As a multinational company or a company that’s just launching internationally, choosing your country selector will be a critical decision for both usability and SEO.
- Usability: If it isn’t easy to locate, use, or otherwise just unclear, you may be losing a massive amount of traffic.
- SEO: Your country selector can make or break the way a spider crawls your site as well as how it serves up content domestically and globally.
There is no one size fits all country selector that will work with every type of business. A global technology firm may have an entire different strategy utilizing its country selector compared to a global online clothing retailer. What’s important is to do your research first by identifying the common theme’s your competitors are employing.
Some of the different types of selectors are:
- Language Selector: A selector allowing the user to choose another language option for the website.
- Geographic Map Selector: A selector showing a map where a user can click on their country.
- Country Selector: A selector typically on the home page where a user can choose their country on a list.
- Forced IP or “ghost” Selector: Utilizing geo IP location technology, a user is automatically sent to the country based on their IP address.
- Hybrid Selector: A combination of the above tactics.
1. Language Selector
A language selector is typically for sites serving one market with multiple languages. This will certainly benefit, if translated correctly, the other languages and audience you might gain from the traffic.
In the U.S., some sites translate for the large Spanish speaking audience. As another example, Suburu.com specifically targets the Chinese speaking audience in the U.S.
Canada’s Tim Hortons home page provides both English and French selectors, allowing the visitor to directly choose their language of preference.
For SEO purposes, using a language selector is typically OK as long as you target the language within the market of the website, as in the case with Canada. However, repurposing that translation to use to target another country may lead to duplicate content issues and other trouble.
Tim Hortons shouldn’t expect its French Québécois site to also serve the people of France or rank well. In cases were their pages do rank, their bounce rate would likely be a bit higher then normal for non-branded terms because translation and localization are never the same.
2. Geographic Map Selector
From a usability standpoint, providing a geographic map as a selector is a great way for your audience to simply choose their preferred target market. Utilizing your cookies upon their next site visit should let them go straight to their preferred market’s site.
If your site isn’t available in all of the countries on the map, you could even regionalize in a way (paying attention to issues regarding language and localization). McDonald’s is one such example:
However, if you provide a geographic map selector with no text links, you’ll miss out on this important anchor text benefit. Older or mobile browsers may even render the map incorrectly. The links are still likely to be crawled and adding alt tags and other attributes will at least give it some weight for optimization.
3. Country Selector
Country selectors are by far the most popular. They allow the user to at least identify the options and choose the country of their preference.
Country selectors are typically placed in an easy to find location on most global sites home pages. Some sites will utilize a geographic map selector as their home page and have a country selector on each individual local site pages which allows their users the opportunity to switch to another local site (which also provides a great anchor text attribute without being spammy).
Air France, for example, utilizes a direct country selector from their home page.
The issue with a country selector is that most lack language selection as well. If you have a country selector and one of the countries also are divided by language, then it’s OK to have both the country and language as one of the menu choices (making sure you have the correct localized version of the language). Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada are some examples of countries divided by language.
4. Forced IP or “Ghost” Selector
Also known as geographical targeting, this is a way for sites to utilize an IP geolocation lookup and redirect the user directly to the country site they’re in. If you’ve ever accessed Google from abroad, you probably realize this practice is fairly common.
Suburu.com is an example of a site that redirects you directly to the site your IP address is located. If it’s unsure, it may send you to its global page (www.suburu-global.com) for you to do the selection. Although forced IP selection is useful, there could be problems with it (therefore having a backup plan like Suburu is necessary).
SEO doesn't likely see as much benefit. You are automatically forced to the U.S. site when you access Suburu.com. Because there is no opportunity to find the global page, there is obviously no internal linking benefit nor spidering benefit without a selector. It’s like having no sitemap (even the sitemap doesn't point to a geo selector or even the global selection home page).
5. Hybrid Selectors
As I researched sites for this article, I immediately went to some of the most well known brands that I know are innovative in terms of usability and SEO. The one thing they all had in common: they all had hybrid selection process combining practically everything listed above.
- IBM: Forced IP with country selector. Once the user clicks on the country selector, it allows them to choose the country and language as well as a cookie in order to remember the location for future visits.
- GE and Caterpillar: Country selector through a “Directory” link. There is no map, it brings you to a page setup like a sitemap allowing you to choose your country and language. Simple and effective and with proper redirect and canonical links (however I’d make the country names linkable too).
- Xerox: Forced IP, country selector, geographic map selector, and language selector. By far, Xerox takes the cake when it comes to their selector. Not only is it fully optimized from an SEO standpoint, it also has all of the components needed for perfect usability. I have also noted that like other sites, if you don’t have translated content for a specific country, then let the user know its your English language version. It's a perfectly OK and acceptable practice.
There are quite a few choices when it comes to selectors. What’s most important is that you choose one that fits your business and pay attention to the impact it may have to both SEO and usability.