Carrying out effective search engine optimisation (SEO) for a site in one country can be challenging enough, and so it shouldn’t be surprising that successful international SEO efforts require attention to a host of additional considerations.
Here, SEO consultant Tony Goldstone outlines seven key SEO considerations to be taken into account for multinational businesses.
1. What are your target regions and languages?
Identifying your target audience, where they are located, the language they use and their customs is a fundamental of any marketing campaign. It’s also important to consider how your business may want to expand in the future, to ensure that your international SEO strategy is scalable.
Identifying the countries in which your audience reside means you can determine the most popular search engines they use. While Google is the most used search engine worldwide, most countries use regional versions, such as Google.co.uk and Google.fr. Google is not ‘king of the hill’ in every country however. Baidu, for example, is the favoured search engine in China and Yandex is number one in Russia.
Understanding which search engines are most often used by your audience is important for determining those in which you need to ensure your site has significant visibility.
Web information company Alexa has a useful index of the top websites visited in any country or territory. This is a great place to research the most popular search providers in any given location.
2. What is the best URL structure?
For multilingual sites, Google says it is important that each language version is accessible on a separate URL and that Googlebot is able to crawl all versions. For a geotargeted, multinational site the search engine says it helps to separate and present content on a per-country basis.
This can be achieved by using appropriate country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs), or by using generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) with subdomains (for example country.example.com) or subfolders (example.com/country).
ccTLDs are associated with specific countries, for example .jp for Japan, and .mx for Mexico. Using these domains provides clear signals to visitors and search engines that the content within is explicitly intended for a certain country.
gTLDs (such as .com or .org) with subdomains or subfolders for specific countries or regions meanwhile, need to be correctly configured in Google Webmaster Tools, in order to define the geographic targets for each.
3. Where should servers be located?
The main consideration to bear in mind regarding server location is the visitors’ experience. Pages should be displayed quickly, so local hosting or a content delivery network (CDN) can be beneficial.
However, as long as other methods are used to indicate geotargeting (ccTLDs or Google Webmaster Tools targeting), the server location isn’t too important.
4. Does ‘rel = “alternate” hreflang = “X”’ replace geotargeting?
Using rel= “alternate” hreflang= “x” annotations helps Google to determine which is the correct language or regional URL to present in the search results. This code provides an indication of relationships between specific URLs, and enables Google to swap the URL in its search results for that which is most appropriate for the search user in question. Therefore, this annotation cannot replace geotargeting, since it is purely intended to improve the relevance of the listings within search results.
There are three ways in which the rel= “alternate” hreflang=“x” can be implemented:
- Using HTML link tags in the header of every page
- Within the HTTP header of non-HTML pages (PDF documents, for example)
- Within the XML sitemap
Since the XML sitemap method requires no editing of individual site pages, it is generally considered to be the simplest and most convenient way to put this annotation into practice. Tests and experience have demonstrated its value in helping Google to determine the right page to offer in regional search results.
5. Is it OK to automatically redirect visitors to the most appropriate landing page?
Google recommends redirecting visitors based on their perceived locations or browser settings is avoided. The engine suggests all visitors should be allowed to access all country versions and language versions of a site, regardless of their location.
We recommend letting users access all language versions (without automatic redirection), regardless of their location or browser settings. For example, it’s possible that a user in France may wish to see English-language content, and may even have explicitly searched in English to find that content. Also keep in mind that Googlebot must be able to crawl all versions in order to index them properly and remember to make it easy for users to switch to their preferred language using links or a drop-down menu for the different language versions of a page.
To guide visitors to the content which meets their needs, Google suggests presenting a banner or drop-down list of links. However, the correct use of the rel=“alternate” hreflang=“x” annotation will help Google to list the most relevant pages within search results. This will deliver visitors from a clicked search result directly to pages which are determined to be the most relevant to their region and language.
6. Is automated language translation acceptable?
Google considers automated text translation (from Google Translate, for example) to be auto-generated content, and so such must be blocked from indexation using the meta robots ‘noindex’ tag. Allowing pages populated with automatically translated content to be indexed would violate Google ’s Webmaster Guidelines.
More than 50% of Google searches are performed in languages other than English. Therefore it makes sense to optimise multilingual site content using a professional translation service or individuals who speak the relevant languages, in order to ensure translations are accurate. Regional keyword research is essential also, since direct translation of popular English search queries will not always provide the most commonly used terms in other countries.
It’s also important to ensure all geotargeted pages and content employ the correct currency symbols, and include regional office addresses and phone numbers if applicable (i.e. contact details displayed should vary depending on the language selected).
7. Is content duplication a potential problem?
Google introduced support for rel=“canonical” to enable webmasters to overcome any potential content duplication issues, by identifying the canonical (preferred) page in a collection of pages which present very similar content. However, Google recommends that rel=“canonical” is not used across different language or country versions, unless content duplication is an existing issue.
Tests have concluded the following recommendations regarding the use of both rel=“alternate” hreflang=“x” and rel=“canonical”:
- If you have domains presenting unique content targeting different countries, it is not necessary to use rel=“canonical”. It is only necessary to use rel=“alternate” hreflang=“x” since this provides Google with a clear indication of which page is most appropriate to present in their regional search results
- If you have multiple domains presenting identical content in the same language (for example, separate domains targeting Ireland, United Kingdom, Australia, USA and Canada) then a combination of both rel=“canonical” and rel=“alternate” hreflang=“x” has been found to be successful
SEO is enormously complex and success requires expert attention to be applied to a myriad of details. Outstanding site content is at the core of many of today’s successful SEO campaigns but multiregional, multilingual SEO means that content requirements are multiplied.
Adoption of an appropriate, scalable architecture with user and search-friendly URLs is essential. Effective use of the rel="alternate" hreflang="x" annotation along with rel="canonical" are now recognised as the standard way to help Google present the most relevant pages in search results, and also content duplication issues avoided.
Looking to ensure your site meets the needs of multinational visitors? Call Fresh Egg on 0845 373 1071 or contact us online to find out more.