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Web Promotion Guide - Regional Domains

In a past issue I have touched upon International promotion and in this edition I take a closer look at the various problems and issues involved with Regional Domains. This includes registration, how to structure website content and how to ensure that your pages are listed in regional search engine results.


CONTENTS

1.0 Regional Domains
2.0 Listing In Regional Engines
2.1 Regional Paid Inclusion
2.2 Organic Listings
3.0 What Makes a Web Site Regional?
4.0 Registering Regional Domains
5.0 Regional Hosting
6.0 Handling Multiple Domains
7.0 Creating Regional Mirror Sites


1. Regional Domains

As the size of the Internet increases, so does the emphasis on regional content and searches. This is great if you happen to have a UK web site and are only interested in UK customers, however if you are targeting International markets, this creates a number of problems.

Consider the following:

If you are searching for a product or a service on a search engine, there is a very good chance that a LOCAL company offering what you are looking for, will be far more relevant to you. If you happen to live in New York and are looking for "carpet cleaning", you will not be interested in carpet cleaning services in London. This fact has not escaped the engines and many are starting to introduce a regional bias in their search results.

The engines can identify the country that you are connecting from, based on your IP. In many cases, if they can match an IP to a specific hosting company, the general area or city. This allows them to tailor the search. It means that a user searching from Australia may get different results for exactly the same query done from the US.

In addition, many engines give the users an option to search regional sites only. Some engines, like AltaVista have this set as default for regional users.

Basically what it all means, is that if you want to take full advantage of regional markets, having an international .com domain is not enough and you need to also have your site listed in regional search engines.


2. Listing In Regional Engines

There are two strategies for getting your site listed in Regional engines. Paid listings, where you pay to have your pages indexed and Organic listings, where a search engine includes your web site as part of their regular crawl.

2.1 Regional Paid Inclusion

By far the simplest way to get you site listed, is via Paid Inclusion. Because you are paying for the listings, you do not have to worry about the IP numbers or regional domains. You can specify which pages you want listed, where and for which demographic. Of course, your content still has to be relevant or in the appropriate language to be accepted.

TIP
PriortySubmit.com can simplify the management of regional paid inclusion, where you can manage multiple engines from a single account. One program in particular to look at is Site Match. There you have very good control over what demographic should see your URL and covers engines like Yahoo, AltaVista, AllTheWeb, MSN and many others.
http://www.prioritysubmit.com

Paid inclusion is not for everyone and if you have low profit margins or poor conversion rates, it may not be viable for you to use this option.


2.2 Organic Listings

Regional Organic listings are an alternative to paid inclusion. The main benefit is that you are utilizing the engine’s natural crawl to list your pages and this means that you do not have to pay to have your site indexed. The disadvantage is that you have very little control over your listings and you may need to use a regional domain or regional hosting for your content.

No matter how you look at it, to have your pages included in the organic regional search results, your pages MUST appear to be regional to the engines.

TIP
When changing your content to make your pages appear to be region specific, be careful not to sacrifice any existing traffic you may have from other regions. The safest way is to create new pages or a new web site.


3. What Makes a Web Site Regional?

For English markets, by far the most important criteria, is the domain. For example, from the domain mydomain.com.au you can tell that there is a very high probability that it is for an Australian website because of the .au domain suffix. Secondly there is the language and the character encoding of the page. It is quite simple to cross-reference the content of your page with a dictionary to identify the language. Secondly, if you know that the page is encoded in something like Shift-JIS, there is a very high probability that it will be in Japanese etc.

The IP address of the server hosting the website is also an important criteria. This is especially true for international .com domains. Most countries have specific rages of IP numbers assigned to them. The engines can use this information to identify the region in which it is hosted. This is not a perfect system, but it is used.

More advanced engines can look at a domain in context of its content. If it has a contact address, they can use that to infer the regional location of the web site. Links can also be a criteria. For example, if a large number of other German sites link to your page, the engine may consider your page relevant to German users.

Finally, there are domain registration records that often have a contact address of the registration owner. I have not heard of any engine actually using this information, but I have come across a few examples where I could not explain how an engines determined the region in any other way.

In summary, the simplest way to make your web site appear regional is to register a regional domain.


4. Registering Regional Domains

In some countries you can register a domain without any restrictions, however in many others, there may be various ownership rules and conditions. Some common ownership restrictions include:

  • You may need to have a physical local presence such as a local office.
  • You may need to have registered company or business.
  • In some countries, the business name must match the domain you wish to register.
  • Some countries have restriction on the number of domains you can own.
  • etc.

Many services offer regional domain registrations and in most cases this may involve a system for getting around the ownership rules. For example, a common way is to setup a local company that will register regional domains on behalf of clients. In such cases it is important to note that officially, you may not actually own the domain and it is always a good idea to read any fine print when using such services.

TIP
You can register domains for a number of countries from a single location:
Easy CGI

Registering regional domains can be complicated, time consuming and expensive. A viable alternative to regional domains is regional hosting. It is often much cheaper as well.


5. Regional Hosting

Regional hosting utilizes the IP and/or regional domain of a local hosting company. This is enough to satisfy the criteria for a regional site and can be a very cheap alternative to registering regional domains. I would still recommend you look at registering your own domain in the future, but this approach is ideal if you just wish to test the market to see whether you will get any benefit from regional search traffic.

TIP
Easy CGI offers regional hosting in a number of countries. It is not expensive as you can maintain multiple regional mirror sites from a single account.
Easy CGI

6. Handling Multiple Domains

There are many instances where you may wish to have multiple domains that resolve to the same web site. For example:

www.mydomain.com
www.my-domain.com
www.mydomain.org
www.mydomain.net
www.mydomain.biz

The safest way to do this would be to re-direct all secondary domains to your main site via a 301 or a 302 redirect. This makes it very obvious to the engines that you are using multiple domains that should not be indexed. If you just point all domains to your main website content, you run the risk of being seen as spamming the engines with duplicate content.

Some engines (eg: Google) are quite good at detecting duplicate content and will automatically remove duplicate domains. You however still run the risk of having the more important domain dropped from the index, so again the 301 redirect is a much safer way to do this.

Note: The above does not apply to regional domains. You will not receive any benefit on regional engines if a regional domain is redirected via 301 or 302 redirect. For such domains you really need separate pages or even a separate site.


7. Creating Regional Mirror Sites

From my experience, the best way of getting your pages listed in the organic results of regional indexes, would be to create a separate web site for each region. You can do this by registering a regional domain and creating a separate site, or using the regional hosting option as described above. This is not as important for countries that have specific languages, but it is for English, French, Spanish and other markets where several countries share the same language. In such markets it is difficult to differentiate the regions.

When you are translating your site to other languages this is quite straight forward. This is because from and engine's perspective, the translated work is unique content. It is much more difficult to create a separate website in the same language.

It is very tempting to just create a mirror site by duplicating all pages on a different domain. This can be very dangerous. For example, you already know that Google can and will remove duplicate content. So, if it finds 3 domains that are the same website, it will drop 2 domains from the index and keep just one. Unfortunately you have little control over what domain is kept and Google may decide to keep a regional version eg: mydomain.co.uk, and drop a more important .com domain. You may find that by loosing your .com listings you also loose all of your US based traffic.. This can be devastating if you rely on this traffic for most of your business.

The solution is unique content. Change the titles, use local currencies where possible and re-word your page text. Aim to customize your pages as much as possible for the give region. This has a double benefit. The engines will not see the content as being a duplicate of your main site, and your customers will feel more confident dealing with what feels like a local business.

I know that it is hard enough to maintain a single website and I am sure that you do not want to maintain a dozen separate sites, but there are some solutions. A good content management system can go a long way, or simply localize just a few of your key pages that generate the most traffic.

Ren Warmuz


Ren Warmuz is a SEO consultant for globalpromote.com
Copyright © 2004 Ren Warmuz & GlobalPromote.com
Permission is granted to reproduce this article if left without modification and in it's entirety.



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