Going Abroad: International SEO for Beginners
SEO is very territorial. Of course, website can be found from anywhere but it doesn’t change the fact that you think of a specific location or a market while working on it. It makes sense, that’s where your customers are.
But picture this.
You were called to your boss’ office. Other partners are already there, sitting with serious looks on their faces. There’s a scary pile of documents in front of them. Turns out, it details foreign expansion plans for the company. And, you were just charged with its entire international SEO strategy.
Optimizing a single site is already a challenging process but taking it to new markets is something completely different.
I guess the word intimidated doesn’t give away how you must feel. Especially if the news came coupled with some heavy targets you will now have to meet.
Well, panicking isn’t probably a way to go so grab a cup of coffee, a notepad and let’s get to work.Below is a list of thing you will have to consider.
Targeting and URL Structure
To begin at the beginning, what are you going to target – a language group or a specific country? Both are quite distinct and affect how you go about your plan.
Targeting a language group allows you to relax on certain things, like specific, country related content or images and focus more on presenting the company’s universal message in a new language.
It also simplifies the website setup process. For instance, you don’t necessarily have to build a separate site for each language group. A subfolder (domain.com/es/) or a subdomain (es.domain.com) on your main site will do just fine (and will allow for a much easier management of the whole project). And out of the two, subfolder is probably the best option. I’ll let you figure out why 🙂
Country targeting on the other hand requires a more complex approach. Since you are building an online presence for the company in a very specific market, you need to ensure that the site is heavily tailored to it.
Instead of subfolders or subdomains you will probably need to build a separate site for each country using a ccTLD (i.e. “your domain.pl”). You will also have to populate each of each site with a country specific content (more on this later) and so on. Needless to say, as a result, you will have a lot more to manage.
From my experience, targeting a language group works best for most companies. Their product usually stays the same (bar some basic adaptation like packaging in a new language) and quite often it’s even shipped from the same location.
So, before you do anything else, decide on the approach you are going to take.
Content is what sells your company in the new market. And, needless to say, unless it sounds properly in a new language, well, let’s just say that it won’t do you much good.
But, it can be tempting to simply translate the original copy of your site and be done with it. The problem is that not everything translates word for word though and by going for this simple solution you might face potential problems with keywords, phrasing and even meaning behind the copy.
Consider where your new content is going to come from. Regardless of whether you target only a language group or a specific country, with its distinct culture and all, you should at least get a native translator to convert your copy to the new language. Ideally though, you should get an original copy written from scratch in a target language.
Metatags, Sitemaps and Local Setup
A few obvious things. You need to set all metatags in the foreign language, naturally. You also need to output site maps for each language group / country you will be targeting. Keep in mind that you should set those to target different countries in Google Webmaster Tools as well.
Lastly, even though Google doesn’t make much use from the lang metatag, Bing does. Include it on your site together with other local information such as your local addresses and phone numbers, if available.
I already mentioned how important it is for a website to include content written in a language you target but that’s not all. You should also consider including additional information such as:
- Local case studies and/or stories – This will make the website relevant to local audience. Include as much information that will strike a chord with the natives to build rapport with them.
- Localised images – Similarly, show images that are relevant to visitors from the country or region you target, even if it means dropping your usual corporate imagery for the benefit of stock images (at least until you get new corporate images).
Local Search Presence
But, there’s one other thing to remember. Even though you and I use Google or Bing to find information, people in other countries might use their local search engines. In Russia, Yandex is the most popular engine, Baidoo in China. Other countries may have their local search engines too. Make sure that you include your site or directory in them then.
Link building can be a bit of a pain when it comes to international SEO. Here are some suggestions to make it work for you:
- Local links matter – regardless of whether you target country or a language group, you should ensure that the appropriate site or a subfolder receive a steady stream of local links (more on this below).
- Local social signals – similarly, you should work towards receiving local social signals. This might potentially mean having to set up dedicated social media profiles for each country / language.
- In a new country PR is your best weapon – It’s hard to break in to the market after entering a new country. Unless you work for a large, multinational corporation, chances are that your company is completely unknown in a new country. Getting webmasters to link to it might be a challenge. In such case, PR is your best knowledge. Grab a copy of the countrys media book and start contacting news editors, business editors and other journalists with your press release. A new entrant to the market is always a safe story and you should have that many problems with getting some traction with it.
Design & Usability
Culture plays a significant part in how we perceive and process information and thus different cultures interpret design and usability differently. What works in the US might not necessarily work in China or in some European countries and so on
Therefore, even though it might be something slightly outside of your scope of work, you should still try to influence the design team to include graphical and usability elements people in a new country will expect to see there. Having those will improve the visitor experience on the site and help your efforts in a long run.
Lastly, you should set up ways to properly monitor various countries performance. Ideally, each should have its own Google Analytics section, where you can easily see the traffic growth and the websites performance.
International SEO, scary or not? How would you approach a news that you have to promote the site outside of your local market?
Creative commons image by alles banene / Flickr