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.
In most countries around the world, Google is the leading online search engine by far. Exceptions include Japan and Taiwan, where Yahoo! is the favorite, although search results for Yahoo! Japan are provided by Google. In China, Russia, and South Korea local favorites have claimed the market. Aside from those countries, for most of your search marketing overseas you will be working with familiar Google.
There often appears to be much confusion in Google’s results pages in other countries. For example, Spanish-language results from Spain showing up on searches in South America. Confusion can be your opportunity to rise above the competition by providing greater clarity to identify your intended audience. Seize the chance to get ahead by taking advantage of providing every signal for Google that can to help your site show up as relevant to searchers in the country you’re targeting. Here are 8 tips to get you higher rankings for in your country of choice.
1. Use a Country-Code Top-Level Domain
In general, a country-code top-level domain (or ccTLD) or directory inspires confidence that you are a trustworthy entity with which to do business. Is this not the first step to a solid customer relationship? It serves as the same source of credibility in your site’s relationship with Google. In search engine marketing, your URL, your website’s address, is the first piece of code on your site that Google’s algorithm scans. If that URL says .es for Spain or .ar for Argentina or .mx for Mexico, Google has a clear indication as to the country where your intended viewers live. When you set up your website, it’s a good idea to register country-specific domains for all the countries where you think you may do business, to prepare for the time when you do — and to prevent your competition from registering them.
The point is to make sure your that intended audience is clear to Google. Of course, registering all these domains might not be practical. In this case you can set up directory extensions on .com/. For example, www.yourdomain.com/es or /ar/ or /mx/ is a fully workable alternative, as long as you map it to your target country in your Google Webmaster Tools account (see below).
Realize, however, that you might have more difficulty attracting links from your target country to a subdirectory as compared to a country-specific domain. Note that the directory extension you use should point to a specific country such as “.de” for Germany or “.in” for India. Google treats regional extensions .eu and .asia as generic, not country specific.
You can also set up subdomains, such as mx.yourdomain.com for Mexico. As with directory extensions, a subdomain may not be as successful in attracting and benefitting from good links. If you use subdomains for your different country-focused sites, you need to add each subdomain to your Webmaster Tools account and verify it individually. This step is not necessary if you are using subdirectory folders for your countries. They are verified under your core domain automatically.
If you have a generic or international top-level domain, such as yourcompany.com or yourbusiness.net, Google relies on several other signals.
2. Language of Your Website’s Content
The language of your content is a key indicator to Google as to the country your website is targeting. For example, German-language content on the yourdomain.com/de page reinforces for Google that it is intended for searchers in Germany. Of course, many of the major languages of the world, such as Spanish, French, Arabic, and English are spoken in multiple countries. This is why choosing a country-specific top-level domain is so important.
3. Location Information on the Website
If your content includes an address in the country you are targeting, that address helps Google recognize the content as relevant to that country. This, of course, presumes you have a physical location in that country, something that is not always available or practical.
4. Inbound Links from Sites in the Country You Are Targeting
It is no secret that Google relies heavily on inbound links to determine the popularity of a website and where to rank it in results. When you set up a version of your site in another country, make sure to use links to that site from websites in that country and use a specific domain from that country. Doing so helps Google determine where your content should be seen.
6. Google Places
Where Google Places is available (which is not everywhere as of this writing), include any relevant location information about your website to provide a signal to Google that you want to do business there.
The place where your website is hosted is a very low-level signal to Google. That said, hosting your site near your target market may increase the speed of delivery of your pages to your potential customers’ browsers. It may also be an additional signal if you are marketing a nonspecific domain such as .com or .net in a foreign language. Note: some countries, such as Australia, require you to have a license or even a local business presence to host your site there, making it complicated and even expensive to do so.
8. Google Webmaster Tools Geo-location
Google recommends that if your site is on an international or generic domain and is not hosted in the country where you would like it to be seen, you should use Webmaster Tools to tell Google which country should be associated with your site. You can find a current list of “geo-targetable” domains in the Google Webmaster Tools forum at www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=1347922.
As mentioned earlier, it is very important to provide this information if you are using directories for each country instead of country-specific domains. However, if you intend to reach a number of people in different countries who speak the same language (for example, Spanish) it is better not to restrict the location where your site will be shown. Remember, if you do set the location in Webmaster Tools, Google shows your site in that country only.
To set your location in Google Webmaster Tools, first add each country-specific directory or subdomain as an individual website.