Mastering The Art Of International SEO

by Steven Macdonald January 9th, 2013 

international

Multi-million dollar international advertising campaigns are now a thing of the past if you want to go global. You can now reach new markets with ease in a low-cost and risk-free fashion.

Although English remains the "global language", less than 30% of global search engines queries are in English. Google may have the majority search engine market share in the US and UK but in China, Baidu is the number one search engine with 78% of Internet searches whereas in Japan, 54% of searchers use Yahoo!

The fastest growing market online is now Asia and e-commerce spending is expected to reach more than $8 billion in 2016, up from $1 billion in 2012.

As an online business, you cannot afford to ignore going global. However, international SEO can result in duplicate content, major cultural differences and bad translations causing search engines to penalize your site if poorly executed.

The experiment

In 2009, Hurtigruten launched the Russian SEO and web experiment with no marketing budget. The goal was to enter a new market at low cost on order to new the demand. Within 12 months, the site was generating approx. 20,000 visits per year. The experiment involved:

  • Launching a ccTLD " www.hurtigruten.ru
  • One dedicated resource for managing and localizing content
  • Localized content for the top selling Hurtigruten products
  • Email sign up and monthly email marketing activity
  • Link building through Russian travel agencies and tour operator partners

Since launching, the site has received more than 50,000 visits. Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources, Hurtigruten began redirecting Russian traffic to www.hurtigruten.com in September 2012.

The case study

SuperOffice, Europe's leader in CRM software launched a new international website in 8 languages in January 2012. By focusing on localized content and applying these steps, we were able to grow their organic traffic by more than 160%. The process involved:

  • Keyword research within each market
  • Onsite optimization including title tags and meta descriptions
  • Creating and submitting XML sitemaps by language
  • Rel=alternate hreflang=x implementation to avoid duplicate content

With more than five years experience in international SEO, this post describes 10 tips to launching a successful International SEO campaign.

1. Choosing the right domain

The strongest signal you can send to search engines that you are targeting a specific country is to have a country code top level domain (ccTLD). For example, if you are targeting Germany, you will want to launch www.example.de.

Having a ccTLD will have a positive impact on click-through rates and conversion as those performing the search are more likely to visit a local website. However, launching a new domain will require active link building in order for your site to gain trust and rankings.

2. Geo-targeting in Webmaster Tools

Google webmaster tools allows you to geographically target certain websites, or sections of websites to specific locations and regions. To access these settings, visit Google Webmaster Tools > Configuration > Settings and change your geographic targeting.

3. Rel=alternate hreflang=x link attribute

If your website serves up different versions of your URL for different languages and countries, implementing the rel=alternate hreflang=X link attribute in the <head> section of your website will help Google understand which language of the URL to show to searchers.

For example, if you have English websites for both www.example.com and www.example.co.uk, you would insert the following code on the home page of both websites:

  • <link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="http://www.example.com" />
  • <link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-gb" href="http://www.example.co.uk" />

For an About Us page found on www.example.com/about and www.example.co.uk/about, you would implement the following:

  • <link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="http://www.example.com/about" />
  • <link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-gb" href="http://www.example.co.uk/about" />

By doing so, Google will be able to present UK searchers with the UK domain. Follow this process for each webpage on both websites.

5. XML Sitemap

Create an XML sitemap for every country/language site. Make sure you submit the XML sitemap to both Google and Bing webmaster tools.

6. Hosting

The geographic location of a website is a Google ranking factor so whenever possible, the site should be hosted in the target country. Hosting locally means faster response times and less latency, resulting in a better user experience.

7. Localized content

As with domestic SEO, content and optimization is key to on-site success and the same practices apply:

  • Perform thorough keyword research within the target market
  • Optimize title titles, meta descriptions, image alt tags and headers
  • Create unique and compelling content for your website
  • Localize content using a native speaker (avoid machine translation)

International SEO is not just simply translating your English website into another language. As with any language, there are a host of localization issues that need to be addressed and a direct translation from English could lead to cultural differences you might not be aware of.

8. Inbound marketing

Building authority for the website is an important part in reaching local and global success. Therefore, acquiring local links from country specific domains is essential. To get started, you can register your site with Google+ Local and Bing Business Portal. You can also obtain links by:

  • Connecting with Local new sites and local partners
  • Register your website with local directories
  • Launch localized social media brand pages
  • Guest blogging on blog/ websites within your industry/ expertise

Try to build your links from the country you are targeting. However, just like domestic SEO, a high authoritative link is still the best way to gain authority, irrespective of locality.

9. Cross-domain tracking

Most SEOs have access to the wealth of data web analytics software collects. One of the biggest pitfalls in going global is separate visitor tracking and behavior. In order to take action on accurate data, it is important to implement cross domain tracking.

10. Culture & Language

No two cultures are alike and the same applies to your website; marketing your brand with Asian men may work well in Japan or China, but you will want to optimize your campaigns if targeting Scandinavia. Be sure to conduct market research, understand who your target audience is and how they use the web and to consume information. Research the local competition, how they engage with their users and don't be afraid of testing designs and content to determine what works best.

To re-cap the International SEO points:

  • Research your market culture, search and online buying behavior
  • Launch your site with ccTLD
  • Geo-target in Webmaster Tools and implement Bing/ Google Metadata
  • Localize your content using human translation
  • Acquire authoritative and local links
  • Track your data accurately

Creating a website that produces results in a county specific search requires the same approach as it would to domestic online marketing. International SEO can be an incredibly complex challenge, but if you pick a general direction and implement like hell, these 10 tips will get you started to ensure you're set up for International success.

What are some the best tips for International SEO? Feel free to comment below.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy International SEO? Forget About The Big Brands And Do This Instead

Steven Macdonald

Steven Macdonald has been working with online marketing since 2005. Experienced in online gambling and travel, Steven is currently working on International SEO with SuperOffice CRM and regularly contributes to the Tribes blog.

Tribes

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2 Responses to “Mastering The Art Of International SEO”

  1. I would go as far as saying that bullet 8 is not only essential, it's also where most projects fail. Getting local links is a big problem and it's extremely important. In some languages almost impossble without investing heavily.

    I've worked a lot internationally and some markets demand a local team/office, no matter how hard you try.

  2. Nice post Steven. Global SEO is certainly a challenge regardless of where the "hub" is. To Magnus's point, getting local links is no doubt difficult and is even more time consuming than acquiring links in your own market. I would just add one more item and that is performing some sort of competitive analysis for each market. Localization is certainly important but knowing what to target and what the competitive space looks like in that market certainly helps. I'll keep your list handy! – Dan O