Before You Launch Your International SEO Campaign

On March 3, 2011, wrote:

Launching your website into an international arena is not as simple as you might think. Even just buying the country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) names, if you choose to go down that route, can be tricky if you don’t actually have a base in that country. And while the basic principle behind SEO may remain pretty similar from country to country, you’re going to have to put a lot of thought into turning your website international.

If you’re looking into multilingual SEO, the first thing you need to decide is how you’re going to deal with translation and keyword research. You cannot simply run your site through a translation tool and assume it will get everything spot-on for you. And while you might think you’ve got the right keywords in the right place, once your international traffic arrives on your site they’re going to be able to tell straight away if it’s been poorly translated – in which case you’ve instantly lost that trust and any potential conversions. Then you’ve got the practicality of running a straight translation: if you’re selling car insurance in France you might think you want to optimize your site for “voiture d’assurance” which is the straight translation of “car insurance”; but a typical French person is more likely to search for “auto assurance”, which has a much higher search volume despite the fact that it’s more of a slang phrase. It’s always best to find someone who is not only fluent in the language but also knows it well enough to understand syntax and any slang or informal phrases you should be optimizing for.

Then you’ve got the actual template of your website to consider. Things like heading tags or title tags might have a character limit on them which you’ve accounted for with your English language, but when translated into something like Hungarian, you might find you’ve maxed out your character limit before you’ve got all your keywords in place. Even if your template doesn’t limit the character count, you have to remember that the search engines will stop weighting characters after they reach a certain limit.

Also, you’ve got to consider the actual URLs. The two most common options here are to opt for either a ccTLD or subfolders. This is the one area that most web developers will take into consideration when expanding to an international platform. Traditionally the ccTLDs will have more weight in terms of SEO, they’re alerting the search engines to the country they’re targeting straight away and they’re obviously country-specific. The subfolders mean you get to keep the power of your website behind them and if you already have a particularly powerful domain, this can help kick start your international SEO efforts.

A common mistake a lot of websites make when going international is choosing another English-speaking market because they think it will be easier. This is not the case. You might understand the actual language but again you might not know enough of the informal words or phrases to insure your SEO is as effective as possible. Even if you swap some Ss for some Zs and misspell “colour” as “color”, you’re still going to have a duplicate content issue. If you’re translating the site completely into another language the search engines are not going to count the sites as duplicate content. but if you’re just tuning a UK site to a US site, you’re not making enough of a change and you’ve got a site full of duplicate content. Although this alone might not be enough to really damage your new site, any SEO worth their salt is not going to be happy letting a duplicate site go live. It’s bad practice, even if you can get the right site and the right URL to rank in the right country.

About the author:Kim is currently working on the SEO for Surfdome, a one-stop shop for your beach clothing this summer, with Sandals and flip flops.


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