I was recently asked by a client to give her some advice on expanding overseas and how to approach the setup of the website. People tend to respond better to sites based locally (i.e. Aussies are more likely to click on a .com.au site than a .com site in Google) so how can you have local sites when expanding overseas without dramatically increasing your maintenance costs and what is the best domain structure?
Here are some considerations (by no means an exhaustive list).
One option is to keep the one site and have an overseas domain that takes people to it. This is what we do with our site www.awebsitedesigner.com you will notice when you go there it is exactly the same as http://awebsitedesigner.com.au because it just points directly to it. However as soon as you navigate away from the homepage the true domain is shown. There are other ways you can do this and avoid the real domain from being shown but usually most people want some unique content for their site and give consideration for search engine results so other approaches are preferred.
One site (.com) multiple locations within it
Go to www.electronicarts.com.au you will notice the site takes you to http://www.ea.com/au/ same with www.electronicarts.co.uk takes you to http://www.ea.com/uk. This is one way to handle it. The benefits are you can have all of your one content sitting on the one domain. The downside is it’s not as good for SEO since location specific domains rate higher in location based searches (i.e. .com.au’s will generally rank higher in Google Australia’s searches – particularly if people select “Pages by Australia” which often people do. You still do have to consider the issue of content however. Electronic arts have different content on both locations so its effectively like having 2 websites (depending on how they do it).
2 local domains – one database
With this option you could have www.site.com.au and www.site.co.uk or www.site.com and you could have exactly the same site on both but they could refer to a central database which means you don’t have to maintain 2 sets of content or product catalogues. So when someone purchases the last of a product from www.site.com.au the updated quantity will be reflected on www.site.com or you add a product to www.site.com and it shows up on www.site.com.au as well (because they both look at the same database). Depending on how your site is built this could be possible but also could be tricky because anything that isn’t saved in the database (i.e. images) would somehow have to be copied to both sites. Extra coding would need to be done to make this work.
With the above options you could do tricky stuff to show certain content based on the domain. For example you might have everything in the site exactly the same except for the homepage welcome message. You could have the code look at the domain where it is accessed and then show certain content based on that. However if there is extensive differences between both sites your only real option is to have 2 completely separate sites.
2 Completely separate sites
This is the obvious solution, have 2 completely separate sites for both locations. You have to main 2 sites, 2 lots of content etc. When you change anything it needs to be changed twice. This is more costly but the site ends up being more specific to the location which has its benefits for SEO and for visitors and depending on your business model might be required anyway (i.e. some products only available in some areas, shipping costs being different etc).
There are lots of options and every company takes a slightly different approach but the ones above are the most common ones that spring to mind.
Does anyone know any others?