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    Website Structure For An International Website

    site structure for international seo or website

    Table of Contents

    Imagine: your business is growing, and you are about to make the big leap onto the international stage. This adventure brings not only exciting opportunities but also challenging questions, especially regarding your online presence.

    A crucial step in this process is considering the structure of your website. The way you set up your website can significantly impact visibility in search engines worldwide and how easily users navigate and interact with your content.

    Setting up a website structure that serves multiple countries or language areas is no small task. There are several methods to do this, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, making a well-considered choice is essential.

    The Importance of Good Site Structure for International SEO

    The structure of your website plays a crucial role in how search engines, such as Google, understand and value your site. A well-structured website acts as a guide for Google, making it easier to index your site’s content and rank it in search results.

    For multilingual websites, it is even more important to structure the website clearly and carefully. This is because you are dealing with different languages and possibly different content for different regions, which must be clearly targeted to the respective country.

    A thoughtful site structure prevents you from competing with your own content on international markets. Without a clear separation between region-specific content, Google may struggle to determine which version of your site is most relevant for a specific query. This can result in lower search results and reduced visibility worldwide.

    Besides SEO, site structure is also crucial for the overall user experience (UX). A logical and intuitive structure helps visitors quickly find the information they are looking for on your site, leading to

    How Can You Set Up an International Website Structure?

    When preparing your website for an international audience, there are several structure methods available. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages and can have different impacts on your international SEO.

    It is important to understand the options, influences, and potential risks of each option to make the best choice for your website. Let’s take a look at the different methods you can use to set up an international site structure.

    1. Subfolders with gTLD

    Subfolders, also known as subdirectories, offer a way to organize your website by placing different sections under the same domain. This method works best in conjunction with a generic top-level domain (gTLD), such as a .com, .net, or .org domain. (Read more about subfolders or subdomains for international SEO here)

    For example, you could have different international versions of your site under one domain, such as www.example.com/nl/ for the Netherlands and www.example.com/de/ for Germany.

    This approach is particularly effective if you want to centralize international content under one brand umbrella. It helps consolidate domain authority because all backlinks to the subfolders contribute to the main domain. This makes it a strong choice for SEO and simplifies site management, as everything is kept under one domain.


    • All backlinks to the subfolders contribute to the SEO power of the main domain and thus the overall domain authority.
    • Everything is located on one domain, which simplifies the management and maintenance of the website.
    • Users remain on the same domain, which promotes trust and brand consistency.


    • If the content is not sufficiently localized, it could cause potential confusion when targeting specific countries.
    • Without careful optimization, subfolders could compete with each other for rankings, especially if the content is very similar.

    2. Subdomains with gTLD

    Subdomains are another way to set up an international website structure. Unlike subfolders, subdomains function as separate entities under the same main domain.

    An example of this would be nl.example.com for the Dutch version and de.example.com for the German version of the website.

    This method is particularly suitable for businesses that want to separate different segments of their website, such as specific content for each country or region, while still using a gTLD such as a .com domain.

    Subdomains can be seen as independent websites that are still part of the same larger brand. This can be advantageous for businesses with highly differentiated content for different international markets. Additionally, subdomains offer the flexibility to optimize each section of the site for specific local SEO strategies.


    • Each subdomain can be optimized for its specific market, allowing for better local SEO performance.
    • Contributes to the careful separation of highly differentiated international content under one main domain.
    • Subdomains offer the opportunity to tailor each subdomain to the cultural nuances and preferences of each target market.


    • Each subdomain must build its own domain authority, which can lead to a fragmentation of SEO efforts.
    • Managing multiple subdomains can be more complex and require more time and resources, as each subdomain runs on its own CMS.
    • If the subdomains are too different, this can lead to a lack of consistency in the brand image and possibly lead to brand confusion.

    3. Country-specific Domains (ccTLDs)

    Country-specific domains, known as ccTLDs (country code Top-Level Domains), are a powerful method for setting up an international site structure. These domains are specific to a country or region, such as example.nl for the Netherlands and example.de for Germany.

    Using ccTLDs sends a strong signal to both users and search engines about the geographic targeting of a website, which can result in improved local search engine optimization (SEO).

    By using a separate ccTLD for each target market, you can tailor your website specifically to each region or country, both in terms of content and user experience. This can be particularly effective for businesses that want to build a strong local presence and brand recognition.


    • ccTLDs are seen by search engines as a strong signal for geographic relevance, which can help improve rankings in local search results.
    • Users often see ccTLDs as a sign that a business has a legitimate and dedicated presence in their country, which can lead to increased user trust.
    • Country-specific domains offer the opportunity to fully customize each website to the local market, including language, content, and user experience.


    • Registering and maintaining multiple ccTLDs can be expensive and time-consuming.
    • Like subdomains, each ccTLD must build its own domain authority, which can scatter SEO efforts.
    • Expanding to new markets may bring additional challenges, such as the need for new domain registrations and the development of entirely new sites.

    Differences Between Subfolders, Subdomains, and ccTLDs

    Setting up an international website structure requires a strategic approach to ensure optimal SEO performance and user experience. Subfolders, subdomains, and ccTLDs offer different methods, each with its own impact on domain authority, user experience (UX), and search engine optimization (SEO).

    Subfolders, which function as part of the main domain, are particularly beneficial for retaining domain authority. All backlinks that point to the subfolders directly strengthen the authority of the main domain, which has a positive impact on SEO. This method also offers a unified user experience, as visitors navigate within the same domain, contributing to a consistent brand image and trust among users.

    Subdomains are seen by search engines, such as Google, as separate entities. This means that each subdomain must build its own domain authority, which can cause a fragmentation of SEO efforts. While this requires more work, it also offers opportunities for targeted optimization and adaptation to specific markets, which can result in improved local SEO performance.

    Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) provide the strongest signals for geographic relevance to both search engines and users. They require building domain authority for each separate domain, which can be a significant effort and investment. However, the reward lies in improved visibility and ranking in local search results.

    Essentially, the choice between subfolders, subdomains, or ccTLDs depends on the specific goals and resources of a business. A company aiming for strong, consolidated domain authority and a uniform user experience may prefer subfolders.

    Companies seeking flexibility and local optimization might opt for subdomains or ccTLDs, depending on their willingness to invest in building multiple domain authorities and a tailored user experience for each country.

    Considerations for an International Website Structure

    When expanding your website to other countries, in addition to choosing a specific structure, there are other important aspects to consider. These factors are essential to ensure that your website is not only well-structured but also optimized for search engines and user-friendly for your international audience.

    Some of these considerations include opting for a generic Top Level Domain (gTLD), correctly using hreflang tags, and setting the right canonical tags for translated pages. These elements play a crucial role in how effectively your website communicates with search engines and users from different regions and languages.

    Opt for a Generic Top Level Domain (gTLD)

    Opting for a generic Top Level Domain (gTLD), such as .com or .org, is a strategic decision for companies with international ambitions. A gTLD offers universal recognizability and can form the basis for a global brand identity.

    Unlike country-specific domains (ccTLDs) that are limited to specific geographic locations, gTLDs can be deployed globally without restrictions. This makes them an ideal choice for companies planning to expand their reach to multiple countries.

    By choosing a gTLD from the start, you also avoid potential complications and costs associated with later migrating your site to a .com domain. Therefore, think carefully about this before deciding to set up a website.

    Use hreflang Tags

    Correct implementation of hreflang tags is essential for multilingual or international websites. These tags help search engines understand that there are different language or regional versions of a page, allowing them to present the appropriate version of the page to users in different countries.

    An hreflang tag might look like this: <link rel=”alternate” href=”http://www.example.com/nl” hreflang=”nl-nl” /> and is placed in the <head> section of the HTML of a page.

    By accurately using hreflang tags, you not only improve the user experience by directing visitors to the most relevant content, but you also support your SEO efforts by avoiding duplicate content issues.

    Set the Right Canonicals

    In addition to hreflang tags, it is also important to set the right canonical tags. These tags indicate to search engines which version of a page is the preferred version to index, which is particularly important when managing similar or duplicate content across multiple language versions or regions.

    A canonical tag looks like this: <link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com” /> and is also placed in the <head> section of the HTML of a web page. By using correct canonical tags, you help search engines understand which content they should prioritize, contributing to cleaner and more focused indexing.

    Conclusion: What Is the Best Site Structure for International SEO?

    Setting up an effective international site structure is a complex challenge that requires careful consideration of various factors. As we have seen, subfolders, subdomains, and ccTLDs each offer unique benefits and limitations that affect domain authority, user experience (UX), and search engine optimization (SEO).

    The “best” structure depends on the specific goals, resources, and markets of your business. Subfolders are ideal for companies that want to consolidate their domain authority and provide a uniform user experience under one main domain.

    Subdomains, on the other hand, offer more flexibility and are suitable for companies that want to customize their offerings for different markets with significant content differences.

    In turn, ccTLDs are the best choice for companies that aim to focus on building a strong local presence and prefer to maximize their SEO in specific geographic locations.

    No matter which structure is chosen, it is essential to maintain a consistent and thoughtful approach when managing your international website. This includes carefully planning a strategy, accurately implementing hreflang and canonical tags, and providing a rich, culturally relevant user experience to your international audience.

    By following these best practices, you can improve your website’s visibility in international search engines, increase user engagement, and ultimately expand your global reach and success.

    In conclusion, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to which site structure is best for international SEO. The decision should be based on a thorough analysis of your business needs, target markets, and the specific challenges and opportunities each market presents. With the right international SEO strategy and implementation, any structure can be optimized to support your international growth objectives.

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