International SEO: SES London 2010 Recap

The fourth session of our coverage of today's SES London conference is about a topic I've been trying to get my head around lately, with more of our clients wanting us to achieve good results and rankings in a number of different countries and global search engines.  I'm hoping the speakers here go beyond the usual International SEO tips (domain strategies, register in Webmaster Tools, meta language tag), especially on the question of getting backlinks from local sites.  Here goes...

Managing a Global SEO Campaign

(NB: I have tried to keep my comments in italics to make it easier to figure out who is 'saying' what)

Peter van der Graaf kicks off talking about targeting multiple countries for SEO.

Domain choice is up first. Standard stuff about using country specific TLDs (eg, .de, .fr, .nl) which Google sees as a strong signal vs having a generic TLD.

We've seen local hosting to be a minor factor based on testing 600 domains. Having a ccTLD is the strongest factor, but not the be all and end all - .com can still outrank .de.

Ultimately LINKS can override any domain related factor when it comes to ranking in the right country - if you have enough links, particularly local links. [I've definitely found this to be the case]

If you have 1 major country and a few minor countries to target,  you're probably better off sticking with 1 ccTLD for your main market, and one gTLD for all the other smaller ones [interesting]

Getting local links- you need to target links from local sites that rank well in that country.

Language skills are important for linkbuilding but you can get directory links without needing them (easy to translate 'submit link', 'enter description' etc)

Get links from local suppliers is a relatively easy way of doing it

Paid links is another way - but he's not going to get into it...

During the Q&A Peter touched on an interesting point regarding linkbuilding variations in different countries - for example in Germany there is a LOT of spam and paid links - he reckons that Google in Germany has actually changed their algorithm to be more lenient on spam  "because otherwise there would be nothing left to rank"! Interesting and funny!

    Andy Atkins-Kruger from WebCertain:

    The adage "content is king" is very important for international SEO - using the right language, particularly in avoidiing direct translations for keywords.  Also language issues such as how important accents are, singulars vs plural, etc - are specific to different markets.

    Common global SEO fail - thinking that getting traffic from a specific country is a signal that you  should move into that market - but you may not be relevant for that country just because your English page is ranking in the Netherlands.  Go deeper than that.

    Another common mistake is spending big on their copywriting in English but only spend a tiny amount on translation.  Similarly international SEO budgets tend to be disproportionately low compared to 'home country' SEO spend.

    How Global SEOs succeed: centralise at least part of the strategy, with local native speaking SEOs reporting to the centre.

    He shows a  slide from showing that 15% click on "pages from Germany" and 10% click on "pages in German" [if that is true its a very significant statistic. I've got a feeling that the new Google Ajax SERPS allow you to track clicks from people who have used the radio buttons, and this is definitely worth looking into in terms of Analytics.]

    People trust local TLDs more - they like to link to them, and they like to click on them.

    Bill Hunt from Black Azimuth:

    Bill runs through some more things that people commonly get wrong with International SEO campaigns:

    • - dont use Google Translate to translate keywords!
    • - pay attention to meta descriptions - are they tailored to the market they're ranking in?
    • - In Japan, if you send an SEO team a US keyphrase list they will never talk to you again... dont just copy/paste and translate, start from scratch
    • - A template which is well optimised for architecture and crawlability will pay dividends across all international sites

    There were a few more very quickfire points in Bill's talk, much of them related to setting up systems of procedure and best practice when managing global campaigns.  If that floats your boat I'm sure you'll be able to find his slideshow online.

    Crispin Sheridan from SAP:

    A good start from Crispin because he actually slowed down a bit! Everything else has just been a dump of info so far.

    He talks about duplicate content issues related to same language / different country sites - eg US / Canada - "we have taken advantage of the canonical tag and Webmaster Tools targeting to deal with that" - but that doesnt really tell me the key question for me, ie is there actually a dupe content issue with having the same copy across 2 different ccTLD domains? Common wisdom says yes, but I'm actually not convinced based on sites I've worked on.  It's a shame this session wasn't geared around answering those niggly questions that people have once you go beyond "best practice"...

    Filling content gaps - ie where there is no content for a specific keyword - in his experience he needed to prove the value in creating these pages with case studies, and even taking ownership of the pages yourself and taking a hit on the cost, then showing the client the results they brought in.

    Using AddThis has generated millions of links across different sites - really?? I hate when people suggest things like this because people go and add these sharing buttons on every page on their site and expect people to use them - surely it depends on whether your stuff is actually worth sharing in the first place...

    Q&A - I asked whether building local specific links is really that important - what if you throw a bunch of US links to a German site using German anchor t text is that effective? Peter said that it can be effective that way [I've found that to be the case], but you need to work harder to get the results.  Also there is a danger of ranking for the German keyword in, or worse tripping the geotargeting of a site so it no longer ranks in the target country.

    My summary:

    All in all, my feeling on this session overall is "meh" with a view "ooh" momentts.  All the speakers tried to cram in so many points in their 10-min presentations that it was just a dump of bullet points, almost all of which are contained on many "how to do international SEO posts".  I would have much preferred a focus on a few really juicy questions - but I'd be interested in the thoughts on other attendees who do a lot of Global SEO as to whether they picked up a lot of new ideas.  Having said that Peter van der Graaf was the highlight of the session and had some really interesting stuff - I wish he was on for longer!