The absolute best thing about the Internet is having no country borders. You’re only a mouse click away from websites all over the globe, allowing you to chat, share, and trade with anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Online business can offer a worldwide variety of people to buy your services or products, which is a great advantage. But how do you make sure you target the right audience, local or international?
Search engines operate internationally and locally. For example, a search query in Google.com can and will give different results with the same search query prompt in Google.es, Google.nl, or even Google.co.uk. No matter what keyword.
Of course, you’ll have some overlaps (e.g., when you look for an international brand or product), but search engines always try to offer you the most relevant result (i.e., results in your language). Your preferred language is determined from the language settings of the browser, chosen search engine (.nl, .es, etc), and (in most cases) the IP address of your (local) Internet connection.
What Causes the Search Results to Differ in Local Search Engines?
Some country-specific aspects help search engines easily determine if it’s relevant enough for the local search query. The major aspects:
- Top-level domain (TLD) (i.e., domain extension).
- Language of the content.
- Additional robot instructions (meta/Webmaster Central).
- Location of the hosting.
- Source of incoming links.
Incoming Links Provide the Right Signs
If you’re looking for an international brand locally and it has a multilingual website, you’ll most likely get the website on the local ccTLD (country code top level domain — .nl, .de, .fr, etc.), instead of the international website on the gTLD (generic top level domain — .com, .net, .org) domain. This result is preferred because of the matching ccTLD, language, and hosting — especially because there will be a lot incoming links with these similarities.
In other words, the backlink profile of majorbrand.nl will have more incoming links from Dutch sources than majorbrand.com. Therefore, Google.nl will prefer to show you majorbrand.nl in the search results simply because it’s more relevant for the Dutch search query.
Active in Multiple Countries?
If you’re active in multiple countries and want to gain rankings locally, it’s wise to split up your website. Splitting up the content is absolute minimum, but this probably won’t be enough to rank within the local search engines.
You have to clearly distinguish your multiple languages so it’s easier for search engines to discover and mark the right language. Of course, you can split up your website into local TLD versions (if still available). As stated before, TLD is a major factor for search engines to determine the language.
The pros of splitting your website into local TLD versions:
- A local TLD is the most important locality factor.
- Local links are gained easier to local information.
- The right country information scores, not just the right language.
But, be aware of the cons of local TLD versions:
- Domain authority takes time to accumulate for each TLD.
- Unique content is needed, even if it’s the same language.
When to Split up
There are best practices when it comes to splitting up your website if you want to offer your services in multiple countries. Depending on the main country you’re focusing on, the amount of local competition or different languages in one country (e.g., Canada, Belgium).
Depending on your own situation you can split up your website you could use one of these solutions:
- Focusing on one mayor country and some additional countries: Make sure you have your main content on one ccTLD and use and gTLD (e.g., .eu,) for the other countries/languages.
- Many countries, but minor competition: In this scenario, a gTLD with separate subdomains (de.brand.com) or directories (brand.com/de) per country/language will do.
- Multiple countries with competition: The best way to compete is with ccTLD domains for each country. With separate domains you can boost individual domains and compete more effectively.
- Multiple languages in the same country: A common question, one that can easily be solved with a ccTLD domain for the country (e.g., .ca for Canada), but separate the languages on subdomains (fr.brand.ca, en.brand.ca, etc).
Link Building on Country Level
if you have a local business or made it local by splitting up your website, you can start with local link building. Good local links have relevance, authority, and transfer (RAT), as covered by my colleague and friend Peter van der Graaf.
Therefore, you can start off with a search for “www” in country-specific Google versions. This is a great start for exploring unknown territory, directly showing you the local authorities. Analyze the local importance by searching for relevant search terms because you need to pick potential link partners that are relevant for your business.
The unknown territory of local search engines makes link acquisition harder because you might not have the right language skills yourself. Fortunately, this can be overcome. Here are some helpful tips:
- Submit your website to local directories. Directories don’t require much language skill and are available in every country, so this is a great way to start (bonus tip: check your competition from here).
- Hire local link building teams. Every country probably will have some clever Internet marketer who offers (local) link building services.
- Get links from local business partners. If you’re doing business internationally there could be some local business partners to hook up with. Offer your products or services in exchange for a listing.
- Get into the local news. You wouldn’t have started your business internationally if you didn’t have a unique product or services. Use this to your advantage by publishing facts, results, or other findings, which you applied to the local market. If you make it to the local news listing you’ll rapidly gain authority.
Pitfalls — Please Keep off the Grass
Getting good, valuable links isn’t an easy job. Hiring a local link building team is a good option, but you should never buy links. Of course you can buy links, but just know that nine out of 10 times these links won’t help your local business.
A lot of services simply can’t help you obtain relevant links that are also local links. You may be promised 1,000 links, but none will help you because the links are gathered from non-local directories, non-local weblogs, forums, and websites that aren’t relevant. Result: You’re stuck with 1.000 links with zero value.
Avoid these pitfalls, and use these other link building tips if you want to be viewed as serious competition by the locals. Good luck expanding your horizon!
Join us for SES San Francisco August 16-20, 2010 during ClickZ’s Connected Marketing Week. The festival is packed with sessions covering PPC management, keyword research, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, ad networks and exchanges, e-mail marketing, the real time web, local search, mobile, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization and usability, while offering high-level strategy, keynotes, an expo floor with 100+ companies, networking events, parties and more!