3 Ways to Step Up Your International Geo-Targeting SEO Game
May 19, 2015
The Internet is a big place, and there are millions of companies in different geographic regions around the world trying to increase their business presence online – not only in their own country, but in other countries as well. Google, in turn, has more than 70 offices in more than 40 countries around the globe. In an effort to better index content from different countries, Google has set up country-specific versions of the search-giant to better serve those areas — from Australia to Zimbabwe, and they all have slightly different algorithms, not to mention different languages, that require a slightly different strategy for each of them.
If you have a website and suspect that you might benefit from an international SEO plan, you should first look for some specific indicators to see if you are ready to take this leap into the international. Aleyda Solis, an esteemed International SEO Consultant from Orainti and Seer Interactive, posted a great checklist and infographic on Moz.com that can help you answer this question. You can view Aleyda’s post here, and I have pulled a couple points from it below:
- Determine if you have sufficient traffic (total and organic) from other countries within Google Analytics.
- Check that your website gets adequate visibility within a specific country within Webmaster Tools.
- Verify that your search targets get decent keyword search traffic in other countries with tools like SEMRush, and/or Adwords Keyword Planner.
If you believe that you meet the criteria, then you are ready to get started! Below I will present 3 different methods to help maximize your International SEO efforts that will help your business better reach your target market and your target location! Below are some tips that I have come across during my own experiences that will help your business within a specific country, or any geo-location where you might have some prospective customers.
Option #1: Set up a specific country-coded TLD for that country.
It is theorized that a country’s specific Google will have a tendency to favor websites that reside within that country. And this might in turn be reflected within the SERP placements. So if your company has a presence in a specific country, you might want to consider setting up a specific TLD, or “Top Level Domain” that is specific to that country. And doing so might help you click-through rate as well. In this community post on Moz.com, and quoting from Moz’s Cyrus Shepard:
“Using a country level domain can boost your SEO targeting in that specific area, may help with click-through rate depending on local biases, and sometimes it’s easier to create a country specific ‘brand’ with this approach.”
That is pretty cool! So, if you want to grow your presence and rankings in a place like New Zealand, you might want to consider setting up a domain, or “brand” that is specific to that country. An example of this would be www.yourbusiness.nz, or even a subdomain option like nz.yourbusiness.com.
One thing to point out is, if you are trying to target multiple countries with the same website, and if you do decided to set up multiple TLDs, that means that you will have to do SEO for each of them separately. This might actually double the workload for you.
Some of the other negatives are the expenses to setup multiple domains, the hassle of working with multiple Google Analytics profiles, and even the possibility of citizenship restrictions. Some TLDs are more heavily regulated than others, and you can see a decent list of the numerous ccTLDs available, and their specific requirements here. Some of them are pretty humorous. For instance, if you were planning on setting up a ccTLD in Antarctica, you have to be from a “government organization who are signatories to the Antarctic Treaty”. LOL!
Another point that Aleyda Solis touched on in her Moz post, again located here, is that if you are targeting based on language primarily, a ccTLD might not be the best idea for you. Instead, you might want to consider featuring different language options within subdirectories or even subdomains on your website.
Option #2: Set up Basic Geographic Targeting within Webmaster Tools.
Webmaster Tools is Google’s olive branch for webmasters and SEOs alike, and you can utilize it to not only clear those pesky crawl errors and show top search trends, but also to help with your geo-targeting. There are some easy steps that you can take within Webmaster Tools to set country preferences that basically informs Google that you would like to be favored in a specified region or country. The great people at Search Engine Land provided steps on how to accomplish this. Just follow these easy steps:
- Designate which website you would like to target on the homepage of Webmaster Tools.
- Click on that Website.
- Under Search Traffic, click International Targeting
- In the Geographic Target section, select the option to target either by Location or by Language.
You can quickly and easily set up specific geo-targeting for either your entire site, a subdomain of your site, or even a specific subfolder on your website.
Option #3: Set Up Hreflang Markups.
You can take Geographic targeting to the next level by adding Rel=”Alternate” Hreflang Annotation to your site. This helps Googlebot determine which URLs on a particular site should be targeted to visitors based on both language, and geographic location.
This option does require some coding know-how, so talk to your favorite programmer; or, if you want to do it yourself, Google has been nice enough to provide three ways we can implement these, using a Spanish website as an example. So just substitute with your own language preference or country:
➢ HTML link element in header. In the HTML <head> section of http://www.example.com/, add a link element pointing to the Spanish version of that webpage at http://es.example.com/, like this: <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es” href=”http://es.example.com/” />
➢ HTTP header. If you publish non-HTML files (like PDFs), you can use an HTTP header to indicate a different language version of a URL: Link: <http://es.example.com/>; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”es” To specify multiple hreflang values in a Link HTTP header, separate the values with commas like so: Link: <http://es.example.com/>; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”es”,<http://de.example.com/>; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”de”
➢ Sitemap. Instead of using markup, you can submit language version information in a Sitemap.
If you do decide to featuring multiple language variations on your website, you can either have the website auto-detect where a user is visiting from, and direct them to the appropriate version, or even leave that decision up to the user. Studies have shown that it is better for user-experience, and SEO in general, to direct all visitors to one version, and provide an option to toggle between the different language versions. If you do decide to do this, be sure to present these options in a very prominent, easy-to-find spot on the page, like the upper left quadrant of your header.
Language AND Location targeting? Be careful!
Being the Devil’s Advocate, like Keanu, I would like to point out an instance where it would not be a good idea to implement geo-targeting within Webmaster Tools or the Hreflang markup. This would be with the false assumption that if you have a website version in a specific language, it should only be targeted to a specific country. For example, if you have a website that is fully or partially translated in French, you might not want to exclusively geo-target France, because there might be potential customers in another part of the world, like Canada, that are fluent in French and possibly interested in your products. So be sure to factor this into your decision and not limit your potential business opportunities.
In Conclusion…there are many ways to geo-target your website and get some extremely powerful results. You can start with something simple, like setting the Geographic Targeting in Webmaster Tools, and then later move into something more advanced, like fully translating a version of your site, spend the money for designated TLDs, or executing the Hreflang markups. So consider your current website’s traffic and statistics, as well as your business goals and marketing objectives and make the decision to boost your geo-targeting today!
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Image courtesy of: carolineCCB