Using Canonical & Hreflang Tags To Launch New Markets Quickly
Last week, someone accused me of being too technical when describing geo-targeting settings — it followed a conversation where I was told that one of my discussions was not “advanced” enough! So, I apologise in advance, as this post is going to be too technical for some and not for others!
It’s also a little theoretical, so I’m going to be talking about an approach that I personally haven’t seen tested yet — nor do I know anyone who has. But it is inspired by someone who should know about these things.
An Interesting Approach To Using Canonicals As 301s In Site Migration
At SMX East, I was lucky enough to share a panel with Maile Ohye from Google who was talking about pagnination and canonicalization, whilst I was talking about my oh, too-technical Hreflang tags. Yes, I know I don’t own Hreflang, but I have spent a year studying and explaining these, so they have kind of become my own step-tags!
Anyhow, Maile presented a very interesting approach to using canonical tags for site migration.
In this context, what we mean by ‘site migration’ by way of example, is when one company buys another and wants to close one site and move all of its links value and domain type-in traffic across to the site which will be the brand going forwards. (Sometimes both sites will be closed and pointed to a completely new name).
Migrating Content From Two Businesses Merging Can Create Duplicates
The traditional way of doing this would be to immediately redirect all links using a permanent 301 redirect structure. The downside is that the brand disappears completely from the Web and even when typing in, you go immediately across to the new brand.
As a marketer, you have to change that website and include some prominent message which says “Business B is now part of Business A — welcome aboard!”
Retaining both original sites can often mean the content from the acquired business moving to the new site and creating duplicates of the original, especially if there are tight deadlines and city rules to stick to.
Maile suggested that an alternative method would be to use the canonical tag to identify that two URLs were indeed the same content — and which of them should be chosen for display in the search engine results pages, only later swapping this for 301 redirects.
It’s an interesting idea and set me thinking: could this be used as a way of launching a business into new markets? I believe that it indeed can be used in that way.
Let’s take the example of a provider of adhesives, as I don’t provide services to any such company. Our invented supplier of adhesives has over 10,000 products, each with relatively low sales volume and each requiring a detailed and thorough explanation of the specific circumstances in which they can be used and those where they should never be touched. Very successful in the US, the company would like to expand to the UK and Australia.
Our prospective exporter has acquired the relevant domain names for the UK and Australia, where the planned roll-out is to take place, but has just been told about the risks of duplication by an expert in SEO. The boss has just figured out that some 20,000 pages of content would need to be re-worded to be safe, and there just isn’t the time, money or inclination to do that.
Setting Webmaster Settings Is Also An Option But Has Downsides
He could create second and third copies of his content on his dot-com and set webmaster tools geographic targeting settings to the two new markets. But he’s really convinced (and rightly so) about the value of appearing in front of customers using appropriate local domains. The customer’s US site is also highly successful and ranks very well in search engines.
Taking Maile’s nub of an idea, what the adhesives company could do is to create complete copies of all the content they need from the US site and publish them on the two new local domains they have acquired. They would then need to set-up the Hreflang references in the XML sitemaps to identify the languages and markets they are targeted at.
Of it’s own, this should send a signal to identify that the content is intended for the correct market place, though bear in mind the language of the content is still in US English and giving an opposite signal.
Additionally, these are still new websites with virtually no history or inbound links to help them get started, a problem marketers frequently face when they launch into a new market.
But what our adhesives team could do now is to use the canonical tag to identify that the content in the UK and Australia is the same content as that published in the US.
Why? Because the result would be that the strength of the US website would help the search engine results along in the new markets (as it probably did before all this) but now Google will show the .co.uk domain in the UK and the .com.au in Australia so that the user will go to the correct new site.
This would help the new sites pick up the click-throughs associated with their sites, as well as enabling the adhesives company to change pricing and telephone numbers on the different pages. It’s also different from using the dot com and webmaster settings to achieve this in that the migration to fully-fledged local domain sites is made much easier. The pages already have the correct URLs and link building locally can help them along.
By the way, the intention behind the above strategy is that you do move to fully-fledged UK and Australian sites because the US language will not perform long term in those markets, though it does help to generate the flow of revenue to help fund the exercise.
I’m sure there are holes in the above strategy, please let me know if you spot them. But overall, it can be used as a graduated move into a market, perhaps as test marketing or as a precursor to a full scale later launch.