In my last Multinational Search post, A Plea to Let International Users Decide What Language They Speak, I talked about the fact that international borders are arbitrary and that it is most important to target the person, centered on their universe, and not to present them with the world as you see it. Taking that one step further, it is a dream of mine to be able to deliver the kind of geotargeting which is increasingly becoming possible with pay per click—through SEO. For this reason, I’ve been studying the areas of convergence between local and international SEO. It turns out that, in principle at least, they have a lot in common.
The similarities: How local and international SEO compare
Keyword content is essential in local. Keyword patterns have long been used by Google and other crawler-based search engines to determine the locality of a search. I’m referring not just to the inclusion of a geographic term such as a town in the search query, such as “Maryville restaurants.” I’m also talking about the position of the term Maryville in the search query, which can affect both the results and the way they’re presented. This is why a query like “restaurants Maryville” can and frequently does give different results than “Maryville restaurants.”
In international SEO, geographic terms such as “Maryville” can both clarify and confuse the location of the search (by country), but the principle still remains true that the search query itself can carry useful indicators of both “local” location and “international location.” For instance, it used to be the case that UK search queries frequently had “UK” tagged on the end to help the search engines guess which English-speaking nation was involved. And then there are ambiguous queries where it’s difficult to pinpoint location—does “hotels Paris” refer to France or Texas, for instance?
Using IP addresses for location. An increasingly popular solution for both “local” and “international” SEO is for the search engines to use the geographic location of the IP address to give a relatively precise indicator of the location the searcher intended. In the early days of the internet, this was only useful for locating users on a country-level basis, but IP location today is becoming increasingly accurate. The advantage is that a query for “Hotels Paris” in Texas is probably going to give you some nice hotels in Paris, Texas. In local SEO, this works fine, but for international SEO projects, targeting potential visitors to France who live in Texas becomes more of a challenge.
In other words, while the use of IP addresses by search engines for targeting queries to a specific geographic location can be an advantage to local SEO folks, it can be a downright hindrance to international SEO efforts.
Mobile is growing in importance. The role of mobile very much varies by country. In some, such as Japan for instance, targeting mobile phone users is important for people working in both international and local SEO. In other countries, where mobile is key simply to reach people because the landline infrastructure is not as effective—as in parts of Africa, south east Asia and deepest Latin America—mobile is the mainstream channel for targeting people from an international perspective, and is much less useful on a local level.
Listing physical addresses. International SEOs often overlook the need to ensure that the correct country addresses denoted in the fashion the search engine prefer are listed abundantly on a website. You should also be listing all physical locations on Google maps via Google places—a tip which is just as relevant whether you’re doing international or local SEO.
Displaying correct prices. This is a major problem for many international e-commerce sites because they may need to show different pricing from country to country depending on tax rates, distribution costs or different contractual situations with local franchisees. International companies often try to solve this—and in the process screw up their whole international SEO strategy—by redirecting crawlers all over the world, except where they should be going. Local SEOs must ensure that search results displayed in their locality have the correct pricing too, though this is often more about seasonality and differential pricing than currency and exchange rates.
The differences: How local and international SEO contrast
International SEO uses language to identify a location. If you’ve been reading my posts in this column, you’ll not be surprised to hear me talk about language and culture as key differences between international and local SEO. For example, the culture is different between west and east coast America, but generally you can understand each other readily easily and may even watch the same football or baseball championships on TV.
The biggest difference between local and international SEO is the language and the impact it has on everything. Language affects culture, the way things are bought, how things are searched for, how people buy and why they think the way they do. It is such a complex sub-set of new things to do differently, that language alone can claim to be the distinguishing factor between international SEO and local SEO (because otherwise they look pretty similar, eh?).
International SEO uses domain references to target a location. The old story about local domains, sub-domains, folders and links always comes into the equation with international SEO since using links and hosting indicators—as well as Webmaster Central settings—can have a big influence on the success rate of international SEO rollout plans. Local SEO doesn’t face those challenges, right?
But overall, the most interesting thing about this comparison are the similarities, not the differences. Ultimately, what you want to do is to target locally internationally. Now you’re talking.