International SEO is becoming more and more important in a world which is communicating more and more via online channels and thus becoming smaller. There are many things to consider. Time for an outline of all the steps necessary to consider and undertake when embracing global search marketing.
Economic Growth and Consumerism
Most of today’s economic growth is taking place in India, China, the Middle East and North Africa. In relation these countries make Europe and the US look relatively small. Of course we could all go on and imagine big, international, corporate organisations trying to optimize their organic search marketing efforts for these countries. Let’s take the fashion brand Burberry, it has been extremely successful in China over the last few years as the demand for Western style luxury goods is hitting the roof as the population’s disposable income is on the rise. According to research China will be the world’s leading consumer market by 2015. To highlight why brands and companies ought to target these markets I’d like to provide you with some interesting statistics to see the size and scale of these countries.
- The US accounts for 750 million people
- India is four times the size of the US with a staggering 1.2 billion people
- China’s population is even higher accounting for 1.4 billion
- Whilst MENA’s population is around 523 million people
Having digested these numbers we can clearly see uprising business opportunities. As a result global SEO is on the rise and SEOs have to serve clients with global ambitions and entities. That doesn’t only count for global entities but also for smaller businesses and niche industries. Ever wondered where most of Scottish lobsters ends up? No, not in Scotland but in Paris! With globalisation in full gear it’s time we start optimizing search marketing on a global scale. The challenge here is to internationally select the right SEO tactics for an enormous number of cultural norms, languages and locales. How can you ensure search engines to include your business (or your client’s) in their international search results?
The Big Players and their ranking factors
So here comes the tricky part, each search engine has its individual set of ranking factors and algorithms. Google for instance offers an extensive collection of country code top level domains, providing SERPs for a particular country with its native language. In contrast Bing has a slightly different approach to geo-targeting as it uses set location and language cookiesdetermining a site’s authority. Whilst if you wish to be listed on Yandex you have to be registered in their index (I don’t want to go in-depth here).
The focus of this post is to provide you with an outline of all the steps necessary to consider and undertake when embracing global search marketing.
Top Level Domains
It’s a great idea to use position, authority and rank of established domains to give your geo-targeting a bit of spice but sadly search engines make reasonable assumptions in order to offer relevant and helpful results to searches within different regions. If your domain features a “.com” search engines will assume you are serving the American market and therefore they’ll provide search results appropriate to the US target audience rather than the Slovakian audience for instance. Using country specific subdomains such as aut.; uk.; fr.; is highly recommended as you can use Google Webmaster tools to let them know that you are targeting a specific country. If you are targeting Bing on the other hand you ought to use onsite metadata and HTTP headers. This may all sound fine so far but the situation is far from ideal. The reason being that search engines will check your top level domain and reverse your IP to determine where you are located! So if you don’t have a local presence you are facing your first major challenge. I would only suggest this approach if you know that the top level domain is in the position of competitive link building on an on-going basis and regular additions of high quality content.
IP Adress and Hosting
International SEO requires a local domain and IP address registration meaning that in an ideal world you’d have a TLD for the targeted country located on a server in that country. This however might not necessarily be the case as you might not have a strong local presence. This example is Google specific as the geographic location of a site is one of their strongest ranking factors. If you are in the position to host locally you have already won half the battle. However, should you not have a strong local presence an option would be to switch to sub-folders. Each country-specific section though would still need local links and unique content but the advantage is that it still benefits from the domain’s authority. Further keep in mind to use the language of your targeted country on the website hosted for that country. If you are required to use multiple languages have them as appropriate pages of the specific domain. Don’t duplicate content from one language to another the short cut just won’t pay off. Here’s an example of how Burberry got it wrong.
Translation and Optimizing Keywords
Apart from technical hosting and cultural differences, translation is one of the most crucial elements of any global SEO approach. When identifying and researching keywords remember that keywords are words of convenience created by people to help them search. Just imagine youngsters searching for ‘sport shoes’: the issue is they could also use search terms such as ‘sneakers’ or ‘kicks’. Can you see the issue now? You must perform native language keyword research to target your audience’s words and phrases. Rewrite for each country, even when it’s English: American English differs greatly from British English. Be in touch with local marketing managers as they’ll help you to shed light into the types of language spoken, keywords and your audience’s search patterns as well as their preferred search patterns.
Currency and Forms
This may seem quiet obvious but I think it’s worth mentioning here that the appropriate currency forms and pricing terms have to be in place for any marketer operating globally. Just imagine you are an e-commerce business: do you have currency options for all your targeted countries? Are these countries listed in contact and check-out forms?
Local Search Registration
Depending on your target country’s operating search engines you must be registered in their indexes for the engines to acknowledge your online presence.
Authority is becoming an increasingly important ranking factor and the strongest authority signals come off-site. Search engines value links from within a country meaning your link builders have to engage in local link building on an ongoing basis. Is your brand/business reviewed on review sites? Does it have presence and engagement on social networking sites? In order to be successful global SEO marketers need an off-site plan in place to overcome these hurdles.
With these emerging markets and business opportunities the internet audience is getting more and more sophisticated and digital marketers must get smarter about global search engine optimization. Bottom line is to gather as much information as possible and then basing your decisions in relation to your budget, company and audience. Original, and high quality content especially created for your audience, hosted on a target market domain in their own and authentic language will always be the best option.