3 Ways to Step Up Your International Geo-Targeting SEO Game

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:
  1. Designate which website you would like to target on the homepage of Webmaster Tools.
  2. Click on that Website.
  3. Under Search Traffic, click International Targeting
  4. 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! For more information on bringing some light to your digital marketing strategy, contact us today.

Image courtesy of: carolineCCB

Mobilizing Your Internet Marketing

When I lived in Kenya during the summer of 2007, one thing that struck me was the amount of people using cell phones for computing tasks. At a time when smart phones were just catching on (the first iPhone was released that June), it was common to see people using phones for just about everything. I was sporting a slick Razor that could store a dozen songs and that’s about it, so my laptop was everything. Things were different in Kenya. From the businesspeople in Nairobi to the people in the village hours away from the nearest major city, phones were used for everything from bank transfers to email. When I returned to Kenya in 2009 with my iPhone look-alike, the mobile market had expanded:

Things are going to be a lot different my next visit. Desktop’s grasp on the market fell steadily until mobile flipped the script at the end of 2013. Mobile devices now account for over 70% of internet use in Kenya. Let’s take at the same data in the US:

While many US users have been holding tightly to their desktops, there is no denying the mobile uprising. In Kenya, mobile devices are the primary – and usually the only – device for many Internet users, while US consumers tend to have an arsenal of devices. Even with a lower percentage of web visits completed on mobile devices in the US, the time spent on the Web using mobile devices surpassed desktop earlier this year.

Mobile has shown that it is on the rise and is already a large part of internet marketing. If this is news to you, the time to act was yesterday. We have a lot of learn from developing countries such as Kenya and paint of picture of our mobile future by looking at their past. Some of the biggest signs of the time are the ways in which Google has supported mobile devices.

Google Behind Mobile

Many online marketers have been resistant to give mobile its due credit, but users are making it clear that mobile cannot be ignored. Desktop shows no signs of becoming irrelevant by any means. In fact, the amount of web use on desktop is strong as ever, but mobile gains more momentum monthly and is taking up a larger percentage of the market. And why shouldn’t it? More and more, we seek instant gratification. If I’m walking down the street and want to get the lowdown on two different restaurants, I’m going to pull out my phone right then and there. When I’m sitting in Balboa Park and want to know more about the plants or a museum, I’m using my phone rather than waiting until I’m home. More than anything else: mobile is always convenient.

Although almost two years old, Google’s report on the multi-screen world provides some great information. For example, 40% of smart phone use was outside the home compared to 31% on desktops. The 45 page reports concludes with this: “Smartphones are the backbone of our daily media use. They are the devices most used throughout the day and serve as the most common starting point for activities across multiple screens. Going mobile has become a business imperative”. In recent years – and especially in the last few months – Google has taken action with this in mind.

As Internet marketers, one of the biggest changes we care about was the updated SERP, which signified a major step in the company’s shift to “mobile first.” Desktop SERPs are cleaner, while mobile results have similar data but presented much differently due to screen size. Dr. Pete wrote a great piece on the SERPs across devices, but the main takeaway is that above the fold real estate on mobile devices is severely limited, stressing the importance of ads, Local Listings, organic rank, and more. Since May, we have seen Webmaster Tools notifications for information regarding mobile devices, including smart phone redirects and smart phone crawl errors:

Additionally, one of our favorite tools – Page Speed Insights – notes both mobile and desktop web performance with mobile showed first.

What This Means For You

As marketers, we need to ensure that our clients’ online presence is consistent across devices. How are they showing up in SERPs on desktop and mobile, and what strategies can we employ to maximize visibility on mobile? More importantly, consider how sites are viewed on phones and tablets. At the very least, sites need to be friendly; we highly recommend responsive design. A younger, wiser me may have predicted the rise of mobile several years ago during my time in Kenya, but you know what they say about hindsight. Don’t look back on this period of time wishing you had acted. Now is the time to recognize the pervasiveness of mobile.

Single vs. Multiple Word Queries

As Google has evolved to better understand who its users are and what they want, SEO companies are continually pushed to reevaluate their onsite optimization strategies. With the search giant zeroing in on perfecting the “answer engine,” keyword strategy is now synonymous with providing the right content for users’ questions. Provide the right answers, get the clicks, get the traffic, and get the conversions.

So how do people use Google?

For most SEO companies, the data is already within reach. Google Webmaster Tools provides specific user queries for which your website’s URLs appear in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), the number of impressions generated from these queries, and the number of user clicks per query. This can be supremely helpful for identifying new keywords and improving onsite content for higher clickthrough rates, thus resulting in more traffic to your site. With all this available data, we decided to do a brief study of one website, a successful SaaS company. Focusing in on user search trends, we looked at the prevalence of short (aka head) vs. long tail keywords, and the success rates for each of them. We wanted to know which queries – long or short – were used most frequently, which generated the most impressions, and which resulted in clicks.

Comparing single vs. multiple word searches

Using one month of Webmaster Tools data from the SaaS company, we divided up some 2,057 queries based on the number of words in the searches, from one to ten or more. Below are the results. The arc of the results proved two-pronged, showing the highest clickthrough rates with one-word queries (17%), then on the other end of the spectrum with eight-word queries (39%). The latter lends credence to the “answer engine” model, wherein most of the queries were phrases or interrogative (e.g. “who, what, where”) searches. We know that the length of a search query often reflects the user’s intention. They search a one- or two-word movie title if they want local movie showtimes or the name of an actor, but then turn around and compose an 8-word query if they’re trying to find that damn song from the soundtrack they just fell in love with. And while this may seem anecdotal, this phenomenon is at least backed in our study by the individual queries themselves. The single word searches are largely branded terms, while the 8, 9, and 10+ word searches are geared more toward technical specifications of the software in question.

How do we target multiple word keywords?

With this knowledge in mind, keyword strategy must align more with helping Google determine the search results that are right for each user. Instead of looking for keywords with the highest search volume or “right amount” of competition, it might be prudent to envision the questions that users are asking — and then answer them with smart content. Rather than measuring the keyword density on your main pages, try to see how many questions these pages lend advice to — whether your target market wants to know “Who provides emergency plumbing” or “What is the knowledge graph.” Less Keyword Planner, more brainstorming sessions. While this data is from one site alone, and therefore prone to a certain margin of error, it is certainly enough to get the discussion started. We are certain that, in order to increase organic traffic and conversions on your site, a long tail (answer-based) keyword strategy will prevail. This is further backed by other industry experts’ opinions in light of the Hummingbird update which was aimed at improving results for long-tail conversational queries.