Top 5 things to consider for international SEO Strategy

30th April 2014

SEO across the globe
International SEO is the phrase used for optimising websites targeting multiple countries or multiple languages or both. Have you thought about how Google and other search engines will treat your website when you want to appear in search results for multiple countries? Here are five of the most important things to consider when building a website for multiple countries and languages.

 

1. Domain & URL Structure

When you think about international reach, this is the very first factor that you must consider. Making a decision on URL structure can be vital. There are many factors that you may want to consider when looking at improving your reach internationally. Here is a chart to explain the pros and cons of each from Google webmaster:

URL structure Example Pros Cons
ccTLDs  example.co.nzexample.com.au
  • Clear geotargeting
  • Server location irrelevant
  • Easy separation of sites
  • Expensive (and may have limited availability)
  • Requires more infrastructure
  • Strict ccTLD requirements (legal)
  • Expensive (and may have limited availability)
  • Requires more infrastructure
  • Strict ccTLD requirements (legal)
Subdomains with gTLDS  nz.example.comau.example.com
  • Easy to set up
  • Can use Webmaster Tools geotargeting
  • Allows different server locations
  • Easy separation of sites
  • Users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone (is “de” the language or country?)
  • Users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone (is “de” the language or country?)
Subdirectories with gTLDs  example.com/nz/example.com/au/
  • Easy to set up
  • Can use Webmaster Tools geotargeting
  • Low maintenance (same host)
  • Links to all the pages count towards domain authority
  • Users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone
  • Single server location
  • Separation of sites harder
  • Users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone
  • Single server location
  • Separation of sites harder
URL parameters  site.com?loc=nzsite.com?loc=au
  • Not recommended.
  • URL-based segmentation difficult
  • Users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone
  • Geotargeting in Webmaster Tools is not possible
  • URL-based segmentation difficult
  • Users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone
  • Geotargeting in Webmaster Tools is not possible

The selection between ccTLDs and gTLDs comes down to the resources and time available for SEO of the websites and availability of domains. If you operate in more than two countries, we recommend that you look at sub-directories with the gTLD (.com, .org, etc.) option. These are easy to manage and have a clean structure. Moreover, from an SEO point of view, the efforts put into building links to any part of the website will benefit to build overall domain authority of your website in search engines.

 

2. Geotargeting of websites

The use of ccTLDs (example.co.nz) is generally considered as a strong signal to tell users and search engines about your targeting location of the website. But as mentioned above regarding the cons of using ccTLD and limited availability, most of the SEOs prefer subdirectories or subdomains.

So, how to approach geotargeting for gTLD (.com, .net, etc.) with different locations? You may also have your servers located outside New Zealand due to your infrastructure needs. So, by default your website geotargeting may be totally wrong to search engines.

This is not very hard; you can always use Google webmasters tools to tell Google about your targeted location of the website. Here are your options:

a)  If you have a .com or any other gTLD and want to target users in NZ only:

  • Set up Google Webmaster Tools
  • Go to the specific URL after logging in
  • Click on the settings button in the top-right corner
  • Go to “Site Settings
  • Set country to “New Zealand” under Geographic Target

b)  If you have .com or any other gTLD and want to target users in multiple locations:

  • Submit different sub-directories/subdomains as different sites in Webmaster tools, i.e. example.com/nz, example.com/au, etc.
  • Now you will have different sites under Webmaster tools dashboard
  • Set specific locations for each as shown above
  • This will tell Google that any pages or content on these sub-directories/subdomains targets different locations, i.e. example.com/nz targets NZ users

Remember, you can register subfolders separately in Google Webmaster Tools and designate a different geographic target for each subfolder.

Find more information about geotargeting here.

Also, there are many types of global-TLDs that you must be aware before picking your domain. You can find a complete list of geotargetable domains here.

 

3. Duplicate Content

Websites built for different regions and in different languages may present content that is the same or similar and available on different URLs. According to Google, this is generally not a problem as long as the content is for different users in different countries. But, we recommend that you should use the previously mentioned techniques to differentiate geotargeting of the content.

If you are providing the same content to the same users with different URLs, you should pick a preferred version and redirect appropriately (i.e. if you have .co.nz domain and .com/nz version on gTLD with same content). You can also use rel=canonical link element. But we prefer to set 301 redirects to the preferred version, so that you carry over the SEO value from the old version if there is any.

Moreover, make sure that the content is tailored to the specific audience. For example, if you are an e-commerce store, use local terms and addresses where possible. Here is the list of major On-Page elements you should consider updating according to the targeted country:

  • Title
  • Description
  • H1 & H2 Tags
  • Copy on the pages
  • Internal linking on country-specific directory/domain
  • Easy navigation to switch to other countries
  • Currency & forms
  • Local content

 

4. Different Languages

Language is critical to the success of international SEO of the website. When you want to provide content in different languages with the different locations, you should be looking at this carefully.

According to Google, the best way to target users for that language is to use visible content in that language on a specific URL. Don’t just translate the content with an automatic translator and create multiple pages — content must be translated by professionals to make the most sense out of it. Google suggests using robots.txt to block search engines from crawling automatically translated pages on your site if you still want to use automatic translators to generate multilingual content.

You should also perform a native keyword research to target the best keywords for targeted countries. There are even different types of English languages available for different countries i.e. UK English and Australian English are different. Use of local words and phrases enhance long tail SEO and improve visibility in search engines.

Language Meta Tag

With the help of rel=”alternate” herflang=”x”  tags, you can specify multi-language URLs in the same domain as a given URL, or use URLs from a different domain.

Find more information on this topic here.

 

5. XML Sitemaps

When optimising your website for different locations, make sure that each version uses an XML sitemap and register this with search engines. For the gTLD websites using subfolders/subdomains, create a separate sitemap and submit it in Google Webmaster Tools as a different website under a specific profile for each country.

 

In conclusion, SEO for multi-regional and multilingual websites is the key to get more qualified traffic to your website from different locations across the globe. Getting your basics right is very important, so that you have the best chance of success.

Should you want to expand your website internationally or you have any issues regarding your international online presence, talk to FIRST today for expert advice.