Improving Your International SEO Skills

If you’re starting out on a career path in which you’ll be working in international search and you need to quickly acquire search engine optimization (SEO) skills that enable you to operate globally, you’ll be asking yourself some tough questions about where to start.

Let’s be frank, any SEO specialist who is regarded as an expert in their field will tell you, in their bar moments, about their catastrophic past errors. Trial and error and experience count for so much in this business — and for much more than is generally attributed to the science of information retrieval.

A well-known SEO friend of mine once said to me, “You’re not really an SEO until you’ve been banned at least once.” This particular SEO was well qualified, as he’d gone through the experience twice!

The challenge then is to acquire international experience without needing to go through lots of errors, upsetting all your clients in the process — especially because you’re no longer a beginner and not regarded as such by your clients.

In any case, you’ve probably allowed them to believe that you already have significant international experience when this next project will be your first! That is how most people get into this business and how the vast majority leave! (Clients and website owners beware!)

International SEO Isn’t Different Anyway?

If this is your view now, you’re probably a lost cause — upload your CV to a few job boards while there’s still time. You might also consider signing up for some humility training.

There isn’t really the space in this article to argue this point fully — but I would just point out that languages, keyword research, hosting issues, country redirections, payment systems, information architecture, and usability are all significantly different for multinational projects — and that’s before we’ve even mentioned the word “culture.” Do you still want more proof?

How to Gain Your First Experience?

Ideally, you should approach getting to grips with international SEO in just the same way you began in single-market, single-language SEO. That means getting your hands dirty with an actual live project.

Because we don’t want to experiment on your client’s pet project, one way to do this is to create your own test project. Perhaps you already have a blog that you could set to work on. This approach will cost you or your agency some investment monies, but this is the professional way to go.

There are a couple key things you’ll need to do.

  1. Decide on how you’re going to manage all the different languages. Buy and test local domains and, even before you have localized the site, run English versions of the site on those. Before you’ve even had the opportunity to set up Webmaster Central, you’ll probably notice them appearing in Google’s index in all the right places. The first time I ever did this, it took minutes, rather than hours, to see a result.
  2. Get the languages. A good idea might be to use automated translation for one language and get a professional translation for the other.

You should see a significant difference in your traffic performance between these two approaches.

Perhaps the Client Will Help?

One other option for getting going with a test project is to get the agreement of a client with whom you have a particularly good working relationship. Perhaps you’ll target their business in a market that might be of interest to them, for free, or with them only paying for actual demand generated.

Where to Go for Initial Support?

Naturally, you’ll need some extra help in this venture from somewhere — it’s unrealistic to think otherwise. Going to relevant conferences and, of course, referring to sites such as this one to gain lots of valuable information are good places to start.

Specialist organizations also support agencies with international and multilingual roll-outs — just go and do a search in our old friend Google for something similar to [multilingual search marketing agency support” and you should find a range of options.

How to Get Trained Up?

Buying arm’s length support services is one way of doing things. But if you really want someone to look directly over your shoulder and give you hands-on support, then you’ll need to think somewhat differently.

I’m not aware of people who specifically offer this type of consultancy, but if someone put a case to me for this type of service, I’m sure that I could invent just as others could. It probably helps if you know your potential “mentor” first.

There are also now a few international SEO schools, which would be a good approach. These aren’t particularly well publicized, so you’ll need to ask around.

Dealing with Languages?

I’m guessing that you don’t speak too many languages and certainly not all those that the website you’ll be working on actually needs. You have a number of options here:

  • Specialist multilingual agency support organizations.
  • Translation agencies.
  • Friendly agencies local to the target market.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend translation agencies, although I know that’s where most people turn first. Their business models are just not designed around search marketing.

After you’ve looked at the international agencies that are prepared to help, you can always turn to small local agencies based in the target country. They’re tougher to coordinate because each agency has its own processes and its own culture — so coordinating a project through multiple countries can become a little time-demanding, but they are generally helpful and friendly to get you started on your way.

Learn a Language?

Finally, if you plan to work in international search, start learning another language if you haven’t already. There’s really no substitute for understanding how different languages work and why translation is such a fuzzy process. You don’t even have to be proficient in the language to benefit from the study!

Viel Glück!

Join us for the ClickZ International Marketing Forum on August 20 during ClickZ’s Connected Marketing Week. Businesses looking to enter new global markets must develop marketing strategies that take into account unique regional needs. This one-day forum will examine the latest marketing strategies, including social media, mobile, and search marketing, for global markets with a special emphasis on the Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

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