New Zealand vs Australia

Kiwis and Aussies have this friendly rivalry thing going on - it's been there forever, or at least since the Queen used Australia as a dumping ground for convicts. We love beating the Aussies in sport more than any other nation, and we we can always use the 'small country, small population' card when we get beaten. The Aussies, when they aren't underarm bowling, like to claim Kiwi icons as their own - Dragon, pavlova, and Russell Crowe come to mind, but there are plenty of others I'm sure.

But don't let the dingo get your baby - this post actually does have some relevance to website matters. (OK seriously, I'm all done with the Aussie bashing, sorry)

New Zealanders and .com.au domains

When NZ or AU companies decide to expand their market, the first thought is usually to expand across the ditch. Recently, I have had lots of enquiries from Australia from businesses looking to setup in New Zealand. And plenty of enquiries in the past going the other way. I'd imagine that USA/Canada and England/Ireland etc share a similar position.

As a New Zealander, when I'm looking to buy something, deep down, I want to buy it from a New Zealander. I'll buy something from China if it's cheap, or something Italian if it's fancy, but there is that fundamental reluctance to buy from Australians. I don't know why this is, but I'm sure I'm not alone. All I know is that all other things being equal, people will go for the local version every time. I think they call this 'patriotism'.

This is why you should never try selling your stuff into New Zealand using a .com.au domain name. It screams of "your miserable little market isn't worth spending $45 to buy a .co.nz domain name", and something just doesn't seem right about it. When you serve your content from a .com.au domain, you are subtly telling the Kiwis that they will have to wait until lunchtime to be able to phone you up (timezone issues), that shipping will be expensive and take extra long, and heaven forbid the Kiwi customer is still a bit tender about the latest rugby thrashing.

Not even on the map

Serving from a .com.au is one thing, but as I write I'm reminded of a funny little story a few years back when I worked for BenQ. Apologies in advance for deviating from the point.
I was employed as the first sales rep in New Zealand, with the business being managed from Sydney. BenQ planned to start really moving into the New Zealand market and getting the brand known. At the time, the BenQ homepage was a map of the world where you chose your country (nothing unusual there). But New Zealand wasn't on the map - for some reason, whoever designed the map thought the world would look more asthetically pleasing if New Zealand wasn't on it. I recall being somewhat less than amused about this - they want us to buy their product, but weren't prepared to include us on the map. I know we are small, but surely worthy of a few pixels?
I kicked up a stink about it at the time, though not sure if NZ ever got added or not. The map is gone now, so we will never know.

Dupe content

Right, so promoting a .com.au in New Zealand is a shit idea, agreed? So the obvious alternative is to register the .co.nz version of the domain, and duplicate the Australian site. Lots of companies do this, but it's got it's own problems. The big isssue is duplicate content - we work hard to make sure there is one URL per page of content, so the last thing we want to do is make a whole copy of the site.
If one site has lots more links than thee other (which is usually the case) then I have noticed that Google will simply not cache the weaker of the 2 sites. This definitely isn't always the case, but Google's behaviour does seem a bit random in this area, which can't be a good thing.

Different domain, 'TheSaurus attack'

A good, but time consuming, alternative approach which I often recommend is to make 2 different websites. You can use the same theme/design and overall layout, but make sure the content on each site is unique. For small sites, this is easy, and I like to do a 'TheSaurus attack' on the site.

A 'TheSaurus attack' is a little term I have for attacking a paragraph with words that mean the same thing so that the paragraph is unique. Consider the following paragraphs.
Bad:
We are the leading provider of blue widgets in Australia.
We are the leading provider of blue widgets in New Zealand.

Yep, it's now relevant for New Zealand, but this looks like clear-cut dupe content to GoogleBot.
Good:
We are the leading provider of blue widgets in Australia.
We are New Zealand's leading provider of blue widgets.

Here we have the same message, but without the duplicate content baggage.

Notice the subtle rewording of the second example - it says exactly the same thing, using different words. The important difference between these examples is that the second example is not dupe content.

This approach is great - copy your .com.au site onto a .co.nz domain, then take the time to rewrite the content using different words. And while you are at it, make it relevant for the NZ market - surely not the worst idea in the world.

The major downside of this approach is that you now have 2 websites to maintain (and build links for), and rewriting content only works for smaller sites - forget about this when you have a 1000 page site, the man-hours required for this are substantial.

Consolidated .com domain

If the differences between your NZ site and your AU site are minor, consider putting the content onto a .com domain. Everyone likes .com domains, and you don't have to do two lots of link building which is a nice bonus.
The concept here is simple - move your content to a .com domain, and rewrite any country-specific bits so that they are generic (eg add both sets of contact details to the contact page). Obviously you would 301 the content from the .co.nz and .com.au domains to your shiny new .com domain.

This is one of my favourite approaches, but it only really works when the existing .com.au site has very poor rankings. You wouldn't want to move your top-ranking content onto a brand new domain, and have to deal with the sandbox again. You also need to think carefully about what country bias you want to associate with the site via Webmaster Tools, and consider whether you need specialised subfolders with a NZ or AU bias. The country Bias is important when you are trying to get found in a particular country.

Overall thoughts

I'm sure there will be some people who read this and don't like any of the suggestions made - this is because everything is a compromise. Nobody wants to have to maintain 2 whole websites when they are basically the same, and nobody wants their domain left un-cached because of dupe content issues. I'm simply throwing an additional spanner into the works by suggesting that Kiwis don't like visiting .com.au domains, which should be taken into consideration when you are working on your multi-country strategy.

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