With all the hype around global growth of Search Engines and so many companies looking outside their boarders for their next round of revenue, it is no wonder that there has been a flurry of articles about globalizing your search marketing programs. Unfortunately, some of these recommendations have been incorrect, been confusing or have not focused on some of the biggest mistakes people are making.
Top Level Domains (TLD’s) & Local Hosting
While I totally agree that the most foolproof method of signaling to a search engine your content is unique to a country is to get a TLD and host it locally. So what is the problem – that is what everyone says. The problem is you don’t always need to and should evaluate the need on a market-by-market basis.
I have worked on business case justifications with companies where they estimated the additional funding necessary to manage a multi-domain/local host deployment ranged from $25k to $500k per country per year. This estimated expense has made it nearly impossible to justify this strategy despite the most optimistic of traffic increases. So, if you are like most companies and don’t have the resources to adopt a local TLD or even host locally what can you do?
Start by segmenting the problems and the opportunity for each market. If it is a language unique to a country like Japanese, Korean or Thai or your targeting one of the language specific engines like Yandex or Naver then there is no need to worry about local domains since there is no location variable necessary.
However, If you plan to target the UK, Australia or Singapore you will have a problem since the search engines rely on the common location signals of TLD and/or local hosting to designate content in these markets.
What I suggest that you do rather than going the TLD/hosting route simply set your site correctly in Google’s Geographical tool which eliminates the need for local hosting or even a TLD. I have used this approach very successfully for some of the largest sites in the world. It does not help you in Yahoo! or Bing in these key markets Google is the dominant engine and this offers a free solution to help build the business case for investment in local hosting to grab traffic from the other engines.
Regional Content is not Local Content
Many companies have created regional sites for Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East to showcase their regional presence in a market until they can build out the appropriate levels of content. The problem is corporate executives now want this content to rank well in all of the local markets. Based on what we reviewed in the previous paragraphs you know that is not possible.
The way to solve this problem is NOT how a company speaking to me after my global session at SES San Jose was told to do it by his “global SEO agency.” This poor sole was told to spin out 20 odd versions of a single Spanish translation of the site and let it be good enough for all for these markets. As any high school Spanish student can tell you this plan will not work. Beyond the obvious linguistics and cultural problems, the content it is an exact copy where search engines simply see this as 20 versions of the same content resulting in 19 variations being pushed to the supplemental index never to be seen again.
Beyond putting the content in nifty subdomains or directories you also need to send local signals such as local currency, phone numbers and other location elements that make content unique to a country. However, if all the versions refer to the Euro for pricing or the same phone number in Mexico City it is highly likely it will be flagged for duplicate content.
For more tips check out Matt Cutts’ timely video covering how Google is handling the issue of global website duplicate content.
Additionally, the single most effective method for ensure you don’t get hit with duplicate content penalties is to use their magical geographical designator tool. And to be clear, even this magical tool does not completely absolve you of the sin of spinning off multiple duplicate content pages as unique.
Did they localize everything?
Don’t expect your localizer to use keyword research best practices or even know where to integrate popular phases into key locations on your pages. I have seen cases where the title tags and Meta descriptions are still in English or even in Russian on a French content page. It is critical that your localization partner understand the key areas that you must ensure get translated as well as contain keywords.
In addition to the usual suspects, <noscript> content and other critical content maintained in XML files are often left out of the localization process. With so many developers leveraging gradual degradation methodologies to optimize for search engines and mobile users this problem will grow more acute.
Improvise, overcome and adapt for success
Before you jump into buying domains and negotiations with multiple hosting providers check to make sure the basics are covered, free options are leverages and think out of the box for less traditional approaches to these problems.
Develop a matrix of the country and language issues and then inventory your assets, the search demand and make a decision on the traffic potential of each market and the degree of difficulty reaching it. In many cases it may make sense to spend your time increasing performance of multiple non-English markets then to overhaul your whole operation to reach a single English language market.