Expanding internationally: Your SEO and Domain Strategy

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This article will get you started on the right foot in your newly found market. Creating a location-specific SEO and domain strategy is crucial to developing content that connects with the culture of a target market. We’ll show you how to implement SEO techniques that will help to drive target traffic to your site.

In the last article of our internationalisation series, we spoke about how 75% of customers enjoy buying from stores located in their own country. So now we come to the crux of what we’ll be exploring; the domain strategy and the importance of choosing the right one for your expansion.

Localising your website content

Content localisation is the act of using your marketing materials to speak to a global audience at a more intimate level. This practice involves splitting your audience into target markets based on their geographic location.

Localising your current site enables you to culturally connect with your new target market. You can provide more relevant content by embracing Shopify’s internationalisation features. This includes Multi-Currency for Shopify Payments and built-in geolocation functionality, which we’ll be discussing further on.

Another major advantage is that providing this service isn’t the major overhaul that you may necessarily be envisioning. Shopify allows you to duplicate your store, localize currencies and general settings. AI is making the jump to internationalization more achievable than ever.

There is a very large pitfall to avoid in this phase: brand inconsistency.

Even though you are reaching out to a different culture, it’s crucial to maintain a cohesive branding strategy. Marketing your products as affordable in one market and high-end in another dilutes your branding in both markets.

It’s important then for your regional marketing teams to collaborate and continually communicate the overarching voice of your brand. Maintaining brand consistency can contribute to increasing your average revenue by 23%. Humans naturally seek patterns and when choosing a brand to support, this instinct needs to be satisfied in order for a customer to decide on a purchase.

Stage one: Selecting a region targeted domain

Localised URLs

A localised URL is a domain that is designed and purposed for a specific geographic audience.

What you may not know is that it’s not just for SEO purposes that you might want to implement a region-specific URL.

CRO (conversion rate optimisation) can be seriously aided by localised URLs. You can provide personalised shipping details, order processes and incentives for your specific market.

Using a localised URL on your target market store allows you to improve your customer’s experience on a localised version of your site, without overloading your original site. If you target a new market on your original site, there will be a lot more irrelevant content for both your new and existing market to sift through.

Think about the delivery page, people want instant information without having to scroll through the delivery methods of another five countries.

Below are the three domain alterations we’ll explore to find the one that best suits your expansion project.

Country directory after the generic top-level domain (gTLD)

Before I explain the ins and outs of a gTLD, I’ll start by saying that unless you have a custom Shopify setup, you won’t be able to select this option.

Subdirectories follow the domain, so for us here at Elkfox our subdomain is “.com”. You may have .org, .net, or perhaps a more unusual one such as .site. This is becoming more popular as the number of websites is ever-increasing.

So if we were looking to target the French market, we could create a subdirectory /fr. This would make our French-tailored URL site www.elkfox.com/fr/. You’ll be familiar with subdirectories as each individual page on your site has one.

These aren’t made up gobbledygook, by the way. We use /fr/ rather than /france/ is because this is the subdirectory that Google links to the country. Otherwise, the SEO crawlers treat it as a generic subdirectory. Here’s a list of the recognised sub-directories.


  • It’s free and simple to set up
  • Minimal level of maintenance


  • If you currently have a ccTLD (we’ll be talking through this one next), you run a risk to your current SEO status by using a gTLD to target your new audience.
  • It’s a little bit clunky to set up using a Shopify account.
  • Having a ccTLD other than this option makes it a lot easier when it comes to managing your Google Shopping and other feeds.
  • Lowest level accuracy of targeting at 70%.

Sub-domains with a general top-level domain (gTLD)

A gTLD is a domain that ends with “.com”, “.net” or any of the hundreds of other lesser known extensions like “.co” or “.website”. A subdomain is then added before the domain name.

Take for example our own domain with a British sub-domain would be:


This may look similar and you might think that the outcome wouldn’t be all that different but incorporating a sub-domain rather than a sub-directory is substantial. Sub-domains are effective if you’re looking to market and produce different products in each market because SEO bots see the domains are unrelated entities.


  • The second best option for the accuracy of its country-specific targeting, at around 80%.
  • It allows you to build sites for different markets


For the vast majority of companies, we’d advise against this option. The exception is if your internationalisation plan actually involves you needing to build a site from scratch that you wish to be disconnected from your current domain.

Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD)

A ccTLD is a URL that shows users and search engines in what country, sovereign state, or dependent territory a website is registered.

Here’s what a British Elkfox ccTLD would look like:


Now, this is more like it.

A ccTLD sends the clearest message to this new market that you have content that will relate to them. It is the most desirable option.

However, it’s also the most diificult to attain as you need to buy domains and hope no one else has already purchased them. If you’re intending to use ccTLD’s, it’s a great idea to purchase their international counterparts as soon as possible.

For us, these would be:


Watch out for rules and regulations. Canada (.ca), Ireland (.ie), Australia (.com.au) and Germany (.de) have organisations that regulate which companies are allowed to use these ccTLDs.

A lot of this has to do with having a real, tangible link to the country. One way to achieve this, and is successful in many cases, is to register a trademark within this new country.

So, creating a ccTLD requires perseverance, but when you see these blockades consider it a good thing. Barriers to entry cause the majority of businesses to give up on the first hurdle.

If you persist and see it through, you’ve managed to enter into an SEO haven, there are less competitors and you’ve got a direct line to a country-specific search engine. We have helped many companies overcome ccTLD registrations, so if you’d like a more seamless transition to a new market, we’re ready and waiting on our contact page.


  • Easiest way to rank locally.
  • Instils buyer confidence from the first interaction your lead has with your business.
  • Protects your current SEO authority. Important so you don’t drop search engine rank in your current market.
  • The accuracy of targeting is at 90%! This is the clearest signal for search engines to interpret.


  • You can’t share link authority with your other TLDs, so you’re basically starting from scratch.
  • Relatively expensive to maintain.

Stage two: Localising your website content

Now you have your chosen domain, whatever the format may be, and you’re ready to start filling your site with content.

In ten years time, technology may produce results that could fool a native that it was written by someone of their mother tongue. I’ll happily eat my words then, but for now, you’re better off investing in your site’s content.

Part of the reason we worked out earlier a small circle of territories to tackle is to maintain a professional vibe to your site. If you slip in a widget for Google Translate on a sub-domain specific to your country and call it a day, you’re not going to see an influx of international traffic to your site.

There are loads of sites where you can find translation services; Upwork is the most popular and will give you the biggest range of choice, so it’s great if you have an odd mix of languages you need translating and you want to hire one pro to sort it all for you.

Another option is Guru. This platform only posts the supposedly top 3% of freelancers within their respective industry.

Make sure before starting the contract that your translator knows the full extent of what you need done. It’s not just the headings and body content, that's just the beginning.

What do you need your translator to translate?

It’s essential for them to do a full sweep of your site.

This includes alt attributes, meta titles and descriptions, navigation labels, URLs need to be converted.

Honestly, if little sections of your site are left in the original language, the overall impression on a customer can be off putting, enough to significantly increase your bounce rates. And yes, the pressure is incredibly high for online stores to reach standards bordering perfection.

It’s why a lot of eCommerce businesses choose to work with experts to help deliver on these expectations. You can go above and beyond for your customers, and often having an eCommerce consultant at hand is all you need to get there. The mobile experience available from your site is important regardless of the region but usage and follow through does vary.

In the US, about 30% of eCommerce purchases are made through mobile, compare this with South Korea at 60% or the UAE where this figure is at 49%. So if you're planning on targeting regions such as KSA, Thailand, Kuwait, Taiwan, invest time in making sure your site is 100% mobile friendly.

Stage 3: Geotargeting - tell Google to target your website to a specific country

You need to tell Google which website is relevant to customers in which country. This is called Geotargeting.

Geotargeting, also known as local PPC, revolves around creating and marketing content to consumers of a specific geographic location. It is an effective use of efforts and funds to reach customers and tools such as Google Ads helps to assign and deliver this geo-targeted content.

Not only can you create targeted ads, landing pages and promotions but you also have the ability to exclude regions that don’t perform, so your marketing budget is freed up for campaigns with high-conversion rates.

Hreflang tags

A hreflang attribute (also referred to as rel="alternate" hreflang="x") tells Google which language you are using on a specific page. This means that the search engine can place you in the SERPs for browsers searching in that language.

It also shows Google the relationship between the web pages in multiple languages.

Here’s what it looks like to target English(US):

<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com" hreflang="en-us" />

And a Spanish hreflang would look like this:

<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com" hreflang="es" />

Hreflang is a signal, not a directive. You’ll be learning why this is important when we talk about URL parameters in a little while. But what this means is that other SEO factors, such as subdomains, will override a hreflang. This is a good thing as it doesn’t hinder your current SEO standing.

This practise won’t help drive traffic to your store. Instead, it works to connect your target audience with targeted content.

If you’re interested in using the Bing search engine, then note that you’ll be using meta language tags instead.

Set your regional targeting within Google Search Console

As you know, Google is a global search engine. Google’s job is to make sure people get the information that they’re wishing to access. This is why region targeting is so important.

The reason you have a URL for each territory is partly so you can customize these settings for each country.

Say your target country is China, and your home market is the US, where you already have a strong customer base. If you were to change your target audience to China in the Google Search Console, then all of your site’s content would drop down the SERPs for your US viewers.

What’s more, your site is currently in English, so if you build your Chinese market with a small proportion in your site catering to them, causing high bounce rates, you’re lowering your visibility in BOTH territories.

This is where you get the upper hand on your competitors. This is an area where you now have the inside track.

Avoid: URL parameters

This is separate from the above options, which target countries. You can also target languages alongside your domain name. But we avoid this.

An example would be if our site intended on targeting a German-speaking audience, then there is an option to set up a URL parameter that would look like this:


It’s difficult to remember, clunky, and can cause clashes with your root domain. The only online businesses that could get away with this are those who solely receive their traffic from affiliate linking.

Anyone looking for best SEO practices, should definitely avoid language parameters. If you want to specify a language for SEO purposes, apply the hreflang attributes that we talked about above.

Display a geo-redirect landing page

You can display a landing on each of your websites which will detect if the IP address of the customer is outside of the country and send them to the correct store.

This won’t affect your SEO status but will help to reduce bounce rates.

Website redirection page

We know that this is a lot of information, but it’s essential to have the inside track for a successful expansion.

We’re now halfway through our international series, and if you’ve followed the steps you’re in a good place to start learning about ecommerce international regulations.

Breaking down the process of entering foreign markets as a Shopify store into manageable chunks means you don’t have to find bits and pieces of advice online. And what you may find is too basic or way too complex, diving into the background code or not explaining the abbreviations, all of which takes up your time.

We’ve left nothing out, so keep going and you’ll have a full, well-researched and easy to implement plan! If you want that extra boost, we’d love to help your Shopify store. You can drop us a line here, and we can tackle the pain points so you can grab a foothold in your new region.