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Global vs. Local Websites: Which Is Right For You?

When you run a business globally, your website is one of the most powerful tools to reach and communicate with your target audience.

If you are conducting business offline in various countries, you already know how different the audience is from country to country.

Each country also has different business-related policies and rules. With a website, you also need to consider these and online regulations.

From an international SEO viewpoint, there are some critical aspects that the site owners must always keep in mind, including geotargeting, different search engines, and differences between each local audience.

There are additional factors to consider when deciding to have a global site or separate local sites – a place for each targeting country or language – including maintenance costs and the availability of local teams to maintain the sites.

In this article, I will explain four areas that greatly determine whether a global or local site is better for you.

Data & Privacy-Related Laws & Regulations

It is impossible to list all laws and regulations to do business in different countries around the globe. But two of the most important sets of laws and regulations for website owners to pay attention to are:

As mentioned above, each region, country, or state can set its own, and it can be a broad policy, guidance, law, or any other type of regulation.

Some are applied to all websites, while others are applied to websites for specific scopes, such as government and public sectors.

In the European Union (EU)

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is probably the most talked about privacy and data protection regulation.

It regulates the processing by an individual, a company, or an organization of personal data relating to individuals in the EU.

In California

The State of California has passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and many companies expect other states to follow suit and enact similar privacy laws shortly.

Some sites have already responded by showing the cookie consent message to everyone regardless of the access location.

In Japan

The Act on the Protection of Personal Information was first set up in 2005 in Japan, drastically amended in 2016, and has been in full force since 2017. It mandates Japanese websites to post a privacy policy and other requirements.

Ecommerce sites must also post the information specified in the Commercial Transactions Law.

Even if the website is managed in the U.S., your Japanese website must meet these regulations, especially if you have a physical presence in Japan.

Apple Inc. U.S. Website Footer Apple Inc. U.K. Website Footer Apple Inc. Japanese Website Footer Screenshot of Apple Inc. Chinese Website Footer, September 2022

The above images are from the footer on Apple’s websites in the U.S., U.K., Japan, and China.

In addition to a standard privacy policy, the U.K. site has a page about using cookies about GDPR.

The Chinese website indicates the website registration number below the footer links as required by Chinese regulations.

Accessibility-Related Laws & Regulations

Last month, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) made headlines when a federal lawsuit against Taco Bell was filed. While it was against the restaurant, this got many website owners’ attention.

Currently, there are IT accessibility laws and policies for U.S. federal agencies and several guidelines and standards to be considered in general, including the Information and Communication Technology Standards and Guidelines.

ADA applies to both public and private sectors, including websites. In terms of website accessibility, many points will improve overall user experiences for not just people with disabilities but all website users.

For many countries and regions, including Canada, China, the EU, Japan, and the U.K., accessibility to web content is often a mandatory policy.

W3C has an excellent overview and country-specific information on web accessibility laws and policies.

Like the data and privacy laws and regulations, each country has different requirements for accessibility.

It’s a growing task for website owners to keep up with these rapidly changing requirements, especially for global site owners. Failure to adhere to them can be costly financially and negatively impact brand image.

Local Trends & Competitors

I work closely with websites targeting the Asian market, so I can usually tell if the site is a local company site or a global company’s local site from the design and content.

The difference is not caused by the design skill but by how much they understand the local market and the target audience.

The easiest way to show this difference is to compare the website’s design. The layout, color scheme, and images are also other telltale signs of where the site was created.

For eCommerce sites, how people expect to pay for the orders differs from country to country. The exchange and return policy are another difference among countries.

While these differences don’t impact the entire site, they can cause customers to abandon the shopping cart.

The differences in the local interests are reflected in website content, too. Often, global sites’ content is determined by the HQ country, while local competitor websites have content designed to satisfy the specific interests of the local audiences.

The inability to satisfy the local searcher’s intent can cause a considerable business opportunity loss to the global website.

As Google improves the algorithms to present the best content for each searcher, poorly localized content that is not particularly written for local audiences won’t be competitive in the search results.

Screenshot from Google U.S. search results for [mug cup], September 2022 Screenshot from Google Japan search results for [mug cup], September 2022(Product images reflecting the local interests: U.S. and Japan “mug cup” Google search results)

One Global Website vs. Multiple Local Websites

If you have global sites under one domain using the same webpage templates for all country websites, create a list of must-meet regulation points from all concerned countries, and implement them regardless of the target country.

While it seems like an enormous task, if you have a smaller team or don’t have a team in each country, this is the best option for you to cover all bases.

In this case, having someone responsible for reviewing and keeping up with laws and regulations would be helpful as these are updated from time to time.

You may want to consider creating a separate website for each target country if you have:

  • A good number of team members in each local country manage the website.
  • Enough budget to support it.

Even if you separate the sites by regions with similar laws and regulations or user and cultural trends, it would give you more flexibility, be better compliant, and be appropriately designed for local audiences.

For example, instead of setting up multiple country and language sites within the EU under one domain set up for the EU market, it is probably easier to manage the website design and content for a specific audience in each country in the EU.

Central and South American countries may be another target market that works with one domain with multiple country sites.

Considering the multiple characteristics of the Chinese market – from Baidu’s capability and algorithms to connection speed, website registration policy, and cybersecurity law (a.k.a. “Great Firewall of China”), it may make sense to create a separate Chinese website for many companies that consider China as one of their important markets.

When you have a particular website, you can host it in the country to help improve the download speed.

It is easier to obtain ccTLD with the website registered with the Chinese government and provide the content designed specifically for the Chinese audience.

Final Thoughts

Having a separate website for each target country offers many more options and the flexibility to comply with local laws and policies and reflect local interests in the content and website design.

These are also great for geotargeting in SEO, which is one of the biggest concerns for many global website owners. However, it comes with an increased overhead cost.

It is not impossible to meet the local laws and policies with one global domain website.

As Apple and other global corporations do, you can provide unique local content even with different website designs.

Using the same domain doesn’t mean having the same design or using the same CMS. It is possible to have the localized content on the same CMS and add local-only unique content using a different CMS on the same domain site.

When deploying global or local sites, meeting local regulations and accommodating local audiences’ interests are essential.

Once you set up websites, track the performance data from each local site and content and make adjustments as needed.

Suppose the data indicates that having a global site limits the business potential due to different local interests and requirements or that having local sites is too costly. In that case, you need to reconsider the options.

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