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Forget Domains & Hosting: International Web Content Management Is King!
Why is it that so much airtime (including by me) is given over at conferences and through blogs to geo-targeting issues—choosing the right domain, sub-domain or folder structure or choosing the right hosting—and yet content barely ever gets mentioned? Now that wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t for the fact that content is, in the end, king just as much internationally as domestically.
I don’t mean to imply that geo-targeting isn’t important—see Bill Hunt’s excellent post on the topic. But what is beginning to concern me is the fact that, aside from the occasional mention of duplication, I cannot remember the last time that anyone actually raised a hand to ask me about managing content, at any conference I’ve spoken at—anywhere in the world.
Going global questions, in order of frequency
In fact, the questions are pretty much the same now as they were when Chris Sherman put me on one of the first international SEO conference panel some years ago:
- Should I use local domains or dot coms?
- Do I need to host locally?
- Do I need local links?
- Will my pages be duplicates?
Notice the content question? Quite right, not present. So let’s just run this up the flagpole and consider what this means. We’ve a successful site—tested in the US and consumers like it and buy from it in droves. Already, we’re seeing 20% of our sales coming from international markets. Great. So, the CEO has commanded that we should expand internationally. What do we do first?
Who wants to invest in global content?
First, we check the web analytics and discover that most of our export sales are coming from the UK, the Netherlands and Germany. Easy decision: site problem solved. Wait, how are we going to do this? Are we going to use our US dot com or do we need to go and buy local domains?
So there we go, we’re already diving deep into the challenges associated with launching our website relating to geo-targeting. So what happened to the content? I’m beginning to think that the answer to this content-attention-deficit is that all of the questions about domains, TLDs, duplication and even canonicals are coming from the same perspective—how to avoid investing additional budget into developing or expanding the content we already have?
Let’s just balance this out for a second before people become upset with me. I’m not saying that domains and hosting are not important or that they don’t play a critical role for many—heck, my company offers both as services. What I’m actually saying is that the balance isn’t right. Too many questions relate to content development avoidance and too few to what do I need to do to develop my site for my target market.
And by the way, deciding on which markets to target from your existing web analytics is a very poor way to decide which international markets to enter. There may well be much more in the way of significant opportunities from countries with a lower fluency in English that can’t understand your site. Plus, you may already be serving the majority of potential customers in the markets where you’re winning, so improving things for them may not be a high-payoff investment.
Why content is still king for international projects
Let’s take a few moments to consider four key reasons why content is still vitally important globally.
Product benefits. If you are trying to reach customers in another market, you do have to take account of how their needs and wants relate to your own products and services. While the product may be the same from market to market, the perceived benefits aren’t necessarily so. Let’s imagine you have a fantastic new red sports car design which accelerates quickly from a standing start. Italians may well be attracted by its aesthetics, Germans by the quality of your finish and Brits by the fact that it kicks serious butt under your right foot. I’m exaggerating stereotypes that aren’t really that distinct, but you get the general picture. You do have to present your products—even the same products—in a way which appeals to the customers you’re targeting.
Keyword differences. I’ve written many times about keywords and the fact that they are “abbreviated thoughts” that cannot be translated from market to market or language to language. You must start from scratch every time with some proper research. I will get that point across fully one day! Of course, that means both content and SEO needs adapting to suit. You definitely need to weave in those keywords and (this may come as something of a surprise) they may actually be different for speakers of different flavors of English too. The same product to a Brit may not have the same appeal, in the same way as it does to a North American.
Pay-per-click quality score. If you’re using pay per click with Google AdWords, then you need to consider matching the content via effective landing pages with the keywords you’re targeting. The cost benefit of doing this is significant enough to help you justify your greater investment in content.
Localized links. International users need some quality content to link to. This is not rocket science and you’ll have heard it before for English-language projects—but don’t forget you really want to earn those local-language, locally-based links to help your geo-targeting. If there’s nowhere to point them to your overall strategy may flounder.
New issues of international web content management
Managing your content in Finnish, Slovenian or Russian is also going to pose you some challenges including:
Encoding. I recommended to switch to Unicode or UTF8 for the encoding of your whole site which means your content management systems will need to be able to cope. This may have an impact on your current content management system. Worst case, run your non-English sites in a different system to avoid updating your “old” one.
Content maintenance. Translating your site the first time is only the beginning. Don’t forget to plan—and budget for—keeping your content up to date in however many languages you’ve decided to operate in.
Content decision-making. When you add new content to your home language—probably English—you also need to develop a process for deciding which content you will localize into which languages. Unless, that is, you’re planning to simply run all content in all languages which of itself would be an unwise decision with almost certainly poor ROI consequences.
Careful selection of a content management system can help you manage your key processes, including localization and SEO phases. I’ll be writing about how to choose a content management system that can help with international SEO projects in a later article.
Content is geo-targeting too
Content matters for geo-targeting. For one thing, there are many languages which not global and are spoken in limited areas. Simply by adding those languages to your site you begin to reach that geography. Examples include Polish, Korean or even Italian. But it also matters because no matter how well set-up your domains or Webmaster Central settings, unless you speak to the target market in a way they will understand, they won’t use your site, recommend you or link to you—and they might well not buy anything either.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.