If you have business operations in multiple geographies or across multiple languages then you need to be aware of technical issues that can help search engines understand relationships between your international / cross-language domains.
International SEO comprises a very small part of all that is attainable in ensuring your site is understood as well as possible by the search engines. However, the ramifications of having multiple international domains that are not setup correctly can be costly to your international SEO exposure and ensuring that the right pages are delivered to the right audience. Let’s have a look at some tips as a part of a complete 2015 checklist that can help you structure international SEO for your business.
International SEO Checklist 2015
Do You Understand The International Markets You’re Targeting?
Whilst Google has an overwhelming share of the search market in the UK, this isn’t the case the world over:
Image courtesy of Return On Now
- Yandex is the most used search engine in Russia
- Baidu rules search in China
- Yahoo has slight search dominance in Japan
What Is Your Current Level Of International Reach?
- Are you receiving any significant traffic from other nations?
- Is that traffic engaging with the site?
- Is that traffic converting?
- What international domain structure (if any) is currently setup?
Have a look at the traffic you are currently receiving, and the performance of that traffic, to understand more about your capabilities for international SEO. Are you receiving traffic from countries that you hadn’t originally expected? Or vice versa? Is that traffic from a country with a foreign primary language and could you cater for that language?
International Domain Structure
If you already own international domains then do you have all the domains you need for your target audiences? Typically international domains are structured in one of three ways:
- CCTTLD (Country Code Top Level Domain) – www.example.co.uk, www.example.de, www.example.fr
- Sub Directory – www.example.com/uk, www.example.com/de, www.example.com/fr
- Sub Domain – uk.example.com, de.example.com, fr.example.com
If you’re targeting international markets then the most ideal URL structure would be to have CCTLDs for each country where you could successfully operate. SEO performance is generally better with a CCTLD in the respective targeted country but the authority of each domain has to be built separately. There are a few things to consider though;
- Do you have a presence in the geography you are looking to target? If you don’t have a regional agent or office / address / phone number then it may be a better idea to look at the Sub Directory structure. Trust is key to SEO and having local contact details and a phone number is key to this.
- Do you have the resources to manage another domain effectively?
- Will you host each CCTLD in each respective country? If you can then great as this will be a positive local ranking signal.
If spending a little bit of money on domain purchases isn’t an issue, then I would try and secure the domains for international target markets too (for example, if you plan on expanding to Spain in the future then look now at securing that .es domain for your brand).
The reason being that it can sometimes be difficult to obtain all the CCTLDs for your brand. They may have been bought already and the owner might not be selling or asking for lots of money for them.
Important – From an SEO perspective, it is paramount that you have a plan of the countries you will roll out and a timescale to achieve this. You don’t want to have to deal with mass code changes and potential duplicate content on replica international site derivatives until you have to!
If obtaining the various CCTLD derivatives for your domain is not feasible then the next preferable URL structure would be the Sub Directory structure. This is preferred over a Sub Domain structure due to numerous historical instances of poorer performance from content on Sub Domains. The key positive being that trust and authority can be instantly attributed to the new foreign geography / language section of the site.
When Using CCTLDs
Using the CCTLD structure, make sure that you don’t link to international site derivatives via the footer if the anchor text you are using is targeted. For example, if I my business sells office chairs in the UK then I wouldn’t want to link to my USA site with anchor text in the header or footer reading ‘Cheap Office Chairs in the USA’. Using a USA flag or just text saying ‘USA’ would suffice. Sitewide links can be a potential Penguin hindrance, especially if they have a targeted keyword anchor text. Remember that one link from one site is just as valuable as one thousand so think about having a page dedicated to your international domains; complete with details of international expertise for each geography etc.
When Using Sub Domains / Sub Directories
Make sure that you create separate Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools profiles for each country specific section of your site. This way you can track performance and organic exposure from country to country. Also under Google Webmaster Tools, make sure to set each site geography using ‘International Targeting’:
Universal International SEO Considerations
- Hreflang Tags – Arguably the most important tag in international SEO; the hreflang tag essentially tells the search crawlers that a language & location derivative of this page exists elsewhere. The tag is structured like this (example for Canadian content) – link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en-ca” hreflang=”en-ca”.
- HTTP Meta Content Language – Tell search engines what language and country your content is specified for with this HTTP Header tag (example for German language Austria) – meta http-equiv=”content-language” content=”de-at”.
So there you have it. I hopefully have covered most aspects of International SEO here. Remember that if you need any assistance with this for your own business or just have a few questions, then feel free to call us on 0845 555 50 42.