International link building – how to build PR links globally

International SEO has long baffled the digital community. After working in the industry for over 7 years, I cant begin to explain the amount of times I have heard the phrases “Google is behind the UK in [insert another country except UK]” or “You have to buy links if you run a campaign overseas”

The reason these defeated phrases are thrown around is because, put simply, international SEO is hard! You have multiple factors you need to consider such as:

  • Different search engines (for example Yandex in Russia, Naver in South Korea or Baidu in China)
  • Different languages, often multiple languages in the same country (also to throw an extra spanner in the works, sometimes people search in English, in non-English territories)
  • Different cultures – This to me is the main challenge facing marketers. Just because a campaign works in one country does not mean it will work in all.

In this blog post I want to address two key issues that continually arise when talking about off-site international SEO strategies:

  1. Should we be targeting international links if our client/brand only operates in one country?
  2. How do we run campaigns in different countries, how can we run link building campaigns that mean we don’t buy links and instead gain national, high-tier links from relevant sites and TLD’s?

To address the first point my opinion is that international links (links outside of the country in which the brand operates) are fine if relevant, but shouldn’t be your main aim.

International links outside of the territory you operate still pass SEO value and should therefore not be discounted. This point was confirmed to me by John Muller at the International Search Summit in Munich earlier this year:

The biggest issue with building international links to a brand is user experience.

Imagine a French user, reading a French newspaper and clicking on a link to a company that only services London. Not the best user experience right?

I recently ran a survey to 300 respondents in Spain, Poland and France to try and get a feeling of how users would feel if this happened. The question I put to respondents was:

If you were reading an online article on a [Insert country of respondents] website which included a hyperlink (which you clicked) to UK website how would you feel?

– I wouldn’t mind if the story surrounding the hyperlink was relevant

– I would think it would be a bad user experience and leave the UK website

The results, which can be seen below showed huge differences between countries (showing that you need to really understand the market you are targeting)

UK Survey results

If link and SEO value is what you are trying to achieve, aiming for international links is fine, as long as there is a reason within your campaign to do so. This being said, you should never walk into a campaign brainstorm with the intention of getting international links, rather, you should be focusing on creating content that is of interest to your target audience.

So, what happens if your brand/client does operate in multiple territories, how can we build national, high-tier links internationally?

Well my link hungry friends, I have noted some tactics below to help you achieve this:

Understand your audience, learn the culture

Every country is different no matter how close they are to each other geographically.

Take for example, Poland and Germany. Geographic neighbours but completely different digital landscapes including trust in the media, the types of media and their attitudes to the media.

You need to research your audience, find out their likes and dislikes. What do they think to media outlets? What are the most trusted sites?

All this information you will need to know before even brainstorming for a campaign idea.

There is a great report by Reuters Institute which details the digital landscape in each country globally.

Read it, learn it and then move on to idea generation!

Understand what content will gain you the most links

The way you display content is crucial to the success of any link campaign. We need to be aware that different content visualisation is needed to work in different countries.

There is a great way to work out the best way to display your content by using Buzzsumo.

Buzzsumo is a tool that allows you to input topics and see what content surrounding those topics gets the most shares and links. What Buzzsumo also allows you to do is see how the content is displayed.

Now, let’s say for example that I am a travel brand working in the Polish market.

My first step is to find out the most popular content surrounding the topic ‘wakacje’ (this means holiday in Polish)

Buzzsumo allows me to use an advanced search to only show content around the topic ‘wakacje’ on Polish sites (.pl) in the Polish language.

BuzzSumo data for 'wakacje'

What I can then do is export all of this content into an excel sheet, remove any content which didn’t gain any links (as I don’t want to know what didn’t work) and then create a pivot table to show me how the content that did get links was visualised.

BuzzSumo data export to Excel

What the data then shows me is that list features are the most likely to gain links in the Polish market:

Link types in Poland

Now, remember my point about saying that not all countries are the same? Well I did the exact same method but in the UK market with the word ‘holidays’ and got the following results:

Link types in UK

What this shows me is that list features are better for the Polish market (top five places to visit, most instagram-ed locations, etc.) and that general articles such as survey writes ups are more likely to gain links in the UK.

Use this insight and adapt the strategy per region in order to make your campaign a success.

Build detailed media lists for outreach

Make sure you’re contacting journalists at relevant publications.

Using tools such as AHREFS, SEMrush and Moz you can input your competitors’ sites and see who is linking to them.

Use this data to find relevant journalists at those publications and add them to your media list.

Its worth noting that you will want to check other similar brands as well as your competition. Take for example a holiday site, you would also be able to check links from travel insurance brands and airlines as the people linking to them will also be relevant to you.

Master your outreach

You need to have a native speaker in the language to which you’re outreaching. Approaching a site in a different language could trigger spam folders or may just not be understood by the journalist.

Once you have built a media list you should have a list of contacts to which you will outreach too. My suggestion for this is to use a tool called Buzzstream.

Buzzstream is an outreach tool that allows you to input contacts and email them whilst tracking open rates and responses.

What the tool also allows you to do is A/B test your emails. For example, if you have input 600 contacts you may want to test your outreach angle with 10% of these (60).

We can then split the 60 contacts into two sets of 30 and send each set a different angle.

If we see that set one is getting more opens and responses then set two, we should roll that out across the rest of the contacts.

Remember, you need to take a personal approach to outreach so one template may not be enough.

Do not bulk send! Find the contact and work out the best way to grab their attention. This could be a call, a tweet or sharing news on a common interest. This personalised approach will deliver much more than bulk sending!

Results

Hopefully at this point you will have started to see results.

In order to continue to grow your strategies make sure you run analysis at the end of each campaign and gather data such as:

  • How many people were contacted
  • How many links were gained
  • How much traffic was delivered
  • Any assisted conversions, social shares ect.

Using this analysis, you should be able to move the learnings into your next campaign and ensure each new campaign grows and grows!

Of course if you have any questions on this just drop me a line on Twitter 😊.

David White

About David White

David is the Associate Director of Content Marketing at Edit, leading the PR, content and outreach strategies for some of the biggest brands around the globe.