Global SEO Strategizing 2016: An Interview with Motoko Hunt

Whether driven by brick and mortar businesses in new markets or expansion of e-services, it is becoming increasingly common for websites to go global regardless of size. Global expansion presents several challenges when it comes to SEO plans and practices. After picking markets, it is difficult to figure out first steps to account for both language and localization. Beyond these aspects, SEO strategists must also consider SEO rankings and algorithms from more than one search engine.

Motoko Hunt, one of the industries top experts on global SEO strategies and US Search Awards 2014 “Best Consultant,” agreed to share some of her knowledge with State of Digital readers interested in learning more on the topic. Motoko specializes in providing online marketing services with both SEO and PPC expertise. Motoko is well known in the industry for speaking and writing about her thought leadership on many topics but especially recognized for her international focus.

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I started by asking Motoko about some of the most common questions she gets about multilingual SEO. She replied, “Questions related to geo targeting methods are popular. Hosting location, ccTLD vs. gTLD, hreflang tag, URLs with Japanese characters, etc. They are great questions, and show how businesses are serious about doing multilingual SEO right. There is plenty of information related to geo targeting already on the web, but a lot of the information is conflicting or not painting the whole picture, making them confusing.”

Recognizing the risks of generalizing Motoko specified that there are many factors to consider and although there are best practices, a one-size fits all approach really isn’t applicable. Motoko noted website size, resources, and budget are all factors, explaining, “The solution that worked for Apple’s website may not work for the local tourism site. It goes the other way around, too. As a consultant, I try to identify the best solution that work for each client, and never push the same set of recommendations to everyone.”

In comparison to questions Motoko was typically asked years ago, I was curious how common questions today show development of global expansion. Motoko explained that people used to ask her when to go multilingual or global. “They weren’t sure how to build a business case to create a multilingual or global website. This is not the case anymore thanks to a variety of ways they can collect the website performance and the business data.” Motoko attributes global change to many websites or businesses watching their competitors going multilingual and reading their success stories, concluding, “Going global has become a norm for many businesses even for small-mid sized businesses.”

Today, Motoko gets newer questions about algorithms of specific search engines such as Baidu, Naver, Yahoo Japan, and Yandex. In parallel with this topic, I asked how this relates to an overwhelming amount of Google SEO specialists and fewer English speaking or Western based specialists who are familiar with other search engines.

According to Motoko, “Many Google SEO specialists lack knowledge of SEO for other search engines. Some of them never had to care for another search engine. Still some may have had interests in learning about other search engines, but there isn’t much information about engines such as Baidu and Naver available in English, driving a lot of questions to specialists.”

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She continued, “One of the first things they realize is that their site may not be crawl-able or only partially-crawl-able because of the use of JavaScript and AJAX. The pages are not providing enough information to the search engines such as Baidu because they’ve stopped using meta description and meta keywords.

On another note, Motoko added, “Other websites may take forever to load the pages in other countries. Even though countries like Korea and Japan have much faster Internet connection than metropolitan cities in the US, it takes much longer for a page to load. I’ve seen pages load in 1-2 seconds in the US that took 15 seconds to load in Tokyo, Japan.”

I asked Motoko what she suggests for people facing these challenges. She started with some very practical advice about seeking out resources. First, she advised others to use each search engine’s Webmaster Tools because it is one of the best ways to see how those search engines view your site. Next she suggested, reading as much as possible about each search engine, and asking questions to other SEO professionals with experience; adding, “Yandex offers lots of information in English. Though not much, yet, Baidu is offering some information in English too.”

More specifically, Motoko advised, “As mentioned previously, don’t use JavaScript and AJAX for links and content that you want the search engines to crawl and index. Following Google’s algorithm changes is important for SEO specialists, but if you change the site every time Google changes something, it may cause negative impact to your site’s performance in some countries.”

When it comes to more specifics with language and localization, I asked Motoko, when a client is working to translate and make multilingual versions of their website, which is first translation or SEO? Excited with this topic, Motoko replied, “The best-case scenario would be, “SEO-Localization-SEO”. First, you want to make sure that website you are going to localize is well optimized. You don’t want to create new website inheriting problems from the original site. Then, do some local keyword research so that you can have a localization agency to use them while translating the content. Finally, review and optimize the localized content prior to the launch. Then you need to build local links on-going basis.”

However, as many webmasters know and also often ask Motoko, it takes more than that to create a website that performs well in different countries especially in Asia. Apart from SEO, webmasters should research the market about how people behave online, what they want and how they want products or information, and make necessary changes to the content, messages, purchase options, etc. Many webmasters come to Motoko seeking this sort of information as well. Experts and resources that specialize in providing information on these topics are especially useful. Beyond making multilingual sites, Motoko notes, these components are what actually drives success.

To conclude, I requested Motoko’s top three pieces of advice for webmasters working with both another language and another search engine. Her advice is as follows:

  • Have a set of rules for all websites: It’s best to decide geo targeting handling, directory naming convention, etc. at the beginning, and don’t leave them up to whoever is working on the site. Because it’s likely that different teams handle different languages or country sites, if you don’t have a set of rules for everyone to follow, you’ll end up with multiple different websites that just look similar.
  • Make sure that any changes you make to the site work for all of your target search engines: Unless you have a luxury of creating completely different website for each language/country, your website has to be crawl-able/index-able by all target engines at least.
  • Be willing to make necessary changes to each language/country site: Each country may have different popular keywords or even different popular products. If you keep pushing what works for your home country, you may miss out opportunities to grow business in other countries.

Having both executed on her advice and regularly discussed with other experts, Motoko is incredibly well practiced in global SEO. Undoubtedly, it requires a lot of attention and care but brings incredible rewards. In addition to speaking and writing, Motoko also started AJRP, a Japanese search marketing service, but also helps clients target other areas outside Japan and Asia. Big thank you to Motoko for sharing her time and knowledge for our readers!

Melissa McDonald

About Melissa McDonald

Melissa McDonald is the International Marketing Manager at Yandex, Russia's leading search engine, which offers free English to Russian translation and optimization for advertisers. Melissa also regularly blogs for RussianSearchMarketing.com, a news and information resource for digital advertising in Russia.

  • syabuzar

    Great questions and answer!
    Thank you very much Melissa for asking such kind of question and miss motoko for giving plenty deep answer.
    Yeah! Mostly SEO Gurus don’t know about other search engine even they don’t like to know 🙂