Andy Atkins Kruger of Webcertain, gave a whistlestop tour at ISS London of which signals matter for international search.
His toolbox would, broadly, include: local domains; ccTLD; webmaster tools; server location; sitemaps; alternate hreflang and canonicals; and signals such as currency and links. (The meta language tag is, he noted, now defunct.)
Atkins Kruger was very clear: the geo-targetting matrix is complex. Firstly there are multi-lingual countries (like Switzerland) Some countries, including China, Russia, Czech Republic and Korea – have their own tier one search engines. Other countries are simple and generally speak a single language, but World languages , such as English, French and German mean that content from the wrong place can be served by engines to the user.
And despite the apparent simplicity of a single language page there can be duplication issues on translated pages.
Good geotragetting needs local language, local sharing, and local prices. However, geotargetting, noted Atkins Kreuger, also reduces site visibility to the wider language speaking audience. (So if I target Spanish at Spain, using a Spanish address etc, Spanish speaking countries elsewhere will be unlikely to be served my content.)
This has to be balanced with the fact that local domains are important to users and there’s a bias on Google to present sites local to the searcher.
Webmaster tools can help geotarget, often a better solution than the heavyweight hreflang solution. Href lang can also facilitate content discovery, but this should not be the primary reason for using. Don’t, he warns, put canonicals and Hreflang together unless you can do it properly. Using hreflang it’s possible to ask Google not to translate, to use your own foreign language page.
The tools need planning: geo-targeting needs a mixture of solutions, not just one! Whilst machine translation and duplication are to be avoided at all costs, the separation of sites and use of domains and subdomains has to viewed on a case by case basis for relevance. Think about what you most need , was Atkins Kruger’s key message, and develop your strategy accordingly.