For businesses big and small online international expansion is becoming more attractive and easier for marketing managers to invest in. I’m seeing is that more existing and potential clients are asking for help with this. For this SEO is essential to get right from the beginning and can be a big project to undertake.
Before even thinking about keywords or content plans I would suggest starting with your domain strategy, even if it’s just one more country to target deciding on a method is a good first step.
Top level domains (TLD)
For international SEO, the previous advice was that you should have a TLD (top level domain) for each country for best results, these relate to .co.uk and .de. However our recent research has shown that the power of this has decreased and recent statements from Google are now refuting this. Another reason this isn’t always used is because it’s more complicated than you might think. Indeed some countries state that you have must an actual physical business in that country before you can obtain a TLD, for example to get a German TLD (.de) you must have an office in Germany.
Using subdomains is a great route for big websites for which TLDs are not a viable option. This is especially true for anyone that’s received one of these messages from Google.
This would look like this uk.example.com or de.example.com. The only issue with this is that by separating out into subdomains you lose the overall domain power of having everything under one domain.
The other alternative is to use sub folders like www.example.com/uk/ or www.example.com/de/ which means that you have all the power going to one domain but the ability to target to location in website structure and the other methods below. It’s also a bit easier when organising hosting and domain purchasing.
There are lots of ways to specify the correct location for your content but top of the list should be an hreflang xml sitemap and using Webmaster Tools effectively.
Hreflang sitemaps were launched by Google in 2012 and work in a similar way to your existing XML sitemaps as in they are a list of all your URLs. The difference is that you can specify where similar or the same content for other locations or languages exist. The alternative is to use hreflang rel alternate tags in your document <head>, but handling it via a sitemap can be easier than rewriting every page. Hreflang sitemaps look like this:
<xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="http://www.example.com/deutsch/"/>
<xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="de-ch" href="http://www.example.com/schweiz-deutsch/"/>
<xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="us-en" href="http://www.example.com/us-english/"/>
This is next greatest issue with international targeting because content localisation is key, not just with the keywords or phrases you target but the language and phrasing you use on your site. As well as onsite content take the time to engage your other marketing channels to make sure your social media strategy matches up with where your local audience is, even maps or directory listing are key here.
From working with clients through this process I would say that if you’re not working with an SEO agency or consultant already now’s a good time to get one of board, especially before launch because from experience you’ll save a lot of time and money in the long run by building a website or changing structure with an international SEO strategy in place from the beginning.
4Ps isn’t just another SEO agency. To discuss how SEO and content are evolving together in order to keep pace with new developments in user interaction all over the world, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and user behaviour across all inbound channels.