(Part 1 of this series on international SEO can be found here.)
Planning for International SEO Success
Search engines like local targeting. Always keep this in mind with any international SEO campaign.
But surely it’s a great idea to use the position, rank and authority of your established domain to give your geo-targeting of a new region a leg up. It would be nice if that were so, but you have to remember that search engines are trying to give the most appropriate and helpful results to searchers in that region. In this respect, search engines make reasonable assumptions. For example, they assume that if you have a .com TLD (top level domain), you are serving the US market and they’ll likely serve up results that are appropriate to a US-based audience, but not at all appropriate to, say, a Chinese or French audience.
Additionally, if your website is hosted on a server with an IP address in one country and is trying to serve another country, search engines may well end up serving results appropriate to the country where the website is hosted. Non-native language – so for a US or UK based site, that’s anything other than English – won’t likely get spidered unless the pages are cloaked for visiting bots, which isn’t recommended at all.
You could, of course, use either subfolders or subdomains of your main site if it already has a strong reputation with search engines, with subdomains being the preferred option of the two. Using subdomains (/uk, /fr, /cn, and so on), you’ll be able to use Google Webmaster tools to tell Google the country you’re targeting. You can do similar with Bing, using onsite metadata and HTTP headers. However, both engines will look at your TLD and reverse IP lookup to determine where your site is really located. They will consider these, and the country source of inbound links, as stronger indicators of your site’s target market, so these approaches are far from ideal.
The preferred approach is to have a TLD for the targeted country located on a server in that country. This is great if you have a strong local presence there – a physical address and people to manage the domain registration, infrastructure and hardware. If you don’t have such a presence, you could come across some rather challenging hurdles. For example, if you want to register a .fr TLD for France and a .au TLD for Australia, you can only do so if you have a physical address in that country. If you try setting it up at a foreign friend’s address, and you pay with your credit card registered outside of the target country, don’t expect success.
One more tip is to use the language of the target country on the website hosted in that country. Don’t have an English content site in France (www.ourdomain.fr/), and then duplicate the content on a French language folder (www.ourdomain.fr/francais/) in French. If you need to use both languages, have them both as appropriate pages of the main domain. Build links from the country to which the language belongs to appropriate pages. So if the site has French and English, build links from .fr domains to the French language pages, and from .com and/or .co.uk pages to the English language pages.
Lastly, the everlasting golden rule — irrespective of language, keep page content unique, whether on differing pages of a multi-language site based on a target market TLD on a server in the target country, or otherwise. Original, compelling content, written for the target audience in their own language, hosted on a target market domain in their own language will always be the best option.