International SEO: What’s the Catch?
Multinational corporations have long had a strong presence in many countries all around the world, and yet small and medium-sized businesses are increasingly accessing the business arena and beefing up their online presence, creating real competition for the multinationals. Both sides must find ways to tailor their websites to both national and international audiences and rank well in regional SERPs, hence, the subject of international SEO is born.
The first choice websites should make for international SEO is between a sub-domain and a country-specific domain (.de for Germany, .fr for France, .ru for Russia, etc.). On the one hand, the appeal of a big corporation with multiple branches is necessary to certain industries such as travel, electronics, and banking, while on the other hand, some industries necessitate a more local feel. Sub-domains allow for more centralized content management and greater site integration. Furthermore, SEO successes on one page have a positive impact on the whole site. Conversely, SEO failures and search engine punishments will adversely impact the whole site. As a rule of thumb, go for the country-specific domain due to its subconscious appeal to customers.
Naturally, language translation is the backbone of international SEO, and can prove to be prohibitively expensive when entering a new market. Unfortunately, translation tools are far from perfect, and imperfect language knowledge by one of the company’s employees is not sufficient. Ideally, a native professional translator can help you catch the slight nuances in the word usage. It is vital that you analyze what keywords your targeted market niche uses, accounting for regional variations, and incorporate these into the text translation. Translation work is generally expensive, so you should estimate beforehand whether the initial investment is likely to pay off. Furthermore, non-native translations can be spotted easily, so saving money from this is not a sound business idea.
The translated content can be stored in different locations, and a lot of companies utilize content delivery networks (CDNs) simply because some countries’ infrastructures are better than others. There is no strong correlation between SERP results and content storage1. Nevertheless, when the content is physically closer to the user, the page loads faster, which in turn improves the user experience.
User experience indirectly influences international SEO by driving traffic through word of mouth, and having backlinks created, which organically increases your page rank and authority. Users are easily impressed by local signs such as local currency, local contact numbers, and if possible, a local office of the company. Naturally, you should choose the most cost effective method, such as “buying” a local number and connecting it to your standard line. Beware that you must always have fluent speakers of the language, so relying on cheaper outsourcing alternatives will not pay off.
When there are multiple versions of one page in different languages, and the first one has the highest domain authority, you should tell Google to select the right language version for its regional searches. This is done through the rel=”alternate” hrefland=”x” tag. The tag basically says which version should be used in alternative geographical regions. However, do not think that Panda will punish identical pages as 1) the local signs and 2) the tags notify Google of the site’s nature.
Finally, SEO, whether it’s national or international, needs good content to work well. However, simply translating your original articles will not be sufficient for this as users quickly catch on to that. Take a look at Deutsche Welle2, as it has country specific articles on all of its country-related pages. Furthermore, its interface and moderators interact only in that language. Perhaps your site can emulate this in order to truly attract local customers as well.