Multinational ecommerce businesses with country-specific websites have distinct search engine optimization requirements. A searcher in Australia, say, must end up on the site containing Australian English, currency, and content. A searcher in Germany must land on that website. And so on.
The following four requirements will ensure that your ecommerce site targets the correct location in the search results.
The most important aspect in targeting country and language searches isn’t found on the page, but in the code.
HREFLANG location tags for Google and meta language tags for Bing are important to use in every page across every site. These tags specify country and language designations to search engines, which could otherwise send searchers to the incorrect site.
Bing’s tags are straightforward. They label a page with the country and language code. A U.K. English page’s tags would look as follows.
<meta http-equiv=”content-language” content=”en-gb”>
Google makes things more difficult with its HREFLANG tags. In Google’s scheme, you label a page with all of the language-country code pairs that contain the same content as the page you’re on, but targeted at different countries and languages.
For example, a page targeted toward English in the U.K. such as http://example.com/en/gb, would have the following HREFLANG tags to refer to the Canadian English and Australian English sites. There would be no U.K. English tag on a U.K. English page.
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en/ca” hreflang=”en-ca” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en/au” hreflang=”en-au” />
ccTLD, or Not
The specific location within your site’s hierarchy and URL structure can send accurate or confusing signals to search engines.
The most common question around search engine optimization for international sites is whether to use unique country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), such .de and .ca, or a common .com domain with countries and languages housed in directories, such as /de/de and /fr/ca. Subdomains and vanity domains are also options, technically.
Any of these can successfully send the necessary signals to search engines, but one triggers the strongest association.
- ccTLD. Hosting a site on the .de ccTLD will send the clearest signal that German-speaking searchers who want to see search results full of German sites. It won’t, however, share link authority with other TLDs.
- Subdirectory. To take the utmost advantage of domain authority — to harness the power of your backlink portfolio — the directory route is the way to go. In this instance, the German content for Germany would be located at /de/de. Sending the strongest German-targeting signals falls, then, to the metadata and other international SEO requirements.
- Subdomain. Search engine optimization professionals tend to be skittish around subdomain implementations because they have been thought to not share link authority with the content on the rest of the domain. In other words, the links coming into your English subdomain wouldn’t help your German subdomain rank, and vice versa. There’s conflicting evidence. But to be safe it’s a good idea to stick with subdirectories if possible.
- Vanity domains. Domains that include the country in the domain itself, such as www.domaingermany.com, are the least desirable for SEO. They don’t share any link authority with the other countries in the way that subdirectories would, and they aren’t strong at targeting country searches like ccTLDs are.
Search engine bots can get caught up in IP-based redirection schemes, to the extent that they may not be able to access a site for a country from which the bots originate. For example, if a site is set up to automatically redirect users to the U.S. site when they land on the .co.uk, bots crawling from the U.S. can have trouble crawling and indexing the U.K. site.
If you’re planning to redirect users to the site based on their location, make sure that search engines can crawl beyond your default country and language site by:
- Allowing the user to override the geolocation.
- Only geolocating on the user’s entry page into the site, not every click thereafter.
- Allowing the country selector choice to override any geolocation delivery based on IP delivery.
- Serving up the country and language choice via a unique URL structure rather than setting a cookie.
- Geolocating only .com and other generic TLDs, not on ccTLDs like .de and .co.uk.
The links that each country site earns can be used to strengthen the authority for all country sites. Country and language selectors provide an opportunity to strengthen the network of backlinks that each country enjoys, but only if they are crawlable. Ensure that the header or footer contains a country selector element that features a crawlable rollover or dropdown element of some kind linking to the other major countries served.
If your network of international sites is large, consider linking only to the priority sites directly from the header and footer, and including a traditional sitemap of international sites for access to the cast of hundreds. This will keep the experience simple for most visitors but will funnel link authority between the sites that are your highest priority.