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European Search Engines Forum

Launching in Europe
Domain name strategies

 11:19 pm on Jun 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hi all

We currently run a UK e-commerce site. We are planning to build new sites to target Europe. Initially there will be a German version of the site, followed by French, Spanish and Italian.

The sites will have their own domain names, each meaning something in their respective languages.

I understand that to purchase .de, .fr, .es and .it domain names you need a local presence.

However, it is possible to buy .ch, .be domain names.

Would there be any benefit to purchasing these names (for use in Germany and France as well as Switzerland and Belgium), or should we stick with .com or .net? I only want 1 domain per language.

Thank you for any ideas.



 11:45 pm on Jun 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

Good question.

So far I could find this on Belgium [webmasterworld.com]:
Local presence required for domain registration: No.
I checked a few registars too, and no restricktions for .be - same goes for .ch - Switzerland [webmasterworld.com]


 9:07 am on Jun 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

Ish, sounds like a good plan.

Local TLDs have lost some of their importance over the last two years.
Almost all search engines use automatic language detection, so that the decisive factor for being included in the default searches for local languages is - well the language ;)

When using a dot-com, ,-net, -org,-info, -biz, most of the time you should also have no real problems getting included in local directories. Provided you have translated content relevant to the country, of course.

What is not recommendable is using a ccTLD foreign to the targeted country.

So - regarding ranking you should not have any significant setbacks from going for a dot-com with kw in local language.

That said I'd still recommend using exactly the appropriate local TLDs.
It's a question of standing in regard to your users and potential business partners.
If you'd be a well known german company, you might as well opt for a dot-com. But when you're the new kid on the block, I'd try hard to give the impression of being a regular local operation.
Selling to consumers on the web local presence builds trust.
Basically the same thing holds true for editors of directories, especially smaller business directories etc.

Not sure here, but I would not be surprised if the ccTLDs would gain importance in the future.

An interesting case is the situation with dot-be for France.
I'm assuming that would work, but would in any case do an indepth check with local experts.
But would you be included in a business directory for french business?
Would a user in Marseille, presented with a belgian shop and a french shop choose the belgian shop?


 9:39 am on Jun 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

>Local TLDs have lost some of their importance over the last two years

I agree - at least optimisation-wise.
Lately we found out that MSN has skipped the filtering for local TLD's [webmasterworld.com] at their local portals. So, now you just need the apropriate language and they will (probably) figure it out.

Going for local traffic I would certainly do what it takes to get the local domains as well. People are more likely to trust a local company. The .be situation in France is a very good point. Would people from France do business with a Belgium company?


 9:43 am on Jun 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hi Heini,

Although I am a novice with only a few months reading essentially WMW forums, and you have much more experience than I do, I tend to disagree.

Considering a European e-marketing strategy, I would advise to get as much ccTLD's as you can.

Example: go to www.web.de, and do any search. You will find that nearly all results are .de or .ch or .at. Hoping to get significant results with a .com in local European countries looks like an illusion to me.

I agree with you when you say that local ccTLD's will be more important in the future. May I paraphrase someone who said: 'the future is today'?


 9:53 am on Jun 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

I am facing the same dilemma ish:

At the moment I have a .com and a .nl.
Under the .com I have English, French and German pages.

My site's audience would mainly be technology specific problem solving for an engineering audience.
Apart from Google now dominating the search market, I would guess Google has a disproportionally high search market share with this audience.

I have found that, outside the english language, getting good rankings within Google is feasable if you are not in a mainstream business (there is much less competing content, but there are also fewer hubs/directories from which you could earn links).

I am hoping to open German and French offices in the coming years but not now.
Now that Google recently introduced the option of searching only for sites within a country, I am wondering if I should go for .fr and .de listings as well. (your example of listing a .be would not help for France in this case).

All the reasons Heini mentions add to that way forward.
For example, I have found DMOZ/ODP is not that quick or easy in listing different language versions (sub-directory) of the .com site in the "world section"

Having a local presence could start out to be a postal address with a re-routed telephone to the home country. (we have started with a german and french person in the main office). Next step might be starting a regional office.
I am thinking of registering the local (post) offices near to the main industrious areas [webmasterworld.com] even if the local office will not materialise in the near future.

Heini, what do you mean by "cc.tld" ?


 10:15 am on Jun 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

pvmd, the reason a lot of .de etc. is popping up at Web.de is probably because there are far more websites with german content on these domains.
If you search more generic using general phrases, you'll see that any TLD comes up.


 10:41 am on Jun 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

Vitaplease, ccTLD are Country Code Top Level Domains, as opposed to .com, .info, .org etc.

Pvdm, youŽare always welcome to disagree, we would not be learning much if we all agreed on everything ;)

Concerning web.de: the default search is the same filtering as used by Google.de: "Seiten auf Deutsch" (pages in german language). TLDs are not a factor here.

Considering a European e-marketing strategy, I would advise to get as much ccTLD's as you can

Exactly. There are cases though, when other factors override the arguments pro local TLDs. For instance you may be able to register a .com which perfectly reflects your business and keywords, while under the local TLD this name is taken.


 2:19 pm on Jun 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

If I understand this right, what you are saying is:

There is no difference, no positive weighting of local TLD's against negative weighting of 'foreign' TLd's in any local (important)directory nor local (important) search engine?

My European search experience tends to make me sceptical about this statement, although I understand the {language/local TLD} ratio point.

Another indirect reason to register local ccTLD's could also be that you can't submit to some (very) important national directories or search engines unless you have a ccTLD.


 9:40 pm on Jun 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

>unless you have a ccTLD

Very true. There are still directories that will only take local domains.

A lot of them have preference to ccTLD's in the SERPS, but that's another thing. If the major engines in you target language predominanty show local ccTLDs, you should get one too. If there's only one or two major players, it could very much be worth the hazzle of maybe setting up a branch in another country.


 10:27 pm on Jun 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

Thank you for the excellent feedback. It raises a new issue for me:

Supposing we launch a French language version of the site. Potentially we can reach customers in the following European countries:

  • France
  • Belgium
  • Switzerland

From the posts above it seems that the general consensus is that a gTLD should be ok for most engines/directories, but that a ccTLD may be better in some cases. It also seems, logically, that a foreign ccTLD is not a good idea. e.g. don't use a .be for targetting France.

Therefore, to target French speaking Europeans we have 2 options.

1. Purhcase a ccTLD for each country (assuming we can get a .fr)

2. Buy one gTLD

Based on the above posts, option 1 seems marginally preferable.

Assuming we go for option 1, should we

(a) set up a separate site for each country (sharing a database in this case)

(b) point all the domains to the same site?


I suspect that we may have trouble with Google with options (a) and (b):

- Google won't like option (a) as there will be 3 (almost) identical sites available.

- Option (b) has problems too as Google will index only 1 of the domains.


A gTLD is looking preferable again unless we can make the 3 sites different enough for Google to not regard them as spam.

Any thoughts?


 10:44 pm on Jun 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

I would definetly go for (A).
Use the same db with all domains. You will have the translated copy to make it 3 different sites.

You could use different layouts for each country - which would have other benefits as well - and you should be ok.

It's perfectly ok to have localized versions of your website.


 10:49 pm on Jun 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

Concise summary of the situation, ish.

>A gTLD is looking preferable again unless we can make the 3 sites different enough for Google to not regard them as spam.

Would it be really that hard to vary texts, alt txts, varying titles by adding local references for instance, etc?
You could think about locking out Google from some pages, which you can't change, on the secondary versions .

Usually the french version would be the most important, because of market size.

You could start buying the dot-fr, and concentrate on that. Additionally buy the dot-be and dot-ch, develop them as time allows.

Depends of course on your exact site and plans.

Without variations you'd have indeed a potential duplication problem - three identical sites, with the only difference in the TLD....risky


 10:52 pm on Jun 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

>should be OK

This is the problem. All the search engines have a mind of their own at times:)


 7:09 pm on Jun 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think that one possible answer to the use of ccTLDs is already given by your own assumption:

"I understand that to purchase .de, .fr, .es and .it domain names you need a local presence."

If you are running a business on the Internet your business is by definition global. I think it is of little use to "fake" a local presence by using a ccTLD or by having mailboxes at "local (post) offices near to the main industrious areas". People are smarter than that, especially directory editors and internet news media.

This does mean that you should not adapt your business to support as many languages and countries as possible. Software solutions with a global perspective are the key to the future.

You can still choose your URLs intelligently to give the random guest some help. For example, instead of registering the domain: "mycompany.se" you can use the URL "mycompany.com/se" or "se.mycompany.com" etc...

The only time that a ccTLD makes any sense is when you actually have a local presence in the country in question, for example if you have a sales office or a design center or any other type of local company...


 7:23 pm on Jun 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

>"I understand that to purchase .de, .fr, .es and .it domain names you need a local presence."

Oh, there are workarounds, no problem with that.

>People are smarter than that, especially directory editors and internet news media.

No. ;)
Well, really, they are not stupid, but... lazy.

Also, the local TLD is to a good degree a matter of semi subconscious first impression with users seeing the url on a serp, for example.

>instead...domain: "mycompany.se" you can use the URL "mycompany.com/se" or "se.mycompany.com" etc...

You would want the keywords in local language in the domain. That's important.
Also instead of those you might as well (or better) use a straightforward url.

This whole local domain question is not a matter of life and death, but as explained and confirmed above, it can bring you significant advantages.


 8:20 pm on Jun 19, 2002 (gmt 0)


what 'workarounds' are there?


 8:28 pm on Jun 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

Ish, ask local experts ;)


Also there are domain registrars that will help you register domains that require local presence.

You will find those registrars easily on the web, starting with dmoz.org.

No need to drop any names here, neither of local experts nor of registrars.


 10:38 am on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)


I think that the option A is the best one, just think about your brand name.
develop it and protect it.

as far as I know, the brand domain.com is different than the brand domain.fr, I do not need to give an example.
what if a clever guy register your domain.fr, you've got a serious problem, you are building his brand. he's got money for nothing and you got the costs.
these are the 2 reasons for going A.

Agree with Heini there is always someone who can register the local domains.


 1:54 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Thanks for introducing this aspect to the debate on choosing domain names for localizing a site.

Brand names - a truly valuable asset for many companies. Not protecting those in time can generate immense problems and costs downstream.
A prominent example is Google, in it's endless fight to gain control over all the variants of their brand floating around on the web.

Clearly, there are different scenarios to be taken into account.
The company with strong branding will want to protect and develop branding onlocal markets, and thus decide go for brandname.ccTLD.
The onlineshop for ringtones, the last minute travel site - they will most likely want to have a keyword.ccTLD.

And then a company might want to obtain both: brandname.ccTLD AND keyword.ccTLD.

Both serve a purpose.
Most important however is to understand the power of targeting local markets with localised sites and domains.


 10:04 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

You are absolutely right, brand names are certainly one valid reason to get ccTLDs. Coca-Cola, Google, IBM, they were all taken for the ccTLDs I tried in my browser.

The downside of protecting a brand is cost. While about 10-20 major ccTLDs is nothing compared to patent rights in terms of cost they may still be a significant expense for small businesses especially in the start up phase. The benefit of these ccTLDs has to be weighed against the alternative use for an equivalent money investment.

In the long run I think that the importance of ccTLDs will diminish. The reason being that if mycompany registers only in a ccTLD they may get confused with mycompany.com, however the opposite is less likely to happen. As a result, companies will favor using a .com domain to a ccTLD. By the same token I think that the new .info, .biz. and .name TLDs will not be as common as people think.

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