Considering International SEO
For any organisation, the chance to compete at an international level is an exciting prospect; it offers bigger audiences, more businesses and a whole slew of new opportunities. Undertaking a venture like this is a difficult process, and while a site may be optimised and performing well in the UK, that doesn’t guarantee a similar success will be had elsewhere.
The Language Barrier
The fact that users abroad will potentially speak a different language to your own is hardly surprising, and many companies will have prepared their sites to ensure they are usable by anyone who can’t speak English, except there are a few things that can often be overlooked…
It’s often the case that an English speaking marketing agency has produced some fantastic, perfectly optimised copy that is currently live on a site. The rankings are strong, click through rate is good and conversions are impressive. Why fix something that isn’t broken?
What works in English won’t work in many other languages, it may seem obvious but it is often overlooked that keywords are easily lost in translation. Idioms, grammar, localisation, branding and sentence structure are often the hurdles I have seen international SEO-ers fall at. None of these translate well, and even finding a translator who can turn English content into engaging content elsewhere has probably adapted the keywords are phrases you included to target specific SERPs.
The only solution available is to do keyword research at the language level, then commission content to be produced around those keywords. It’s the steps that are done for English content, and there’s really no room for cutting corners here. It’s a longer process, but it’s the only way you can be sure your content is the right content to secure international SERPs.
The Country Barrier
Top-level domains (TLDs), server hosting and even Webmaster Tools help Google to determine what country your site should be hosted in. Of course it’s possible to have an international site when taking these into consideration, but remember every site you compete with, will be covering these bases.
What are your options then?
In regards to the TLD, having a .co.uk limits a site straight away, it’s a site that is very literally (to Google spiders at least) intended for the United Kingdom, the same way .es is for spain, .it for Italy and .fr is for France. In an ideal world, companies would have websites for every region they wanted to do business in, however this is not a realistic expectation to have.
The best course of action would be to invest in a .com TLD if you’re not already in possession of one. A .com TLD is more universal than others, despite being associated primarily with American businesses. With this TLD in possession it can be used to build a system of sub directories and linking structures designed to allow for easy access of crawlers and international audiences.
Google understands that hosting can be difficult, having a physical hardware presence in a foreign country raises a lot of issues. One alternative that is practical is to make use of a cloud-based hosting platform. These are often scalable, easy to respond to and address issues and they also come with a wide variety of support.
Webmaster tools geo-location is very good at sending a first signal to crawlers, but that’s just one signal. Rel=”alternate” and the href lang tag help to tell Google, Bing, etc that a site (or section of a site) is intended to be see by users that are located in a specific country, or can speak a specific language.
The Link Barrier
The first Google algorithm was founded on the principle that the best sites were the sites people linked to the most. It has come a long way since then, but linking still sends a signal to Google.
Coming into a new country with a new site means one thing that most SEO-ers can only dream of – a clean backlink profile. Building a link profile can be difficult here in the UK, let alone in foreign countries. However, there are many large reputable directory services that can be used to register your site as an international business. The Yahoo! Directory is useful (if expensive) in this regard.
Working to develop your international audience will be the next stage. A social media presence will help, with users being able to interact with your site on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Promoting your site through competitions, reviews and free products is a good way to develop a connection with a burgeoning audience, wherever they are!
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