Global & International SEO Ranking Factors

When you think about International SEO, it is easy to imagine Global 2000 companies with offices and employees around the globe. It can be equally important to the small business that sells globally from one location.

How do you convince the search engines to include you in their international rankings on a country by country level?

Google has numerous country code top level domains (ccTLD). Each provides search results targeted for a specific country in its native language:

www.google.it.ao, www.google.co.bw, www.google.bi, www.google.ci, www.google.cd, www.google.dj, www.google.com.eg, www.google.com.et, www.google.gm, www.google.com.gh, www.google.co.ke, www.google.co.ls, www.google.com.ly, www.google.mw, www.google.mu, www.google.co.ma, www.google.com.na, www.google.com.ng, www.google.cg, www.google.rw, www.google.sh, www.google.st, www.google.sn, www.google.sc, www.google.co.za, www.google.co.ug, www.google.co.zm, www.google.co.zw

Bing takes a different approach. Instead of using separate ccTLD domains they use www.bing.com and set location and language cookies. See the full list at http://www.bing.com/worldwide.aspx.

While you and I might use Google or Bing, the top search engine in the Czech Republic is Senzam. In China it’s Baidu. In Japan, Yahoo. Check out  webCertain’s Search and Social Report to see top search engines for different countries.

Each search engine has its own set of ranking factors and best practices. For example, on Yandex, the top search engine in Russia, you want to be listed in the Yandex Directory. You will also want to ensure Yandex has the correct region settings for your website.

With the above considerations in mind, I wanted to share some general ranking factors for international SEO to complement the advice shared in the Multinational Search column.

Unfortunately, the best route to optimization may remain unclear or subject to budget. Not everyone can afford or manage hosting in multiple countries. Usually it comes down to gathering as much information as possible then making the best decisions for your budget, company, and visitors.

1.  Target Countries Or Languages?

Should you target each country or group them by language? Google seems to favor targeting countries.

If you go to Google Webmaster Tools > Site Configuration > Settings you can designate a geographic target. Something many webmasters do not know is the fact that you can register subfolders separately in Google Webmaster Tools and designate a different geographic target for each subfolder. You must register subdomains separately for Webmaster Tools to recognize them.

Generally, I recommend targeting countries. The exception is when you use subfolders instead of ccTLDs and have clients in many different countries. When both of these are true it can make sense to focus on languages instead of countries to avoid duplicate content issues or diluting link authority. Just make sure you will be getting local links.

2.  ccTLD, Subfolder Or Subdomain?

ccTLDs are the best option for international SEO if you believe each ccTLD will be capable of competitive link building over time and each site will receive regular additions of compelling content. I strongly suggest ccTLDs for countries where Google and Bing are not the top search engines.

If you are just starting out or do not have lots of authority among your international ccTLD sites, then using or switching to a subfolder strategy may work better for you. While each country or language section will still need its own links and content, they may benefit from domain wide authority. Down the road you can switch to a ccTLD strategy and 301 redirect authority as you launch new sites. This will work best for Google and Bing SEO.

About the only time I suggest subdomains is when maintaining ccTLDs will be too onerous and it is impossible to use subfolders. This can be the case with hosted content management systems, though you ought to be able to overcome this with reverse-proxies.  That said, if each subdomain receives continuous new content and links they may rank well.

Make sure you geographically target each country’s site, subfolder or subdomain in Google Webmaster Tools. Recently Google delisted Burberry’s US site because it duplicated of their UK site.

3.  Language Meta Tag

While Bing does not offer geotargeting, it does pay attention to the language meta tag. Make sure this is set properly for all pages on all sites.

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

4.  Hosting & IP Address

The geographic location of a website is a Google ranking factor. If you can handle the challenges of hosting locally, do it.

5.  Written Language

Language is critical to the success of international content. From keywords to phrasing to grammar, it all impacts your SEO success. Do not simply translate one language into another and put it up on your ccTLD site. Perform native language keyword research so you target the best words and phrases.

Rewrite for each country, even if it’s the same language. That might be obvious when going from Spanish to French, but keep in mind that UK English differs from American English. Local words and phrases enhance long tail SEO and improve usability.

6.  Local Content

Use local addresses and contact information, preferably in machine readable format such as Schema.org. Add local stories or case studies with the names and images from within each country. Customizing content for each country or market makes it more relevant, increases local link building opportunities, and decreases duplicate content.

7.  Design & Usability

Speaking of usability, different countries prefer different design esthetics. Recreating your mother website in a different language may not be enough. Review each site with a local Web designer or someone who specializes in the target country.

8.  Currency & Forms

Do you have currency options for all the countries your websites target? Are those countries listed in checkout or contact forms?

9.  XML Sitemaps

Make sure each site uses XML sitemaps and register them with the search engines. If you use subfolders, create a separate sitemap for each country and register it in Google Webmaster Tools as a different website.

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

10.  Local Search Registration

Register each site with Google Places, Bing Business Portal and local equivalents like the Yandex Directory.

11.  Local Activity: Links, Mentions, Votes & Reviews

While most of the ranking signals I have mentioned are on-site SEO, the ultimate signals of authority will come from off-site. Search engine representatives have stated that links from within countries matter. You need to engage in local link building. Recently Google announced +1 button in search for more countries and domains.

Obviously, search engines are looking at social signals around the world. In each country, are local websites linking to yours? Are residents mentioning your brand and site in social media? Do they review your brand on review sites? Make sure you have on off-site SEO plan for each country you market to.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO

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About The Author: is a longtime Internet marketing analyst and consultant specializing in inbound marketing, social media and SEO. He enjoys helping enterprise brands organize their Web presence and grow search engine and referral traffic. Tom began Internet marketing in 1996. You can read more of Tom's musings at http://inboundbound.com.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://twitter.com/SEOminister Ashish Chauhan

    One of the best article that I have read about international SEO. Really helpful. Thanks Tom

  • Ballen25

    Very informative. I am about to launch a global SEO campaign actually and this is really going to give me some extra speeeed!

  • http://twitter.com/Carneytech Carney Technologies

    thanks ,good article 

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    “Customizing content for each country or market makes it more relevant,
    increases local link building opportunities, and decreases duplicate
    content.”

    I wholeheartedly agree with this one! Each regional site should have it’s own content. I know that’s not always a possibility for massive international brands, but it can make a big difference in the long run.

  • http://twitter.com/BGiffuni Blas Giffuni

    You’re really strong on the use of subdirectories instead of subdomains. Do you have any data that proves your recommendation?

  • http://twitter.com/sharithurow sharithurow

    Hi all-

    Blas, my data shows (I’m talking 17 years of data and counting) that it doesn’t make a difference if you use subdirectories or subdomains in terms of SEO. What is more important is that your pages link to each other appropriately. Information architecture and usability data should determine whether to use a subdirectory or subdomain. 

    And I’m a web developer. I’m surprised that this debate (subdirectories vs. subdomains) keeps popping up every now and again. My 2 cents.

    Speaking of information architecture, I’ve usability tested page layouts, navigation labels, etc. in different countries. Not only is copying the design of the “mother” website a probable mistake, so is copying the information architecture, corresponding navigation schemes, and labels.

    I understand it is more work for designers/developers. But it’s worth it. 

  • http://www.perfect-it.fr PERFECT-IT

    A very interesting article, I’ve recently moved from a bilingual website to 2 separate ones and bought new domain names so as to hopefully get more visitors to the French one by having a French name as well as a .fr domain (www.anglais-correct.fr). Too soon to see any real results yet though

  • http://twitter.com/Tudor_Davies Tudor Davies

    I’ve never actually worked on a foreign site but I’ve heard it can be hard going, Especially trying to get links from foreign websites, when you don’t speak the language.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HT3FZJRBIAZTOCNAYNZSA3FJBA MAKHLUK

    helpful for the webdesigner

 

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