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My question is, what's the best set-up to ensure maximum exposure in Google in Ireland and Worldwide? For example, should the site be hosted in Ireland with an Irish domain and the .com domain redirected there? If I host it elsewhere under .com and/or .ie will it show up in Google.ie or Google.co.uk searches?
A .com site will be considered worldwide only if it is hosted in the US, I think. If done properly, it should rank well everywhere, including in Ireland (except if a searcher specifically requests Irish pages).
Make sure you know where your host is located. Some .uk site owners had recently problems of that kind. They noticed that their sites were nowhere to be found in Google UK, but were doing well in Google Germany. After some research, it turned out that their English host (one of the largest there) had their servers in Germany.
Another warning: if you have both .ie and .com, both sites should have almost 100% unique content. You will run into lots of problems if you simply replicate the site under both tlds.
IMO you don't need 2 domains. I would go for the .com, because it is more known and better to sell internationally. But really the domain extension has very little to no influence on the google rankings.
A .com hosted in Ireland seems to me the way to go.
http://sitemaps.blogspot.com If you want your site to show up for country-restricted searches, make sure it uses a country-specific domain (such as www.example.com.br). If you use a domain that isn't country specific (such as .com), make sure that the IP address of the site is located in that country.
[edited by: Whitey at 11:22 pm (utc) on July 20, 2006]