Even though Thomas Friedman declared the world to be flat in 2005, every year the world seemingly gets flatter than it was the year before. French, Japanese, and Brazilian market places are a few mouse-clicks away from anyone.
It’s not just big corporations and companies that swimming in these market places anymore, more and more mid-sized businesses are looking to capitalize on globalized logistics to grow their businesses in expanding centers that need what they do.
International SEO for non-localized companies seems to be a big hurdle for both large and mid-sized companies.
None of them seem to be able to understand the concept of localization; they want painless entry into these markets. There is some illusion that everyone is under that you buy a CCTLD, copy-paste your content, and BAM, YOU’RE IN. If it were only that easy.
There are, of course, a few companies that do international well, but they spend a lot of time and money to do it well.
Even if you don’t have a lot time and money to invest in International SEO, there are few guidelines to follow to make sure you’re doing it to the best of your ability, to make sure hone that localization signal to squeeze all the relevancy you can out of your international site.
Get You Some County Code Top Level Domain (CCTLD)
If you’re going international, .com doesn’t cut it. While it’s the most recognized, and probably the most popular, in international search it’s about creating local relevancy and authority.
You’ll want secure a TLD in the country you’re targeting, not only because it provides great geo-location information to search engines, and users of that country prefer them, but it also helps create a very localized link graph when people link to products or services, boosting authority.
Here’s a list of CCTLDs from IANA to help you find the right one.
Hosting in Your Target Country
Let’s say you can’t get a CCTLD and have to use a .com, .net, or .org. Then in order to strengthen your localization signal you need to host your website in your target country.
Because you don’t have a CCTLD to help specify geo-location, the next best way to secure hosting and IP addresses in that country to help strengthen that localization signal with search engines.
And, even if you do have a CCTLD for your target country, this is the perfect place to hone that geo-location signal for the website to create more authority and relevancy in local search engines.
What If I Can’t Host in my Target Country?
Some large corporations mandate that hosting has to be done in a central location, one that has been vetted by the company.
And, likely, where every other website the company runs is hosted. The problem this presents is lack of separation from other geo-local variations of the website (i.e. the .com, .de, and .fr are all on the same C-Block).
How can you get around this without breaking the mandate?
First thing is make sure you have Google Webmaster Tools verified on the website. Within Webmaster Tools you can set geo-location targeting to the country. This should help strengthen the localization signal in that engine.
Second thing to do would be to create as much separation as you can between the various country versions of the website at a C-Block level. It’s not as good a solution as being able to host in target country, but it will provide enough separation to help each site stand on their own in the eyes of search engine.
You’ll have to work with IT teams to get this accomplished, and explain why this needs to be done, but it will go a long way for the search engines to having them be seen as separate entities.
Localization of Content
This is the single biggest mistake I see companies make in International SEO, especially those sites targeting other English speaking countries. It’s the carbon-copy, cut-and-paste game.
Even if you can’t get around the other two points based on rules, regulations, and restrictions, as an SEO you can affect this. And, for those companies targeting non-English speaking countries, the tendency is to use cheap (free) translation software on the English content.
Every country has their own linguistic nuances and uniqueness, which means that the content you create for these sites has to be just as unique. Your content has to take into account cultural differences, even things as simple as spellings (color vs. colour), and phrasing.
This is where the time and money come into play. Just because the guy down the hall took 4 years of high school Spanish or French, doesn’t mean he’s fluent or conversational; the content that person writes will read like a text book.
You need to find a professional to translate your content into a conversational version of that language. It will read more fluid and natural as opposed to strict and in some cases choppy.
Your users will certainly appreciate this effort, and are likely to keep coming back because they don’t have to struggle to figure out what exactly your site is saying.
It would be a double bonus if your translator knows about SEO and working in targeted keyword phrases, but that’s a pretty tall order.
You’ll need to set aside some time to work with your translator and explain what needs to be accomplished for search, what keywords and phrases should be worked into the content or meta-data.
You’ll likely find that your translator will suggest more nuanced versions of your keyword(s) that your target population is more likely to use.
Certainly there is more to International SEO than just these three points, such as working on creating a localized link graph from authoritative sources, and even Local International SEO. However, even following these three points will get a stronger foothold than where you are today.