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Multinational SEO That Doesn't Break The Bank

So, you’ve patiently built your brand as a local market .com TLD (in the UK, Germany or elsewhere) and, over the last couple of years, built a great reputation for service quality and hitting delivery deadlines with your niche products. Well done! Requests for your company’s products have gone through the roof in your local market and you’re looking to expand.

Unfortunately, your local market is also now saturated and you need to reach out to new countries to maintain your growth—particularly the US, as you can easily extend distribution and it’s a huge market.

However, budget is limited and your cash flow is tight after all the recent growth so you’re limited in what you can do over the next six months. But you’ll be able to ramp up after that, assuming you get returns from your initial work.

Sound familiar? It’s increasingly common, defines a new type of business and is a real challenge for many of our new clients and is a fast trending topic in industry conferences. It’s also a scenario that’s outrageously easy to get wrong and can potentially screw up your existing marketplace performance into the bargain.

Going into a new market half-cocked is usually a recipe for disaster, and even if you pick a single market and focus your efforts you may get no traction due to market forces in that particular location, dooming the growth you had planned before you’ve even fully explored all opportunities (the same amount of work in a different market, for example, might have resulted in tremendous success, just due to native marketplace differences or competition).

So as a broad strategy you need to get your brand proposition into each of your target markets, allowing you to test the water in terms of online competition (principally in SEO and PPC opportunity for traffic generation) and offline (in terms of level & quality of competition). Not only will you gain great feedback on your proposition with this approach, you’ll also bed in your site for future search engine result page (SERP) dominance.

It’s also worth noting that online is the only game in town here, as the offline costs of reaching into new territories can be astronomical and difficult to measure success of your campaigns.

Of course, even within online, it’s easy to walk into a hefty price tag.

However, there are plenty of opportunities you can capture without breaking the bank and which will pave the way for better returns when you raise your game in the future. You just need to make sure to plan carefully.

Your Internationalization Plan

The basic steps to consider, roughly in order:

  • is a site re-architecture needed (and, implicitly, a CMS redevelopment)?
  • Implement webmaster localization in marketplace search engines (by search market share)
  • Identify critical languages by territory
  • Set up feed generation for product aggregators
  • Implement customer voice capture
  • Identify critical keyphrases by territory & language
  • Kick off content localization/creation to keyphrase targets
  • Handle launch & migration (Get your URL maps out, it’s 301 time people!)
  • Kick off rolling link building / content strategy for SEO
  • Schedule regular actionable web analytics feedback
  • Assess viability of PPC by territory language, prioritize, and roll out

Depending on how comfortable you are with search marketing, that list looks either daunting or obvious. Either way though, it’s not all that complicated to work through and get right with a few simple tips, tricks & tools.

Tip #1: Site Architecture

The solution giving the best, and fastest ROI for our scenario is to piggyback on the existing .com domain strength to get early SEO benefits, by building out subdomains for each new territory.

The basic internationalized form we’ll follow for the first 12 months is:


The benefits:

  • We can keep the main http://domain.com/[lang]/… subdomain for “global” performance by language with correct meta language controls.
  • We can localize to each territory by subdomain in Google Webmaster Tools.
  • Within each territory we can break out content to as many local languages as required.
  • We can host a single index-sitemap.xml listing on the “global” subdomain listing all territory & language sitemaps (with cross-domain verification), with robots.txt autodiscovery and auto-pinging of all key search engines enabled.
  • Each subdomain will receive a portion of the overall domain authority with the search engines, meaning it doesn’t need to build up its own backlink profile and spend months generating trust: it can perform on competitive keyphrases straight out of the blocks.
  • As each territory gains traction, its performance will help the other territories perform too, as overall backlink profiles improve.

Welcome to a virtuous circle!

Further down the line it’s worth looking at migrating out content to its own country TLD domain in order to gain additional SERP listings for brand, and gain a marginal algo benefit (and I really do mean marginal here) in search engines other than Google.

Given current market shares, you should really only be considering this strategy in Russia (for Yandex) & China (for Baidu).

A better use of the country TLD in the remaining territories is to run offline campaigns with vanity URLs that 301 to a landing page on your .com.

This allows better memory recognition for radio or paper ads, and allows campaign tracking by unique vanity directories. For example: mydomain.co.uk/win could 301 to uk.mydomain.com/win which, despite still remaining relatively simple is still an order of complexity more than the straightforwards .co.uk vanity URL.

Finally, when migrating over current content for the UK marketplace to its new home with this structure, using canonical tags alone can pass over existing search engine performance seamlessly within a month. We’ve tested this with numerous domain strengths and have found the canonical tag to be robust every time.

Tip #2: Product Feeds

The fundamental principle of effective eCommerce optimization these days: If you’ve got a product and you don’t have a feed, you’re not in the modern search game, period.

Each territory will have its own leading feed aggregators for eCommerce, and specifications for each should be gathered and built to from the outset: don’t put this off!

On optimization within Google product feeds:

  • Incorporate reviews (and while we’re on this subject, publishing those product reviews to microformats on your product pages will generate useful content and enhanced organic SERP listings).
  • Give as much detail within the category parameters as possible.
  • Always include large, well shot images.
  • Support Google Checkout payment if at all possible (another visual SERP benefit).
  • Make sure you get your sales call to action (CTA) early in your product description.

Tip #3 Keyphrase Targeting & Localization

The last tip, and certainly the most important, is to set aside plenty of resource to get your localization right for each territory. Without accurate localization, your keyphrase targeting will be off, traffic captured will be less relevant and the visits you do receive will be put off by poorly-worded CTAs.

Fighting upstream against poor conversion rates is a quick path to online marketing failure.

Focus on getting your conversion as good as it can be on-page, and your keyphrases as relevant as possible or your online campaign ROIs will suffer heavily (yes, all of them!).

Either work with an agency with experience of multi-territory localization, or develop local partnerships with companies in your target territories.

We’ve found that getting employees of companies working in the same industry as your client to translate (if at all possible!) while given a broad brief to naturalize to more natural terminology is ideal—and in the far east, essential.

Use more naturalized terms as part of your keyphrase analysis in each territory and apply the usual metrics (traffic Vs competition vs. backlink profiles) to work out where the low hanging fruit is to target for the first six months within SEO & PPC.

After that it’s time to raise your game and go for the flagship search terms and roll out supporting affiliates, display, and email campaigns in territories responding well to your brand proposition.

Congratulations: you’ve just gone multinational.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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