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SEO Around the World: Creating International Websites

October 28th, 2015

If you’ve ever watched Last Week Tonight with John Oliver you probably know about his reoccurring bit where he mislabels a foreign country only to point out how nobody has noticed the error. For me, this is one of those “it’s funny because it’s true” type of situations. I’m terrible when it comes to foreign geography.

This wasn’t much of a problem professionally until I was hired by a client who wanted a website targeted to Germany. Sure, I’ve heard of Germany. But I didn’t know how to market towards the average German.

Should the content be in German? Or is English okay? How is a site in Germany different from one in America? I had no clue.

Over the years, I’ve taken on more and more international clients. This was never part of my business plan, but once I successfully completed the German site more international orders started coming in. Even though international sites seemed complicated at first, I ended up learning the right way to approach them – no matter how little I knew about the foreign country involved. 

Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned about internet marketing and international websites:

Determine the Type of Targeting

The business must decide what type of targeting they want. There are two major types: country and language. There are specific reasons to use each.

Country:

This is the ideal localization. This does require enough potential users and search volume to justify. Typically, this happens with large companies who already have an established customer base.

Language:

When Country isn’t the best choice, you should go with language. This doesn’t mean Language is the second choice. Rather, Language is often the best choice for a business in certain situations:

1) When location doesn’t have a high importance. This could be a virtual business where you’re not providing a physical product or service. Some examples would be a technology, business or content creation company.

Two large examples of businesses which use language targeting are Skype and Atlassian.

2) When your potential customer base is of an uncertain size. If you start with language localization you can then watch growth trends for an area. Once certain levels of traffic and conversion are reached, you can then move into country localization with greater confidence.

Measure Your Performance in Relevant Markets

Your web structure could change based on a variety of factors including authority level, traffic and current rankings. If your client has an existing web presence in the country (or a similar country) this is a great place to start analyzing. Try to determine the following:

·         The current web structure

·         The current search visibility, traffic and conversion rate

·         The overall success of the existing site

Analyze the Popularity of the Top Sites in Your Targeted Market

Find your competition in the market and take a look at what they’re doing. First, you’ll want to identify and analyze their web structure. Then you’ll want to take a look at their link profiles.

Their overall popularity at a domain and page level is important to know. So is the percentage of links which come from local sites. To do this, compare local ccTLDs and IPs to gTLDs.

Determine the Influence of Local vs. Generic Domains

If you’re not starting from scratch, you’ll hopefully have access to search visibility and traffic data. You can use this data to analyze cultural factors and preferences of your international audience. This data alone is simply a starting point, so take it with a grain of proverbial salt.

An international site’s performance will also be affected by:

·         The visibility and authority of your brand locally

·         The frequency of mobile verses desktop search

·         The number of ads for the brand

·         The general organization of SERPS for the niche

Communication with an International Client

I found this tricky at first. My contact for the business spoke perfect English, but he’d never been to America. This definitely presented some challenges.

Turns out, normal shorthand for design and structure are a bit dependent on a common culture. I found an effective way around this, however. I had my client pick two types of samples. I asked them to find:

·         Examples of websites which sold a similar product or service. These are websites where my client liked how their competitors did business. These were functionality samples.

·         Examples of websites which we’re aesthetically pleasing. The products or services sold on these sites were irrelevant. These were design samples.

This helped me get a pretty good idea of what my client wanted. As with any client, there was a bit of back and forth until we settled on an overall look. But the initial examples provided a great common ground to start from.

Keywords in a Foreign Language

I’m not going to lie. Analyzing and selecting keyword phrases in a foreign language can be a bit rough. Now, no company is going to hire a non-native speaker to write their content. But you might be called upon to create a few keyword phrases.

You can still use the same process you’d normally use to find keywords. Google translate can give you an idea of what those words mean, too. This is about the best you can do. Your client should hopefully help you from there, acting as a liaison between you and the content creator.

Around the World

The internet has made the world smaller. International business is easier than ever before. Even if you’re not an expert in foreign countries (and I’m certainly not claiming to be one, either) you can still provide your internet marketing services to companies around the world.

Sure, there might some language and cultural hiccups now and again. But for the most part SEO skills are universal. With these tips and tricks, you can expand your base of potential customers by leaps and bounds.