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SEO Website Audit

Targeting Different Countries

April 7, 2010
Photo credit Lars Plougmann
Dear Jill,

As a long-term subscriber I would like to ask for your advice concerning optimisation of an e-commerce site for multiple countries.

Specifically I am in the UK and have a client in Australia operating an e-commerce site. The site is well established and ranks well in the UK (where it is hosted) but not very well in the USA or Australia.

My client believes this is because the site is hosted in the UK and that in order to succeed in the bigger US market he needs to host in the USA (same for Australia).

He is asking if he should operate 3 sites – one hosted in each country – and I wondered if you could comment on the importance of hosting in the target country, and the implications of having what will essentially be 3 duplicates of the same site – one for, one for .com and one for

Any other suggestions will be welcome.



++Jill's Response++

Hi Ian,

The country code top-level domain (ccTLD), such as and, is more important to Google for determining the target country than where the hosted server is physically located. That said, while a .com domain does target the US audience, it's not actually a US domain, but a worldwide one. Therefore, to target the US market, you might want to physically host the .com in the US.

There are a few additional options open to you. You could have one .com website and use different subdomains or subdirectories for each country you want to target. For example, and for subdomains, or and as subdirectories. If you go this route, you'd need to set up each subdomain or subdirectory in Google Webmaster Tools to target the individual country assigned to it.

The problem with that method is that it is only a Google solution and is not going to help with the other search engines.

If you already have the specific ccTLDs for the UK and Australia, you are better off using those domains and creating sites that target those geographical regions. While you will likely have duplicate content because they're all English-speaking countries, it shouldn't be a problem because the search engines will typically choose the correct version of your site depending on where the searcher is located. You can see this yourself, if you already have separate ccTLD websites, by heading over to and searching for your site by name. It's likely that the UK version will show up there rather than the other versions.

Hope this helps!


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Consulting Agency.

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Post Comment

 David Leonhardt said:
Well said. The additional advantage to hosting separate sites for each country is being able to speak the local language. Yes, these countries all speak "English", but any Canadian can tell in an instant when they are dealing with some foreign site from the USA that probably won't ship to Canada and it might take ten minutes to find out (or worse, might only find out part-way through the ordering process). Many Canadians will hit the back button right away and search Google for a Canada-specific site. I'll take a wild guess that folks in the UK, Australia, etc. are similar, perhaps even more so as shipping from the USA is more limited to those countries than to Canada.

So not just for local rankings, but also for better conversions, local sites are worthwhile.
 MinuteMan SEO said:
In my experience working with fortune 500 global sites, relying on subdomains or subdirectories for each country that you want to target isn't guaranteed. One client in particular frequently sees the /CA version of the site (for Canadian display) showing up instead of the /US version of the site for some keyphrases on Google itslef. We have set up each subdirectory in Google Webmaster Tools to target the individual country assigned to it, and have also implemented meta language tags, to no avail. I'd go the CCtld route, it's a better guarantee of seeing the results you expect.
 mark rushworth said:
Is it a .com? if so then you have no worries (pardon the pun) simply get lots of links from australian sites - do a search in and trawl the first 3000 results to find some gems.

if its a then you're in for a hard time, still do the same as the above but it will take longer.

im doing exactly the same thing for a uk based chesterfield sofa manufacturer and we're getting there gobally with our domain, however a micro site i created on a .com is flying without much problem.
 Toni Anicic said:
I agree with what you wrote. It is also not in conflict with advice that can be seen from Google's official statements.

I'd recommend getting some backlinks from websites that are already targeted to the regions you are trying to target (in your case USA and Australia).
 Malcolm said:
I can agree with Toni, getting links from sites in those countries is crucial, problem is that not all webmasters will write/speak in your language, and this creates a barrier for optimisation.

I guess I would recommend going with folders, that's how IBM does it, and a .com domain so that it feels "general" to users.
 Sandra said:
Can I just ask a question relating to local hosting. I've got a website in New Zealand with a domain and is hosted there as well. My programmer is suggesting we host the site in the cloud now as it's much cheaper and easier to manage, this would mean the site would no doubt be hosted in the US and not New Zealand anymore. I'm worried that if I move it away from hosting locally Google will know this and rank locally hosted sites over my one. Do you think it would be ok to move it? Any advice would be awesome.

PS. I have also made my site country specific to New Zealand in Google webmaster tools, but from the comments above, Google might not pay that much attention to this, plus it only applies to Google and not other search engines.
 Siki said:
I have used the backinks strategy. I think if you can get backlinks from a few high quality directories locally in the countries you are targeting, you will notice rankings increase for the area over time.

If i were Google, i would buy/have affilation with human edited directories of high quality that will determine the quality of the local reference. However local domains in my opinion will be a problem.
 Jill Whalen said:
Sandra, you should be fine.