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How to Start a Realistic International SEO Campaign

Greg Kihlstrom
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While search engine optimization (SEO) is already a multidimensional marketing initiative, adding an international component can quickly turn into a large-scale project that can border on being unwieldy, without proper planning or realistic expectations.

The Fundamentals are the Same

The good news for SEO professionals is that the tactics you employ for a domestic effort are still in play in international campaigns. All you will really be doing is adding additional factors to the decisions you make and the way you approach a long-term strategy.

For those who aren't quite experts, it's important to understand the fundamentals of SEO, which apply whether you're optimizing for one country or 100 countries, before you undertake an international SEO initiative. It is not the purpose of this article to provide general guidance on SEO (there are plenty of great articles about that topic on SEW already), but instead to highlight how to undertake a realistic international SEO campaign.

While there are several, the key point is that SEO is not a one-time project. It is an ongoing effort that evolves with changes in:

  • Industry sophistication (e.g., how well your competition is adopting SEO strategies and tactics).
  • Search engine algorithms that are always in flux.
  • Website user experience and technology trends that can interfere with optimization tactics.
  • Shifts in consumer behavior and preferences (e.g., keywords and methods used by your audience).

New Dimensions for International Efforts

As if that wasn't enough to keep track of, targeting multiple countries takes us beyond the tactics you employ for a solely domestic effort. Adding to these fundamentals, we now have an international component to factor in.

This means that there are several other components that can play a large role in your rankings, which may not be on your radar if you have only focused domestically in the past. A few of these include:

  • Web hosting locations.
  • Domain extensions (e.g., the decision to use specific TLDs in your strategy).
  • Page content languages.
  • URL structures (e.g., using subdomains or subdirectories for pages in specific languages).
  • Inbound links' country of origin.
  • For long-term link building strategies, you should factor the blogging and social media habits and preferences of the country or countries you are targeting on an individual basis.

I encourage you to read up on these components to determine the impact that each will have.

Be Realistic with First Steps

To put this into perspective, this issue compounds with each additional country that you target. You can see how this can easily become a daunting task for a small marketing team that is given the assignment to optimize in 10 different countries.

The best approach is one that is both focused in scope and realistic in timing and effort. As they say, don't bite off more than you can chew.

Pick one or two countries to focus on that can be thought of as low-hanging fruit. You may have native speakers in your organization, you may be able to easily host a site in your target country, or get bloggers or other content creators to contribute links and articles from those places or many other factors. By focusing in this manner, you'll get much better results in a few places, instead of mediocre results across a variety of countries.

Also, be realistic in what can be accomplished within your timeframe and from a purely logistical standpoint. Don't make hosting in-country a key part of your strategy if you aren't sure your IT team will be able to make it happen.

Don't rely on as-yet-unknown content contributors to be a sole source of inbound links if you might not have the budget to deliver on that. Instead, include them as part of a medium-term or long-term plan, but put your efforts behind the things that you know you can do well right away. The key here is being comprehensive in everything that you do, and having a backup plan for the things that might not be possible just yet.

Be careful to learn how effective each of the tactics you are evaluating is relative to one another. You might want to create a quick table of these individual tactics and the potential benefits and costs. This is an easy way to guide your efforts and keep your priorities straight.

A holistic approach is always the best one when it comes to SEO (as in most things), but you may find moderate to good success by employing the low-hanging fruit in the short-term while you plan out your approach for the more difficult to employ.

Conclusion

A new international SEO initiative is an exciting undertaking, but can be a daunting task when you take factors such as locations, languages and many other elements into account. Your best success will come with that key combination of focus and realism, and your results will continue to grow as you fill out the pieces of your SEO strategy that might take longer to accomplish.


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