How to Optimize Your Site for Google in Foreign Countries
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
As with SEO in your own language, attention to the basics pays off. Just as you would do when working in your own country, when working outside your home country and language be sure to build your site with algorithm-friendly architecture, load it with relevant content, and attract inbound links from authoritative sites. Now let’s look at the particular spin that search marketing overseas puts on the tactics you know.
1. Build Country-Specific Website Architecture
Successful SEO starts with search-friendly architecture on your site, and this is equally as true for your foreign language sites as your home site. Of course, you know you can’t rank well and receive traffic that converts if your site is not in Google’s index, and this is just as important for websites targeting other countries than your home.
Duplicate content can become an issue and cause you to be filtered out of the appropriate index, especially when a single language is replicated across a number of pages with different country code domains. If you are using content in the same language across a number of specific country sites, be sure to map each site to its intended country in your Google Webmaster Tools account, and obtain high-quality links from each country to its targeted content to point the way to your intended users.
Use unique page titles and directory URLs in the specific language of each country you are targeting. As with your home language site, unique page titles and URLs that accurately describe the content specific to each page help spiders find, index, and rank your content, as well as attract clicks from traffic looking for it.
2. Use Your Audience’s Language on your Site
Write your content in the language of your intended visitors. While this may seem obvious, many websites are seeking to do business using their English content. Even in countries where English is the official language, local vocabulary and usage varies. This issue becomes even more complicated when a site is in Spanish or German or French, as there may be significant and confusing differences in the local versions of these languages. The language on your website sends a strong signal to Google about where to display it in search results.
Avoid using page templates that default to English content where no local language content is available. This shortcut for building country-specific pages causes confusion in targeted country detection, and much of your content will be devalued by duplicate content filters. Moreover, providing only English content to foreign language readers certainly falls short of speaking your customers’ language and reduces your marketing effectiveness.
3. Attract Links from the Country You Are Targeting
For your offshore domains, the most effective links are ones from high-quality sites in the individual countries you are targeting. Your site in France should have links from sites in France with an .fr domain, whereas your sites in Argentina should have links from sites in Argentina with an .ar domain, and so forth.
On a site in a language used in more than one country, such as German or Spanish, using inbound links is a good way to provide clarifying endorsements from the intended country. A German-language page with links to it from sites on “.de” domains or the “.de” directory is more likely to rank well and be seen in Google results in Germany than in Austria, even if the language is the same.
Without such links, Google determines where to show the results based on the domain name (or subdirectories or subdomains), language, and Google Webmaster Tools mapping. However, if the language is the same on both German and Austrian sites, a significant indicator is no longer clear to Google. Although Google Webmaster Tools mapping may help you avoid one or the other being filtered out of the index as a duplicate, your ranking and visibility will be much better with the added indicator of links from target countries.
The Open Directory Project (AKA Dmoz.org) has country-specific listings in many categories, further cross-referenced to other languages for the same category. You can find potential linking sources by searching Dmoz listings for your target country and reviewing the sites in it. Dmoz has 1.9 million listings in 46 languages, besides English, from Afrikaans to Ukrainian. You can find a complete list at www.dmoz.org/World.
You can also find possible links partners on Google by performing a wildcard (*) search for “web directory site*” using your target country extension to search. You need to filter out Google results by specifying “-Google” in your query. To search for sites in Argentina, your query would be “www.web directory site:*.com.ar -Google” and would produce lists of directories in that country.
Use Google Translate to find your way around results when you are not familiar with the language, but be sure to have someone who is familiar with the language check over the findings.
4. Optimize for Universal Search Results Pages
As this sample search results page from Google Egypt illustrates, images, and maps gain greater visibility above the fold.
Google displays many forms of content on its results pages in almost all countries worldwide, including video and images, so do not overlook optimizing those important elements on your site. Keep in mind that techniques for optimizing for YouTube are different than techniques for optimizing for Google. In the United States, optimizing images and videos is still often overlooked as an effective way to get content into search engine results pages; this is also true in other countries, as you can see in the screen shot below. This oversight gives you many opportunities to increase visibility for more of your content and outpace your competitors.