The majority of international link building projects or RFPs I see are based on existing successful projects—so why do so many fail when they expand internationally? The simple answer is that international link building requires a different type of preparation than national link building. Why? For most people, starting a link building campaign is relatively straightforward—you simply go out and get the links to point to the site. Internationally, it’s more complicated. Yes, you need links, but you need to have them pointing to the right corners of the site—in the right language—and connecting back to the core, somehow.
For instance, you’ll most probably be working on a project involving at least two languages—probably English and then one from FIGS (French, Italian, German, Spanish) or the Asian Trinity (Mandarin, Japanese or Korean) or Russian. In many of these cases, the language is a “world language” such as French or Spanish, spoken by many people in different nations. That presents a wider range of link building opportunities than those in just one country where a single language is spoken, but means you have to take a wide angle view.
Planning geo-targeting is the first step
Before you start, it’s important to do a little planning. Having a clear geo-targeting strategy is the very first decision you need to make. The target website’s geo-selection architecture is also critical. Don’t get confused by these two geo-things: they are different from one another, and require different planning. Here’s why.
Geo-targeting means deciding not only which markets you plan to target but also which search engine radio selector buttons you wish to appear in, to put it simply. Let’s say you wish to target the French in France and French-speakers in Morocco or other French-speaking countries but you only have one French-language website. What most search marketers would do is to sacrifice appearing in results from the “Pages: France” (pages located on servers in France) in favor of focusing on “Pages Francophone” results (any French language pages) This allows you to concentrate on promoting via the language rather than any specific countries. However, in most cases, this would be a mistake.
The right strategy—even if you’re focusing on French-speakers rather than pages from France would still be to target positioning your site in France. You’ll gain more potential traffic, as well as a cultural advantage. From a traffic point of view, the greatest concentration of French-speakers is based in France, the language’s motherland, and a percentage of them will choose to set their search on “Pages: France.” You may as well capture those extra visits. Additionally, the cultural angle is that some French-speakers outside France will choose to search ‘in France’ because they expect a solution to be available there even when it isn’t in their home country. An example of this would be Algerians who have a native Google.dz search still often choose to go to Google.fr!
A lot of confusion often exists in people’s minds between language, country and region. Some may want to be able to choose the language and country or region separately, but this is not the case for most searchers and isn’t especially easy to manage from an SEO perspective. For most it will be better to define regions and link them to a language. This is what I referred to as geo-selection (or informally geos) above. So, Belgique would represent the French-speaking area of Belgium and België the Dutch or Flemish area, and each would have its own separate web site. Except in a small number of cases, languages are usually linked to a particular geographic region, which makes approach easier than it may seem at first look.
Geo-selection means sharing links
There is little point in embarking on an international link building program unless the method by which your different country sites interlink has been properly set-up. So here are some rules, my rules, for how geo-selection should work:
- The geo-selector itself should have its own URL. This could be a dot com site or some other domain such as dot net (preferred) or it might be an internal URL
- Each page should link back to the country selector URL. This enables you to pass link equity around the site and will strengthen the results you obtain from your efforts
- A user should be able to choose their own country and therefore language
- Important content should link across to the same content in other major languages—good place to do this is in a sitewide footer
You’ll note that what that means is that the same page can link in two different ways at once in an “international” sense; to the international selector and to similar content in other languages. I highly recommend this approach.
Over recent years, a debate has raged over whether local domains or dot coms are better for international web sites. I have made it something of a personal mission to argue the case for local domains at SMX conferences around the globe. I believe the reason so many came to the conclusion that dot com sites were “better at passing PageRank” is because very few sites have actually set up their geo-selector approach correctly because, quite simply, that’s very difficult to do on sites which already exist.
Consider reputation and regulation
Having fixed both geo-targeting and geo-selection, you’re almost ready to head on and kick off your international link building. The next thing you need to do (and it would be best if you created a first draft for consideration by your international agency) is to look at your international reputation. If you have a strong reputation in the US, but are unknown elsewhere, then link building is going to be tough and you need to adapt your strategies to suit. For instance, if you have a low brand awareness then it would be best to combine directory submissions with online PR to get things moving.
Beware also of regulatory blind spots. If your business is legal in the US—but not in the countries you’re targeting—then you’re also going to find link building tough to say the least. And as Bas van den Beld wrote last week in this column—there are some significant variations even between European Union countries.
Don’t forget the keyword research
You’ll find enough in this column on making sure you do keyword research the right way – which means that it is carried out by a search marketing-trained native speaker of your target language. Obviously this, and the general quality of your content, will have a significant impact on the success of your campaign as well.
Now we’ve got some of the preparation out of the way you can get cracking with deciding on your international link building strategy. More in a future column.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.