The Challenges of Global SEO

Have you ever wanted to reach customers in different countries through your SEM (define) efforts? Most of the information available on SEO (define) best practices focuses on North American clients and examples. But what about the global marketplace? As a North American Internet site is accessible anywhere in the world, it would stand to reason that Web site owners would want to have an effective online presence in other markets.

In line with this thinking, more of our clients have begun requesting SEO of non-English-language Web sites. In Canada, for example, many corporate Web sites are required to have both English and French versions of their content.

When this request arises, the question that always presents itself is: do we have access to the resources and tools we need to do a sufficient job at SEO for the (insert country here) market?

It’s not that we haven’t prepared our team for the reality of the global Web, it’s just that there are some key challenges with international SEO:

  • An SEO expert who speaks the language in question is essential. That’s because direct translation often isn’t enough to capture the unique local verbage, colloquialisms, and slang. A Francophone SEO expert would be much better off developing a search plan for the French market than an Anglophone ever would working with an adaptation of the English content. Even in English-speaking countries, there can be important differences (e.g., you don’t “rent” a car in the U.K., you “hire” one). And if you don’t have a fluent employee on staff, this work may need to be outsourced.
  • There’s a paltry offering of useful international keyword research tools, such as Keyword Discovery. However, they have limited access to inventory and the data don’t seem to be as robust or reliable as of those in North American search databases (you may find the numbers seem way too low for what should be a very popular search term). This free international keyword research tool was touted by others, but I was unimpressed with the data and (or lack thereof).
  • Search engines are often more disparate and varied than in North America. In North America, Google dominates and unofficially sets the standard. Therefore, individualized strategies are likely required to both uncover and optimize for a variety of different algorithms.
  • A site hosted in a specific country will always be more prominently listed in those local search results than in foreign-country search results. Let’s say I want my site, which is hosted in Canada, to rank well globally for the search term “car rental.” Even if I applied the same strategies in all countries, I will likely have a better chance of coming up higher in the rankings in the Canadian search engines than in those in the U.S. or Australia.

Despite all these challenges, we can’t simply say to our clients, “No, we can’t do it.” We have to find ways to get the job done, and done well. With that in mind, let’s briefly talk about how you actually get started on an international SEO strategy or campaign. I’m not an expert in global SEO, so I’ll refer to some other sources for some insight.

Fellow columnist Mike Grehan looks at the Asian marketplace in “Gearing Up for Pan-Asian Search Marketing.”

Another column, “Is Your SEO Strategy Global?” by John Tawadros, discusses how to make the move to the global scale.

Finally, a source that may be helpful on the keyword research front is Search Engine Collosus, which lists search engines by country to help you get started.

Good luck with your international optimizations, and please let me know of any useful global SEO tactics or resources you’ve come across.

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