The New Rules Of International Link Building
Links in one country have a different value than links in another—and the average PageRank of sites in particular countries is not the same. So best not to start an international link building project with PageRank considerations, but rather to consider the impact of location of linking sites.
Following on from my last column when I gave guidance on how to prepare your site for successful international link building, it’s now time to look at the rules of international link building itself—at least the new rules that differ from a typical single country project. Fundamentally, link building is the same everywhere—which means it’s important to consider the quality of the links, check they’re not no-followed and take a view of the quality of the site from which they come. But there are some new factors to be considered—which I’m calling the “new rules of international link building.”
Rule 1: Location, location, location is everything
The most obvious new parameter to consider is location of the site on which a link originates—or perhaps more appropriately, where the search engines believe the link originates. To succeed in a specific geographic region, you are going to need not only good content targeted at that region and in the correct language, but also links to your site from within that region. So, if your target is to sell tire fitting to Austrians, you need a site in German and you need to acquire links from within Austria.
What does that expression “within Austria” actually mean? When you start to consider this question closely, you begin to realize just why local domains really are so crucial outside of the US. There are really only two factors which make any sense—an IP address from an Austrian server or a ‘.at’ domain for Austria.
If you’re running a hosting company serving a particular market—such as Austria—you’re going to want to be competitive and you’re going to want a good connection to the backbone of the internet. This makes it attractive for smaller hosting companies based in many smaller markets to sell—or rather to re-sell—hosting space which sits on servers which may not be located directly in Austria but might actually be in the US, UK or other country where servers resources are easier and more cost-effective to come by. In other words, not physically hosted in Austria.
What this means is that, when choosing a local link partner, the easiest way to be sure that a link from an Austrian organization is treated by search engines as a fully-fledged genuine 100% Austrian link is for it to be coming from a site with a ‘.at’ domain.
Rule 2: Correct geo-targeting helps
Meanwhile, Google allows you to specify within Webmaster Central which geographic region you would like your “.com” to be targeted at. This is a useful workaround for organizations who have a site hosted in the US and on a “.com.” But it is a workaround and there are certain deficiencies with relying on this technique. One relates to selecting link partners. If your “.com” site is targeted at Turkey, for instance, but it’s not using a “.tr” domain then you may find local Turkish link partners don’t identify with your site or wish to exchange links with you because the link will still appear to be US hosted on a “.com.”
A quick straw poll demonstrated that few people really know how Google will treat the location of the link on a geo-targeted page—but most believe that it will be given the location of the hosting if the domain is a “.com.” In a way, it doesn’t matter what the truth is, as this is a case of “perception is reality.” The solution is to correctly geo-target your site which means either hosting it locally to the market you’re targeting (and check that the hosting really is local!) or better still to run your site on the appropriate local domain.
Rule 3: Not all links are created equal
I hope to be digging into this fascinating topic more in the future with the help of the team at Majestic SEO who provided the sample data to illustrate my point. Many link builders consider the quality of links by looking at factors such as PageRank. They will also have an idea of what makes a good PageRank based on previous experience. With the new international rules of link building, it’s time to forget PageRank. Or at least don’t try and compare PageRank scores between markets because the pool of links sited within a particular country or domain will vary significantly.
The data in the chart below looks at a small sample of Majestic global link data looking at the average number of backlinks per unique domain in the top 75 countries on the database. It produces some interesting findings.
The number of backlinks per unique domain for a sample of data in the database.
The chart illustrates and hopefully proves my point that the value of links in particular countries or regions varies subject to how much link “competition” there is in that country—and the quality of the competing sites. It doesn’t even matter if you agree or disagree with the findings in the chart as it will vary by sector—the key point is, “It’s different!”
Top of the list is the European Union, which is a good example. For the purposes of this dataset, the European Union is sites which carry the ‘.eu’ domain. There are relatively few of these—but the typical quality of sites within that group is good. What this means is that, at least in theory, obtaining links from sites classified as within the European Union will be good for the whole network of sites, but the quality of links within that region will need to be of a particularly good quality to compete. Equally, a Saudi Arabian link will be good for the whole network—but expect standards to be high within that country.
At the bottom of the scale, countries such as the Philippines or Uzbekistan will require fewer higher PageRank sites to be competitive within those countries and will offer less value for the whole network globally. The bottom line is—links within some countries can help the whole site perform better globally whereas other countries may be easier to target locally—but will add less to the global link juice. Might be time to re-think your international link building strategy!