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International SEO Global SEO

International SEO, sometimes referred to as global SEO, applies to any business targeting a multi-national marketing. Whether your business is a hotel conglomerate or an adventurous entrepreneur, international search engine optimization (SEO) principles will guide your web marketing success.

International SEO Challenges

SEO for global businesses can be achieved using different options, all with different costs, benefits, and risks. The challenge is to understand each option and determine its fit with your business goals, resources, and long-term plans. One of the biggest challenges is to adopt the search engine preferences of each country’s citizens. To many in the Americas, Australia, and much of Europe, it is shocking to discover that there are search engines other than Google and Bing, for example:

Country Popular Search Engine
Czech Republic Senzam
China Baidu
Poland naszaklasa

Each search engine has its own ranking algorithms and structures. For example, Google values local business pages on Google+ while the most popular search engine in Russia, Yandex, gives weight to being listed in the Yandex Directory. Though many search engines exist, Google’s market share exceeds 90% globally. For more about search engines for different countries, search for “Webcertain Global Search and Social Report”.

Determining website structure with a search engine Google provides search results targeted for a specific country in its native language using country code top-level domains (ccTLD). For example:

Country ccTLD Example
Argentina www.google.com.ar
United Kingdom www.google.co.uk
Lybia www.google.com.ly
Zimbabwe www.google.co.zw

The second most popular search engine in the US, Bing, does not use the ccTLD domain scheme. Instead it uses www.bing.com with location and language set using cookies. See Bing’s worldwide list. The varied popularities of search engines in different countries combined with the varying ways the search engines work make optimizing for international SEO an endeavor fraught with compromises and risks. Budget is frequently the biggest determinant in deciding how to form the international SEO strategy and how much global SEO to undertake. The tips below will provide some guidance on key decisions.

Which to target, country or language?

Google’s best practice is to target countries. It enables webmasters to set a geographic target in the Google WebmasterTool’s site configuration settings. In fact, it allows separate geographic designation for subfolders. Subdomains are registered in Webmaster Tools so that they are recognized by the tool. Targeting countries using ccTLDs is usually the best approach. However, if you use subfolders and have clients in many different countries, focusing on languages instead of countries can help you avoid duplicate content and backlink dilution (authority ranking) issues. If you target languages, it is vital to attract or create “local” backlinks.

Things to consider for using ccTLDs for international SEO

  • If budget and website purpose will enable each ccTLD to regularly add high-quality content and build a competitive portfolio of backlinks.
  • If you are targeting a country in which Google or Bing are not the popular engines.
  • You will receive higher click-through rates and higher conversions with bigger spend, but it costs more to gain authority for the separate domain.

Things to consider for using subfolders for international SEO

  • If you do not have authority for your ccTLD sites or cannot afford to set up additional sites and build authority, subfolders can benefit from a single domain’s authority.
  • If using Google or Bing, subfolders are an effective way to get started in a country. You can build authority through backlinks and content for each country or language folder then later migrate to ccTLDs using permanent redirects to maintain the authority you’ve built for the subfolders.
  • With subfolders, you do not benefit from the higher click-through rates and conversions of ccTLDs, but you can defer higher investment to build authority for separate domains.

Things to consider for using subdomains for international SEO

  • Subdomains are not usually the best choice. Domain authority does not benefit subdomains at the same efficiency as it does subfolders.
  • If ccTLDs are too costly to maintain and subfolders are not a possibility due to a technical issue, then subdomains can work if they frequently receive fresh new content and backlinks.

Key things to remember

  • Ensure each country’s site, subfolder or subdomain is geographically targeted in Webmaster Tools.
  • Ensure the language meta tag is set properly on all sites for each pages, example:

<meta http-equiv=”content-language” content=”en-us”>.

  • If you can afford the setup and maintenance of local hosting, then do it as geographic location of a website’s IP address is a ranking factor for Google.
  • Use native language keyword research and content writing to promote global SEO. Simply translations of content from one language into another do not account for the differences in phrasing and grammar and cultural effects of topics. Cutting corners for international content creation will result in a site that does not garner trust of its visitors and so building domain authority, much less conversions will require more investment than native language keyword analysis and content creation.
  • The rule of rewriting for each country is not just for switching languages. It also applies to the same language. English in North America, the UK, Australia, and South Africa differ greatly especially when targeting long tail keywords. And again, it builds trust that brings higher conversions and stronger domain authority.
  • Localize content. Use local contact information such as phone numbers and addresses (including search-engine friendly Schema.org format will boost SEO benefits). Include local project portfolios with local images. Register each site with local search engine directories such as creating a local Google+ page, Bing Business Portal listing, Yandex Directory listing, etc. This investment will increase local link building and decreases the amount of duplicate content among your sites.
  • Localize linking and social media. Authority, PageRank, and most measures of trust depend on links from within the target country. Use local link building strategies and social media engagement. Gain reviews for your brand locally.
  • Localize usability. Evaluate your websites for its usability across countries such as including the right currency options for each targeted country and listing each country in the drop-down on contact forms.
  • No matter what structure you choose, e.g., ccTLD, subfolder, treat each as a separate website registering separate XML sitemaps in the appropriate search engines.

Setting a global SEO strategy is a complex activity. Please contact us with any questions you have regarding planning or executing international SEO for your business.