Consumers in the United States looking to find your company online reflexively assume that your domain name -- or Web address -- will consist of your company name plus "dot-com." But that's not necessarily true in other countries.
Potential customers in some foreign locales prefer doing business with an online company that has a more localized domain name, forcing some businesses to consider whether or not maintaining multiple domain names is worth the cost of doing business globally.
Residents of Canada and England prefer to do business with companies that have a dot-ca or dot-co-dot-uk domain, according to Nicky Senyard, the CEO of ShareResults.com, a Montreal-based company that works with international affiliate marketers. A local domain "gives people the feeling that it is my place," she says. Companies that want to participate in e-commerce should strongly consider localized domains because it gives buyers the impression that they are dealing with someone close by, Senyard says.
International brand vs. localized domain
Companies that want to establish their name as an international brand may want to consider using a single domain, according to Michael Stalbaum, the CEO of online agency UnREAL Marketing, of Narberth, Pa. "It's about brand awareness," says Stalbaum. He believes that a dot-com address is just easier to remember.
Small businesses that rely on a single domain must localize the content to be taken seriously, according to Senyard. For example, the home page should direct users to customized landing pages that can be represented by the flags of each nation. The localized content should include pricing information in the regional currency. Shipping information should be customized to reflect items that would be delayed by going through customs, Senyard says.
Cookies should be set on visitors' computers to remember what region they are from so that next time they log on they are sent straight to those pages in their language and featuring prices in their currency. Even better is employing "geotargeting" technology that recognizes the region of the user's IP address and automatically redirects them to a regional page.
Different content for different domains
Businesses that create multiple local domains should differentiate the content so that search engines do not consider them duplicates, Senyard says. For example, if multiple sites for a business exist in English for residents of Canada, England, and Australia, those different sites may be excluded from search engine results if they contain the same text.
Businesses may have to change the wording of their domain name if it is not available in a foreign country. Google cannot use the Gmail domain in Germany because a similar service already existed using the country's dot-de domain, so the company opted for GoogleMail.de, according to Greg Sterling, the founding principal of Sterling Marketing Intelligence, a consulting and research firm. If a corporate name is already in use in a region, a business might be better off substantially changing the name rather than using a derivation of a domain -- such as adding a hyphen -- to prevent potential lawsuits, he says.
Setting up multiple domains is not a matter of economics but a matter of commitment. Domain names can be set up within a few hours and cost less than $10 each to register and a few dollars per year to maintain. But small businesses should localize the content for language and hire someone from that region and not merely someone fluent in the language. Websites must speak to potential customers in familiar language and with an understanding of national business laws or businesses will risk alienating consumers.