The Basics of International SEO – a Brief Best Practices Checklist
Portent Team Feb 12 2013
Recently, Team Portent has been writing a lot about local SEO best practices for US markets. And with good reason; mobile device usage is on the rise. Think about how often you reach for your smartphone or tablet to get directions to a local business, check their phone number, look at reviews or menus, or do on-the-spot price comparisons before you buy?
But what if – just what if – you’ve opened up shop in another country (nice going on the travel write-offs, eh?). How do you make sure potential customers in Berlin, Germany aren’t being directed to your store in Berlin, Ohio, huh? Huh?
To cover those bases, here’s a handy-dandy checklist for you if you have – or plan to have – a business with a physical presence in another country.
By the way, you’re going to need to drive yourself over to a new website, and yes that’s me in the backseat incessantly asking “are we there yet?”
To be clear: this checklist is not going to cover what to do if you have a single website with more than one language or if you’re trying to target more than one country. That’s a different post for a different day. Also, there are differing opinions about whether to host in the country you’re opening your new business or if “cloud” hosting is just fine; let’s face it, only Google’s algorithm knows for sure (please pass the secret sauce) but the bottom line here is that the more signals you can send to Google that you’re targeting that specific country, the better. Oh, and one more thing – it would be presumptuous of me to say that this is going to cover every possible country in the world (your mileage may vary) but this will certainly give you a head start.
Okay, with all that in mind, here’s your new website checklist:
Host the website in the target country. Google will detect server location based on IP address. Example: a German-language website will be hosted in Germany.
Country-code top-level domain name (ccTLD)
Use the proper ccTLD for your website. Example: for Belgium, use www.YourAwesomeWebsite.com.be (complete list of country code TLDs can be viewed here).
Edit: Thanks to Gareth in the comments for catching my typo (it’s funny how typing .com happens without even realizing it) – the example above should be “www.YourAwesomeWebsite.be”.
Content, language, and culture
Best option: post original, fresh content written by a native speaker from the country in question. Next best is an accurate translation of existing content by a native or native-bilingual speaker using correct syntax, spelling, and cultural expressions. Automated translations are to be avoided.
Country/region specific links, especially from industry- and niche-related trade groups, associations, blogs, online newspapers, and other organizations and publications from within the country should be obtained and earned. By obtained, I do not mean “purchased.” Start with any industry organizations you can or do belong to in that country, vendor and partner sites – you get the idea.
City, regional, and country-specific citations should be obtained in the equivalent of online white/yellow pages listings, niche directories, and online business databases. It’s important that the business’s NAP (name, address, phone number) is 100% consistent in each citation obtained. Yep, just like the other local business tips our team has written about before.
The physical address should be noted in plain text on the website in the site-wide footer; at a minimum on the “contact” and/or “about” page(s).
HTML language specification
Use the HTML lang attribute to declare the language used on the website.
<html lang="de"> for your website in Germany.
Google Webmaster Tools
Set geo-targeting for your ccTLD.
List the business address and verify the location in Google Maps.
Get your profile created; leave no profile fields blank.
If prices are listed or other monetary references are made on the site, use the currency symbol of the country in question. Example: ¥ for Japanese yen.
I know, I know – you want to just use Google Translate and set up a YourWebsite.com/de subdirectory structure or maybe a subdomain on your current site if that goes well, then you’ll think about doing international SEO right. You know all that stuff above you didn’t read? Search engines (like Google) see all of those things as strong signals as to how relevant your website is to searchers in that region/country. The more you get those items right, the better you’ll do.
Remember, all the standard SEO rules still apply. In case you need a refresher, our stalwart SEO Strategists have recently given you the social optimization skinny for your local business, how to properly place-in & penetrate local business directories. The “local SEO busters” affirmatively answered all of your questions in our “local SEO Q&A,” and as if all of that was not enough, our Team Lead led a not-to-be-missed webinar “SEO Tips for Small Businesses” (which you can watch here in case you did miss it).
Okay so what did I miss on my checklist? You’ll let me know in the comments, won’t you?