The last session on day 1 of SMX London I attended was the “International SEO” session.
Duncan Morris, director of Distilled, started with the situation where you rank in a search engine for a local market but want to rank in another one as well. He names the Information architecture of a site a key succes factor in reaching International SEO goals.
As we saw before in “The Global Search Universe” session 90% of all people online can be reached with just 20 languages.
But how do you manage to show up in the search results of a local search engine? Duncan Morris gives a list of 6 things you should use when aming for a local organic listing:
1. TLD (Top Level Domain)
If you want to rank in Germany, make sure your site is on a .de domain
2. Hosting location
Make sure your site hosting location is in the country you want to rank for
3. Google Local
Add your local address(es) in Google’s Business Centre to be found in Google Maps
4. Physical address on page
Make sure your physical local address is listed on the site
5. Inbound links
Get inbound links from sites in the country (or any geographic region) you want to rank for
6. Google Webmaster Central
Set your location within Google Webmaster Central (but don’t rely on it and let this be a camouflage of a bad site architecture!)
International SEO with sub folders
Starting with the domains, let’s have a look at some examples from which we can learn how to do international SEO. For instance the IKEA domain is organized this way at the moment:
Every language has it’s own sub folder which contains the content suited for the specific language. But what about countries which have multiple languages? Therefore a better solution when doing international SEO would be:
(Dis)advantages of sub folders
This solution gives you the possibility to target multiple languages in one country. This has the advantage that all links go to the domain which makes IKEA.com an even more powerful domain.
On the other hand the .com domain has the disadvantage of lower click through rates (CTR) and conversions, especially in European countries where people tend to favor the country specific domains above .com domains.
The .com solution also brings up questions like what to put on the homepage? Besides that you face the fact that American pages outrank British pages most of the time.
International SEO with sub domains
Another solution could be to use a sub domain for every language. An example of a (large!) international site which uses this solution is Wikipedia:
Every language has it’s own sub domain which contains the language specific content. Just like with sub folders this solution lefts behind the possibility to target multiple languages per country. To reach this you could go for a solution like this:
(Dis)advantages of sub domains
This solution obviously gives you the ability to target multiple laguages per country. This has the advantage that all country/language specific inbound links point to one (sub) domain. It’s also possible to host different sub domains in different countries.
A disadvantage however is that search engines treat sub domains more independently which causes the value of inbound links to be damped across sub domains. This solution also brings up the question what to put on the homepage or the www (sub) domain.
International SEO with separate domains
Of course you could also use separate country specific domains which host the content in the country specific language(s).
(Dis)advantages of separate domains
This solution has the advantage that targeting a specific country gets easier, bacause country specific domains are generally favoured in search engine results above non-country specific domains. This also results in higer click through rates and conversions, bacause the domain indicates the language of the content.
On the other hand this makes linkbuilding harder, bacause every country specific domain needs to build up it’s own value and trust. This also could lead to duplicate content with the same content hosted on more than 1 URL, but I think this isn’t a problem to worry about. Another disadvantage here is that a .com domain often outranks the .co.uk domain for English content.
At the end of his presentation Duncan named some suggestions for search engines. A good thing was that ex-Googler Vanessa Fox was writing down some of these suggestions
10 low hanging apples for international SEO
The next speaker was Andy Atkins-Krüger, managing director of WebCertain, who came up with a good and actionable list of 10 tips when doing international SEO, starting with nr. 10.
10. Use UTF-8 character encoding
Structuring your web site with UTF-8 character encoding (or Unicode) copes with practically any language and therefore ensures that search engines can more easily determine in which language your content is written. Google supports Unicode a lot and every other encoding is first converted to Unicode for processing by Google.
9. Don’t ‘translate’ meta tags and page titles
A mistake which is often made with multilingual web sites is that page titles and meta tags are translated. You shouldn’t translate them, but you should localize them. Searchers in different countries and languages search for different terms, so look at things like plural and spell variations and add those often unique terms per country in your page titles and meta tags.
8. Adopt a global PR strategy
To operate global you should also have a global PR strategy. Different languages, countries and cultures need a different approach. Make sure you adopt your PR strategy to reflect the country/language specific needs.
7. Manage 301 redirects
Many global sites have a lot of 404 errors (page not found). Start looking at the links which you already have. Fix them where needed, by pointing 404 pages to working pages with a 301 redirect (permanent redirect), and there’s the first quick win.
6. Keyword URL’s
Often large international organizations are having trouble with editing the URL structure to filter out parameters and add keywords. However Andy suggests to still advise such organizations to change their URL structure. At least it forces the organization to think about their site architecture.
5. Source local links
A great indicator for a search engine to determine in which country and language a site should be ranking are inbound links from within the specific country and/or langauge. So chase local inbound links for local listings in the organic search results.
4. Use a smart Geo-selector
A lot of global sites have a dropdown or other selection tool to get to the right language and/or country specific part of the site. These “GEO selectors” often aren’t good for distributing your internal link value. Therefore Andy suggests to link from page X in country/langauge A to the identical page on site B with a different country/langauge focus.
3. Expert keyword research
As mentioned before search behavior is country and language specific. Therefore it’s very important to use native speakers when doing keyword research for a specific geographical market. Also note that different countries/languages can have different input keyboards when typing text into a computer.
2. Country domains and local hosting
As Duncan Morris pointed out (above) it’s important to use country specific domains to rank well in that specific country. It’s also important to have that content hosted in the country which you’re targeting. The advantages and disadvantages of using country specific domains, sub domains or sub folders are discussed above.
1. Langauge & Content presentation
It’s actually a “no-brainer” but it’s done wrong too often: make sure to present your content in the right language. This is important in the way search engines work.
First a search engine determines the language of the page it is indexing. Next the search engine starts a keyword analysis. The existing character sets are limited, especially for detection of languages. This is because there are many different languages which machines – like search engines – think are identical.
Therefore you should always make sure to present the content in the exact language you’re targeting. Language detection is key in international SEO.
Search engines Baidu and Yandex
The final speaker in the International SEO session was Heini van Bergen, operations manager at Tribal. He started with the fact that Google isn’t the dominating search engine everywhere in the world. For instance in China search engine Baidu is larger than Google and the same goes for Yandex in Russia.
After showing some stats Heini dives into Chinese search engine Baidu. Interesting to know is that Baidu is getting paid to remove negative listings. It’s also interesting to know that Baidu mixes up paid search listings and organic listings. The right column of the search engine result pages are paid placements (fixed).
In Russia Yandex is by far the largest search engine. Besides a search engine Yandex is also a web portal (the largest in Russia as well). Yandex separates the paid search listings from the organic listings just like the major search engines.
International SEO, what’s the best solution?
In the Q&A after the session there has been a good debate about using 1 domain (for instance .com) or going for multiple domains (TLD’s per country). Both the panel speakers and the people in the audience don’t seem to agree to one option.
But there was an agreement that from a relevancy perspective the option of going with multiple country specific domains was the best option. But that raises some site architecture issues which are sometimes hard for large organizations to solve.
I think it’s up to you now. With the knowledge above extracted from the interesting International SEO session at SMX London you hava enough information to get started. You know the advantages and disadvantages of the different solutions, so pick one and stick with that. That should boost your international SEO efforts!