Many businesses that serve multiple countries have been tackling the challenge in developing a successfully optimised worldwide strategy. Many blogs and articles appear to offer solutions that seem, on the face of it, like quite a simple process. But for less tech-savvy people, it can be extremely confusing.
After researching and participating in many debates with industry professionals, it seems that there may be some confusion around certain aspects. We wanted to address some of these and hopefully offer some insight into the various possible methods.
ccTLD’s (.co.uk / .com.au / .fr / .de domains)
This involves the development of an International website structure that uses ccTLDs (Country-Specific Top Level Domains) in order to target specific countries.
In theory, this would make sense and the user will be presented with the most relevant URL for the country they are searching from. This method involves giving them localised content in the native language, native language URLs and, whenever possible, an English version of the locally targeted content too.
In reality, this can be achieved. Many companies already own all the ccTLDs for the countries in which they serve. However, some companies may not have these ccTLDs and they may already be registered by other businesses or individuals. It can also make for quite a complex process when you do not have a physical location in a country where you seek the domain.
Unique content in the native country’s language
In theory, users would create content for the local market using terminology that is most relevant to them. An ideal situation a local digital team may comprise an SEO executive, content writer and website developer who can co-operate in producing unique content to serve specifically for that ccTLD.
In reality, this is a big ask. Instead of having one central team providing a consistent service throughout, it would require specialist professionals to be located in each country, as well as content writers who speak both English and the native language. For small-medium sized businesses, this could be a costly affair. This method can also cause issues when similar products are sold in different countries; it becomes very difficult to create multiple unique descriptions of the same product.
Separate Rel Alternate hreflang sitemaps
Hreflang sitemaps were created to tackle the issues around duplicated content across different country domains.
In theory, businesses that are targeting several countries would create a hreflang sitemap to ensure that search engines understand which content version is targeting which country and serves the correct version.
In reality, technical setups of this type of sitemap can require additional development requests and a substantial level of education is required to implement. This type of sitemap is in its infancy and while you may certainly implement one, there is no guarantee that search engines will adhere to your requests.
In theory, the server location should be local to your users; this increases the access speed to your website. However, search engines do claim that you should not worry about the server’s location when concerning yourself with organic search positions.
In reality, hosting different domains in many countries can become very expensive for businesses. We must also consider countries such as China and Russia where a physical address must be obtained before it is possible to buy local server space. The growth in cloud services could offer a potential solution, but this might still require substantial investment, as each request can cost depending on your cloud provider.
Google has stated the following:
“It helps to have the country-specific sections of the site clearly separated on a per-country basis. You can do that by using ccTLDs or by correctly configuring gTLDs in Webmasters Tools. With gTLDs you can use subdomains (country.example.com/) or subdirectories (example.com/country/); either way is fine.”
We analysed a slice of the largest businesses across the globe and we found that the majority of websites had created language-specific websites. It has also shown us that most of the brands analysed used the ccTLD method, which, as we discussed earlier, is the resource- heavy option.
Apart from the topics discussed above, there are other methods you can use to help search engines define the targeted country. Examples include physical address, local phone numbers, Google+ Local listings, using local currency and incoming links. However, it has been noted that the highest impact is made by country-specific domains, localised content and relevant links.
While I have discussed Google as the predominant search engine, it is not the only search engine that you must comply with when discussing a worldwide strategy. Search engines such as Baidu and Yandex which require targeting, so it is important to understand the differences between them.
To conclude, if you are a brand that is targeting an international market, it is recommended you weigh up the positives against the negatives and decide on a structure that you will be able to maintain as you move forward. Then begin to understand the audience that you are targeting in each country and cultural differences that you may need to take into consideration.
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