

As noted in the comments, it's impossible to prove these kinds of statements. However this is a no-risk plan: if it doesn't make a difference you lose nothing, if it does, you win or lose big.

If you have the choice, do it. It's trivially easy to setup using .htaccess and makes managing the site much easier.

[original answer] I manage a large site in three languages. We set it up as /en, /es, etc. after the domain name and I sincerely regret it.

There are several issues, but the main problem we ran into is managing Page Rank flow and the home page.

If you have a site in three languages, the home page is in which?

Do you make it a combination of all three languages, or do you pick one?

Normally a good home page would have lots of links to different parts of the site, and a fair amount of relevant text.

In a multi-language environment, do you include all the links and text in all the languages? If not, your site will be less effective in SEO. If yes, it's a mess for users.

The question boils down to Page Rank flow. In a regular single-language site, you want the home page to get the juice from the other pages.

In a multi-language site, that is no longer clear. You want a Spanish user to end up on the Spanish homepage in as few clicks as possible. Automatic redirection can be penalized.

We wanted the French site to appear first in French search results, so that users don't have to click through a language selection page. Our experience is that it is necessary to optimize for each language independently.

Having multiple languages behind a single domain name made it much more complicated to say to Google: this is our French site, in French, this is our Spanish site in Spanish, etc. It's mainly a question of Google knowing what language each page is in. Which language specification do you include in the home page header?

Also, it's true that you are slightly penalized for deep folder hierarchies (that being a hallmark of old blackhat SEO).

By using separate domains, you can cleanly and easily optimize each site with good Page Rank flow. If you do use a single domain, the best option we found is just to sacrifice the home page and push the Page Rank to /fr, /es etc.

  • to clarify, even though each site might be the same language (eg. english or french), the content are localized ... hence the importance of the top-level domain / country.
    – Pure.Krome
    Commented Mar 5, 2009 at 0:22

Being hosted in the country may help the rankings in the country specific search engine result pages so that is something to bear in mind.

  • cheers for the answer, but i'm after concrete proof instead of guesses. any proof?
    – Pure.Krome
    Commented Jan 16, 2009 at 7:21
  • Search engine optimization is not a science. You will not find proof of anything unless it's on Googles/Yahoos website. Commented Jan 26, 2009 at 23:18
  • As a non-US web user, I can tell you that google WILL boost the ranking of sites it thinks are close to me.
    – MSalters
    Commented Mar 4, 2009 at 11:22

It's true that you are slightly penalized for deep folder hierarchies (that being a hallmark of old blackhat SEO)


To answer your comment in Update #2, Google confirms in this video that the number of subdirectories in a URL does not affect its page ranking. http://www.youtube.com/user/GoogleWebmasterHelp#p/u/6/l_A1iRY6XTM


I think Google should tell us which way is the right way about country tlds, subdomains or folders.

I tend to believe that creating a folder is more attractive as then you will carry the link power of the main domain name. Otherwise, you will have a do a completely new link building campaign for a new domain name.


Option 1 is recognized by most search engines. Alternatively, you can try finding a host in your target country as some search engines also check the destination IP. A lot more info can be found on an article from last year on Moz.

For the budget strapped, option 2 will work with Google since the webmaster tools enables you to target countries by subdomain.

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