This week we have a special webinar recording to share with you discussing the challenges with International SEO.

Participants on the webinar were:

The following topics were discussed:

  • Is it best to use .com and subdomains, .com and folders or separate country-specific TLDs to separate countries on the web?
  • Another way of demonstrating that a site is relevant to a particular locality is to link out and acquire links from the country in question – is it still worthwhile to get links from local directories?
  • A further way to build signals that a site targets a specific region is to build social profiles for each country – is that a good idea?
  • What do you need to do in Google Webmaster Tools to ensure the correct geolocation settings?
  • How can Google Analytics help with international SEO?
  • Is it a better user experience to auto-detect where someone comes from or is it better to ask them to select themselves and remember?
  • If you choose to auto-detect and redirect a user visiting your homepage for the first time, what’s the best way of implementing this?
  • How should you deal with non- ASCII characters in domains and URLs?
  • Do your need to target languages as well as countries or is targeting countries-alone sufficient?
  • What is HREFLANG?
  • Is HREFLANG a directive or a strong hint?
  • Should every site be using HREFLANG on every page?
  • Is it better to implement HREFLANG in the head section of your site or in an XML sitemap?
  • Is there anything different that you need to do for Bing or other search engines?
  • How important is hosting your site on a local server?
  • Is it feasible for a business with lots of international websites to have hosting in every country?
  • Is it ever right to introduce a canonical link from one country to the other?
  • Should site images all be hosted on the same domain and is it important that alt tags be localised as well?
  • Is it good enough to just translate every page of your website into the target country language or should every business be conducting separate keyword research and producing unique content for each country website?
  • What if a website has different versions for the USA, the UK and Australia, but a single English language blog, what’s the best way to deal with that?
  • How much cross-linking is too much when you have multiple international websites?

Introductions:

DAVID BAIN: Hello, and welcome to a special one-off webinar on International SEO that’s being released this week instead of our regular This Week in Organic show. I’m David Bain, and today we’re taking the opportunity to focus on international SEO with three SEO gurus, looking at what to consider when you’re setting up a new international site, how to deal with international SEO issues, and also what’s happening with SEO now, in 2015, and beyond into the future.

So, let’s meet the three international SEO experts joining me today. Starting off with Michael B.

MICHAEL BONFILS: Hello. Thank you for inviting me, and thank you for saying I’m an expert. I really like that.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah. You’ll prove it over the next hour or so, I’m sure, Michael. So what’s your full name, where you’re from, in terms of organisations, and what brought you here today?

MICHAEL BONFILS: Sure. My name again is Michael Bonfils, or ‘fis’ if you speak French. I am part French, actually part Quebecois and part Greek. I live here in the US, and I run a company, International Media Management. There’s a division of the company that I’m known for, that’s SEM International, which does all SEO paid display for a lot of big agencies and big clients around the world.

So, I’m a huge advocate when it comes to international search. I’ve been so since I started the company back in 2003. I started in search marketing in ’96, and my background is international business and studying cultures. It’s something I’m extremely passionate about, so I built a company around two things that I love; which are working internationally and working with multi-national challenges in search.

DAVID BAIN: Trop bien! I won’t continue past that. So next up is Michael F.

MICHAEL FLEISCHNER: Hi David. Thanks for having me on the show today. So my name is Michael Fleischner, and I’m actually based in the United States as well, on the East Coast. Actually, kind of in the centre if you’re looking at a map of the United States, it’s in New Jersey. My company, which is Big Fin Solutions, has really been focused on SEO largely as it was originated, but then expanded to cover really all different forms of digital marketing. Especially as Google has made so many algorithm changes, they’re really looking for more of a dynamic, holistic experience, we’ve been forced to grow and expand as well.

So everything from paid search to video, to developing websites and other forms of optimisation, even including reputation management. So trying to control that whole page of Google, the first page of Google. My international interest is really based on some of the agencies and some of the clients that we’ve worked with who have an international presence.

What I quickly learned is, you can’t take exactly what you know from domestic SEO, and all of a sudden apply it to your international sites or international pages and expect the same result. So I kind of had a hard road in terms of learning and kind of expanding my knowledge of international SEO, so I was hoping to share some of that today.

DAVID BAIN: Wonderful. Thank you, Michael. The odd one out, who isn’t a Michael, is Lukasz.

LUKASZ ZELEZNY: Hello. It’s an honour to be again on your show, David. Thank you very much for the invitation. My name is Lukasz Zelezny, and I’m living in London. I’m originally from Poland, ten years here with SEO. I’m currently working for a huge price comparison website for the last three years. Before, I was in a company called Home Away, an American company, which had a presence in many different countries, and had a website in many different languages. So I hope I will be able to give a couple of useful advices. Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Conclusion & takeaways:

LUKASZ ZELEZNY: My name is Lukasz Zelezny. It was a pleasure to be here. I’m working as the Head of Organic Acquisition in USwitch.com, a price comparison website based in London. My advice is, when you’re starting international website, it’s a big thing. Do a little research, spend a little time reading, especially some good sources like Google tutorials, webinars, search engine journals. Don’t try to experiment, because that’s so time-consuming to go back and reverse things that have been done in a couple of months.

Then, when you read this, you’ll probably see that Hreflang, geo-localisation, and giving the ability for the customer to choose language are not as complicated as they may look. Also, you will get lots of very useful knowledge for future projects. So this is my advice for you guys.

DAVID BAIN: Lovely, okay. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel. Watch what other successful companies are already doing, and copy their blueprint.

LUKASZ ZELEZNY: Absolutely.

DAVID BAIN: Michael B?

MICHAEL BONFILS: Thank you again for inviting me with these great panellists. It’s great hearing what they have to say, and I love being in their company. I wish we were all actually physically where Lukasz is right now. [laughting] Again, my name is Michael Bonfils or Bunfis [phonetic – [1:04:19].8]. I usually say Bonfils because people call me Bone-feet if I don’t. So we’ll say Bonfils in this regard. I run a company called International Media Management, and we’re known for SEO international.

I’d say the biggest take away is really about research. So getting into new countries. You can do this a number of ways. When you’re looking at a new country, and you’re trying to decide to get into that market, you can start by doing what’s called keyword research. So you can take your existing English, or whatever language country that you’re in, keywords. Have them localised by an expert, and provided a data with that, so you can see how many searches there are for those keywords. So does it make sense? That’s one part of this research.

The second is then looking at the competition. How much work is it going to take for me to get into this new market? You can do that in a number of ways. One thing that we do a lot is competitive content gap analysis. What we do is, we’ll take a look and decide what the customer journey is. For every segment of a customer journey, we look at who is the competitive, dominant player in that country, and how much content share they have in that specific vertical.

With that, we can tell how much content we are going to have to put in, to actually make a difference in this market. So two factors; market research – is it worth it, with the keyword research that you do, and the data? Second, how much work am I going to do to try to compete? And am I going to be able to compete? As a factor to get into the market.

DAVID BAIN: Great take aways there. Thank you, Michael. And Michael F.

MICHAEL FLEISCHNER: Well, first of all, I’d like to thank you, David. Thanks for bringing us all together. Lukasz and Michael really provided some great information. I also appreciate you gentlemen just having the country-specific knowledge, because I think that’s something that’s rare. We don’t find a lot of SEOs working across all these individual countries.

So I learned a lot during the call, and I want to thank you guys for that. My name is Michael Fleischner. I’m the CEO of Big Fin Solutions. We’re essentially a full-service digital agency with a focus on SEO and reputation management. When I think about organic SEO, and I think about having an international presence, I think oftentimes it does seem overwhelming. It’s easy to get started.

I know, Lukasz, you mentioned some of the Google tutorial videos. They’re actually pretty good. A lot of people shy away from them, but if you’re just starting out and you’re looking for foundational knowledge, I think that’s one of the places I would start. I also strongly recommend finding a partner on the ground. Is there someone in that local country? Even if they can’t necessarily build it for you, can they talk to you about the people, the culture?

I think we talked about on this call, the tone of voice, just to get a little more insight into what that gap is. Michael, you referred to that a moment ago. How are things different? Not so much how are they similar, but how are they different? I feel that, where I’ve seen the greatest success with clients is when we ca really play to those differences and create a robust user experience that increases engagement. Not just across copy on the website that’s translated properly, but again, the whole experience; images, social, content. The title of one whitepaper is appealing in one market, but not necessarily another.

So, in order to create that engagement, you do need that level of customisation. I think finding a partner on the ground is really the best way to do that.

DAVID BAIN: Wonderful. Thank you so much for that, Michael as well. I’m David Bain. I’m head of growth for Analytics SEO. So you can find over at AnalyticsSEO.com. I’m also host of This Week in Organic, so thisweekinorganic.com. Regularly, we have the weekly content marketing show, discussing the latest SEO and content marketing use, every Friday, UK time at four o’clock, East Coast USA time at eleven o’clock. So hopefully you’ll come back and watch that at some point in the future.

I guess my take away – if you’ve actually made through all the way to the end to this video – would be to watch it again, because there’s so much information there. I guess it’s so hard to actually take it all in to begin with. If you can also possibly share it with people, that would be much appreciated as well. Hopefully we’ll see you again back for future events.

There’ll be occasional specials in the future. I’m going to do a special on SEO in the travel industry in the future, possibly one of the automotive industry as well. It’s so great getting niche into these different subjects. I was thinking, can we actually talk for an hour on international SEO? I’m sure we could talk for four or five hours, it’s just incredible.

It’s been great to have three guys, Lukasz and the tow Michael’s, on, because they’ve shared their knowledge and demonstrated their true value. So go and visit their sites, and check out what they do, and check out what your best competitors are doing, and learn from the best, and roll out your international plans in a way that really works from an international SEO perspective. Thank you again for today. That’s all for now. So bye-bye from me, and bye from these guys, I guess. So, bye for now.

NOTE: We’ll also be following this post up with a series of blog posts looking into the answers provided by our 3 participants.