When we talk about SEO, we usually mean American SEO, designed for Google.com and Bing.com. However, for brands with an international presence, a multinational SEO program opens the door for reaching millions of consumers and billions of searches around the world.
The unfortunate reality is that many brands neglect international SEO, focusing only their primary, American-oriented web presence. Part of the reason for this may be the complexity of international SEO.
Unlike “American” SEO, which often has its best practices firmly laid out, international SEO is filled with conflicting advice and technical challenges. What domains should be used? Where should sites be hosted? How do search engines treat translated content? Who are the major players in international search?
In this post, we’ll try to clarify some of these critical issues, and help lay the foundations for you to develop a successful global SEO campaign.
Hosting & Targeting for International SEO
The first issue most businesses face in multinational SEO is how to host and target content. There are basically three options, each with pros and cons:
The major issues in deciding between these options are:
- Domain authority. A subfolder will generally inherit all the authority of the domain, a ccTLD will inherit none, and subdomains inherit an unknown amount. Some SEOs would speculate that a subdomain inherits most or all of a domain’s authority, but ultimately the issue is something of an known.
- Geotargeting. ccTLDs are known to give the greatest geotargeting benefits. Subdomains are second best, since they can still be hosted on regional servers, and subfolders are the worst, as the only regional signal available is targeting through webmaster tools.
- User preference. Various tests have shown that in many cases, users are biased towards ccTLDs. For example, a user in France may be more likely to click a .fr result, because they assume that the .fr domain will offer a more relevant experience. This issue is particularly important for e-commerce sites, where local shipping is a major factor.
- Technical issues. All things being equal, it is generally easiest to simply host regional content on subfolders. Expanding into subdomains requires regional servers to be most effective, and obviously ccTLDs incur the added cost and difficulty of managing multiple domains.
How can a business decide among these options and weigh the various factors? Organizational size and resources play a major role in the decision making process.
For large brands with major marketing reach, ccTLDs are generally the best option. A bigger brand will have the resources to build links on new domains, and the technical capabilities to manage the complexity of multiple servers and domains.
Without the barriers of domain authority and technical challenges, a ccTLD will generally offer the strongest possible local rankings benefit.
Obviously, for a small business, the inverse is true. Using subfolders may be a fine approach for a company with limited marketing and technical resources. Consider that it is always possible to expand out from subfolders to ccTLDs as more resources become available.
An Overview of the International Search Market
While Google and Bing might dominate the US market, the international market is more diverse. Some of the key players in international search include:
- Baidu. As the leading player in China, Baidu is estimated to control roughly 80% of Chinese search marketshare. A well optimized Baidu presence includes a .cn domain, native language content (likely in simplified Chinese), and well optimized keyword selection, based on traditional SEO factors.
- Yandex. Yandex has more than 60% of Russian search market share, and is seeing its share rise quickly compared to Google.ru. Russian is a complex language, and Yandex has been specifically designed to handle its quirks. Having an expert Russian translation is key. Yandex also regionalizes queries in a unique way – for sites hoping to establish a true local presence, Russian hosting is key.
- Yahoo Japan. While Yahoo used to lead Japan in market share, a deal made last year now has Yahoo Japan being powered by Google. This may confuse some marketers, as Yahoo in most other places is now powered by Bing!
- Naver. With over 70% share of search in Korea, Naver is actually the world’s fifth most-used search engine. As with Yandex, Naver is built from the ground up to handle region-specific language issues.
- Google. While there are many regional SEO players, it is important to consider that Google owns a huge amount of international market share. Some Google-heavy countries include:
- Singapore, ~84% Google
- Brazil, ~ 90% Google
- India, ~ 88% Google
- Canada, ~ 82% Google
- Australia, ~ 92% Google
- Latin America, ~90% Google
- UK, ~92% Google
- France, ~91% Google
- Spain, Italy, and Germany, ~97% Google each
International SEO is a complex, resource-intensive endeavor. In this post we still didn’t cover how to handle multilingual content concerns, or how to deal with local detection and redirection. However, a successful global search campaign can yield huge returns. After all, more than 90% of today’s Internet users live outside the US!