Any business that has ever conducted its own SEO campaign or hired an SEO agency to do so on their behalf knows just how difficult and frustrating it can be to make the most of this marketing opportunity. Thankfully, for most businesses, carrying out an SEO campaign means targeting one country, or for smaller companies an even smaller geographical area if they’re looking to maximise their local SEO opportunities.
SEO for multinational businesses is a different animal altogether. Carrying it out requires a completely new level of attention and commitment, with several aspects requiring extra consideration. Here are the biggest SEO considerations multinational businesses need to make.
The central foundation of any SEO campaign is identifying the target audience and the most effective way of reaching them, and this continues to be the case with multinational SEO. When you’re looking at cross-border SEO, you need to consider things like local customs and the general way of life in addition to the different keywords and online behaviours that you’ll need to work with. Knowing all of this is actually worthwhile even if you’re not currently considering multinational SEO, as they’re important aspects of ensuring you’re able to scale your business in the future when you decide you want to expand.
Once you know the market you’re targeting you can research the search engines most regularly used in these locations.
Don’t just jump straight in and assume that Google is the answer! While Google is the most popular search engine, as we all know, it isn’t the number one in Russia, South Korea, China, and Japan, for example, while in countries like the Czech Republic there are low digit percentage points between Google’s market leadership and the next most popular search engine.
You also need to think about which Google site people use. You’ll probably find that regional sites are most common, like http://www.google.de in Germany, and http://www.google.com.mx in Mexico, for example, as opposed to the .com domain.
Alexa lists the top 500 websites visited by country on their site, which will be an additional useful resource in helping you identify the search engines you want to target.
Google has a vast range of guidelines looking specifically at multilingual or multinational business websites, which will help you when putting together your site and your URL. The main point Google makes is that each site should have its own domain. For example, if you were based in the UK and expanding your business into France and Germany, you’d need three separate sites, yourwebsite.co.uk, yourwebsite.fr, and youwebsite.de, and ensure that all are accessible for search spiders.
There are two ways to configure your URL for geographical locations. The first is to use country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), like in the example we give above. The second is to use generic top-level domains (gTLD) but prefix them with a subdomain.
For example, you could choose to set up three sites with the URL’s as follows: uk.yourwebsite.com, fr.yourwebsite.com, de.yourwebsite.com.
If you use ccTLDs, this automatically tells Google where your site is targeting, and means they will include you in search results for the relevant country. If you choose the gTLD route, you’ll need to set your geographical location for each site individually within the Google Webmaster Tools settings.
Conventional wisdom tells us that you want your servers in the country where your audience is. However, it is potentially inconvenient and not at all cost effective to have separate hosting accounts, and even if a hosting company has servers in all of your targeted markets, it is debateable whether you are better off using them.
As long as you’re targeting the relevant location with your Google Webmaster Tools settings or by using a ccTLD, it doesn’t really matter where your servers are. You should consider using a content delivery network (CDN) to speed up your site and improve user experience if you’re still concerned about it.
You can use two tags – rel=”alternate” and hreflang=”x” – to help Google show the relevant URL and correct language for your site in the search engines.
Google recommends certain situations where you’ll need to use this code:
If you only translate your page template (header, footer, navigation) and leave content the same throughout.
Your pages use the same language but have regional variations. For example, you might have separate sites targeting the United States, United Kingdom, and Ireland, which will throw out two or three different spellings and grammar styles for some words and phrases.
If you have fully translated versions of pages across multiple languages.
Please be aware that using this code doesn’t replace the geo-targeting practices we mentioned above, it is merely a way to ensure Google is showing the correct and most relevant results to browsers, i.e in the German language to searchers from Germany.
There are three ways you can implement the code. These are with a link element in the HTML header of each page, within the HTTP header of non-HTML files, such as if you have white papers or eBooks in PDF format, for example, or in your XML sitemap. Here is how you implement each one, based on a scenario where you’re directing Google to a German version of an English page.
Within the HTML header, add a link element like this:
Within a HTTP header: Link:
Instead of adding these coding markups, you can simply submit the relevant information through your XML sitemap in Google Webmaster Tools, with an example piece of code here.
A sitemap is generally the easiest way to do this, but ultimately it comes down to whatever works for you. Ensure this is an important consideration; if you help Google get their results right, they’re more likely to help you.
Google doesn’t want you to do this. Instead, Google prefer sites that give browsers the opportunity to choose their location and preferred language. Here’s an example of how Nike does it, but it’s a common feature of many global websites.
We’ve included a quote below from Google’s Internationalisation FAQ’s relating to this.
“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.”
Continue to use the code examples above on your pages so that Google can show searchers the most relevant results, but ensure you have a language tunnel or something similar in place for all your landing pages.
Auto-translated text is considered by Google to be auto-generated content. As a result, you should use the ‘noindex’ tag to stop this appearing in search results. If you don’t, then you’re in breach of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and are very likely to see a penalty heading your way sooner rather than later.
The safest, and most sensible approach to take from a business perspective, is to use a native speaker of whatever language you’re targeting to translate and optimize your content based on your keyword research for each geographical location. This will ensure you a 100% accurate translation free of the common grammatical errors we see with automated services, and fine-tune your SEO for each region.
You ought to ensure you get the small details correct, too, like contact details localized to each region, any currency symbols, and cultural references.
The purpose of the rel=”canonical” tag is to enable you to identify which is the preferred page if you have a collection of pages that are the same or similar. Google recommends not using rel=”canonical” for different languages or countries.
State of Search carried out a test of the rel=”canonical” tag, which generated the following conclusions:
If you have unique content for each targeted country, continue using rel=”alternate” and hreflang=”x,” as this will point Google to the most relevant pages for each browser in each location.
If you have similar or matching content for countries with the same languages, such as the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia, for example, use rel=”canonical” for the preferred page, but continue to use the previous markup for specific regions.
SEO is a complex beast as it is, but in the world of multinational business being able to cater for a range of markets is going to become an increasingly essential and every day part of what we do. Not only does this put demands on the SEO processes, it also increases the need for a consistent flow of content and management of multiple platforms.
The easiest way to succeed is to follow the advice contained here, as well as the wealth of resources offered by Google around multilingual SEO. For further information or a quote relating to getting your multinational SEO strategy designed and put into practice, you can contact us here.