Running international SEO campaigns presents many challenges, but can also result in significant rewards. As time goes on, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to rank in Google for targeted keyword due to increased competition and growth of budgets and investments by your competitors in online marketing strategies. Expanding your brand into a multi-national presence compounds the difficulty of your online marketing process exponentially.
A recent report from BrightEdge indicates that the majority of search marketers think it is becoming more important for sites to rank in global search engines. According to the firm’s survey, six out of 10 marketers believe it will become either “more” or “much more” important this year, compared to last year, when 36 percent said “more,” while 27 percent said “much more.”
Google’s ability to identify the geo-location and targets of content has vastly improved over recent years and Google continues to show its dedication toward it with the release of tools such as the ability to set geo-targets within Webmaster Tools and the introduction of geo-specific XML sitemaps and language-based meta tags. With proper tools available, the question is no longer should I put efforts toward building a global presence, but instead what are the considerations I should be aware of when getting started? Here are three concepts that should be addressed upfront:
- Understand your goals and target markets. The first thing to do before entering a new market is to have a complete understanding of your organization’s overall goals. Are current goals to increase branding and exposure or to increase revenue as quickly as possible? Your strategies and the markets you decide to target first may vary significantly based on that answer. For example, if your goal is to have an immediate impact on revenue generated online, you’ll need to first determine how much competition already exists within different countries and regions (supply) and what kind of search volume (demand) there is today for your products or services. Collecting data around these two points of fundamental economics will allow for a well-planned roadmap for content development that will yield much faster results.
- Choosing a format – domain vs. subdomain vs. subdirectory. Once you’ve identified the countries to target first and a roadmap has been developed, the next consideration is how to present the in-language content. Should content be held on your current domain within a subdomain or subdirectory or should you develop on an entirely new ccTLD (country-coded top-level domain like brand.co.uk)? What’s more optimal from an SEO point of view? This is a common debate, but ultimately it comes down to your organization’s unique situation. If you have the resources, developing a ccTLD will have the best long-term benefits, as it will be favored in the local engines and have a better opportunity to achieve ranking visibility. If you don’t have the resources to develop a new domain, leveraging your existing one will still allow for some, but not all beneficial results, but will require extra steps for ensuring geo-targeting is appropriately communicated to the engines.
- Avoiding duplicate content and properly targeting audiences. Another common question faced with targeting specific countries and languages falls around content duplication. Will content that has been translated from English to French, for example, be flagged as duplication? The short answer is no. Matt Cutts answers this question in his Google Webmaster Help video. This takes care of content that is in different languages, however, what if your targeted countries also speak English – for example, India, Canada, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, etc.? Creating 1:1 copies of your content to target each country can present challenges for duplication and have negative impacts on your ability to rank in organic results. As part of your strategies and roadmaps for rolling out global content, it is critical to incorporate keyword research at the country level. Taking into account slight nuances such as spelling and the ways in which people phrase and search for content should be a major priority for properly reaching audiences within each country. Localisation (U.K. spelling) of content can often make or break your success in global SEO.
From a business perspective, expanding reach into different local markets can have dramatic impacts on overall branding, awareness and organic traffic, conversions, and revenue. In order to ensure a smooth rollout you must address these considerations upfront and have a rock solid plan for technical implementation and proper content development. These are three critical aspects to address, but certainly not the only ones when beginning or renewing global optimization efforts. What are some challenges your organization has faced that would have made the rollout process easier if they had been addressed beforehand?
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