Considering a global expansion in 2012? Extending your web presence internationally can be challenging, especially without local resources at your disposal. But, with the right preparations it can be done. Understanding the basic principles of International SEO will ready you to enter a new foreign market successfully. Here are five critical considerations to account for prior to embarking on global SEO.
Goals & Limitations
Don’t rush the process of analyzing your existing resources and identifying potential barriers to entry. Future changes are likely to be expensive and short-cuts now can eventually be detrimental to your SEO.
Start by assessing your target market. Are you focused on a region (Latin America), a language (Spanish speakers), or a single country (Spain)? These are important distinctions that will impact all other decisions to follow.
Assess the strengths and limitations of your existing content management system (CMS). Assess and plan for various IT questions such as how you intend to handle subdomains and directories or if you’ll be able to localize URLs.
Review external factors like legal requirements, whether local hosting is a necessity, or if specific advertising laws are relevant to your industry.
Search Engine Selection
Identify which search engines are most popular in the countries you're targeting. Don’t assume the search engine landscape will mirror that of the United States.
In many foreign countries, Google’s presence is far more pronounced, while in others, a local or regional company dominates. In Europe, Google accounts for more than 90 percent market share. In Russia, Yandex is the most prominent search engine and in China, Baidu is the front-runner.
When considering which search engines to target, take note: unless a user has unique personalized settings, most search engines default to the user’s local version. Meaning, if you're in Germany you will automatically be directed to Google.de. As a result, it's essential to do keyword research as well as rank checking on the local level.
Site Structure Considerations
Given any technical limitations you identify, choose a web structure that is optimal for your business’s aims. In addition to server site and other local signals such as addresses, phone numbers, links, etc., the format you select will impact search engines’ assessments of your target market. Likewise, these assumptions will ultimately determine your rankings within that geography.
You may choose to use a country code top-level domain like site.fr, a generic top-level domain (GTLD) like fr.site.org, a subdirectory with a GTLD like site.com/fr or a URL parameter like site.com?loc=fr. The pros and cons for each are different.
When selecting a structure the answer is not absolute. What may be the best choice for a large enterprise service provider with operations worldwide may be detrimental for a small B2C focused on expanding into Canada.
Decide if you want a uniform format and design for all your expansion locales or if you’d prefer to have flexibility and diversification between websites. Cultural and linguistic differences should drive these decisions. A picture of a tall, blond woman may be right for a women’s magazine in Germany but not one in Japan.
Language localization also requires advanced planning. Without it, your translators might encounter space problems. For example, on average, German words are 30 percent longer than English words. Determine in advance, if you plan on keeping wireframes the same across all languages; establish clear guidelines for style, script size, word or character count; and leave space in your original language layout for localized text length variation.
As you research strategic keywords, be sure to perform your analysis and search volume assessment on a local level in order to understand which queries are most relevant for your market. Page optimization basics apply regardless of whether your site is targeted toward the French market or the United States.
Drive page optimization by inserting your target keywords in the URL, title tags, meta description, header tags, and page content. Don’t forget to optimize pictures and videos with localized captions, headlines, and alt-texts. Often image optimization presents a comparably easy opportunity to drive additional traffic.
To gain authority in your target country or region, focus on inbound links from local sites. For example, try to obtain links from French bloggers and newspapers if you're targeting France. As with link building anywhere, the more interesting and relevant your content is, the greater your chance to earn a link.
Users will be less likely to provide credit card information, sign up for your newsletter, or simply trust you, if their experience is flawed by a less than professional translation, so don’t rely on automated translator tools (albeit powerful but not perfect) such as Google Translate for your website.
Once you have your perfect translation, it still may need to be optimized for search. For example, more colloquial terms frequently have higher search volumes. Using a keyword more than once may be better than using a synonym that is rarely searched for. Striking the right balance between an SEO friendly localization and an eloquently worded translation is key.
Lastly, consider cultural factors when deciding how to allocate funds. In depth product research may be more crucial in some countries than in others. China is an excellent example of a market where you’ll likely need to spend more resources to understand the nuances of the consumer psyche.
Without a doubt, cultural relevance and content quality will affect conversion rates.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!