So before you begin building your campaign, make sure you have a solid foundation in place by addressing these five factors:
1. Your Market. Contrary to popular belief, the world isn’t divided into two parts: us and them. It’s a huge, amazing place filled with an incredibly diverse assortment of peoples and cultures. This means you can’t create a one-size-fits-all international campaign; you have to target just one country or region at a time.
It can be tricky to choose your market, and sites with a reasonable number of international visitors have the upper hand in this department – they can focus on their most frequent international visitors. If you don’t have international traffic, think long and hard about where your product or service would fit in nicely (internet research can help with this).
2. Handling Your International Sites. How you handle your international sites is largely a personal preference, whether you choose to use individual local domains, subdomains or a combination that redirects a local domain to a subdomain on your primary server. Whatever you choose, keep it consistent.
The same goes for your site architecture. If you need separate versions of the site for different language options within a single country, make sure the subfolders are easy to find and make sense within the larger construct. It can be very confusing for contributors when there are lots of copies of the same site and none are labeled or designed in a way that anyone can identify which is which at a glance.
3. Identifying Local Keywords. Volumes have been written about local keywords, but it bears repeating at the risk of beating a very dead horse. The keywords that work in your local and/or national market aren’t necessarily (or even likely) the same ones that will get you hits in a new international market. People in other countries structure their searches differently and may use words a non-native speaker wouldn’t expect to locate sites.
Keyword analysis for your new target market is vital. If you have a contact that is a native speaker, you certainly should enlist him or her for help developing your SEO strategy. For those of you who don’t, look to international keyword tools and to the SEO of similar companies to help get an idea about how your new audience understands keywords.
4. Global Competition. Any time you’re trying to break into a new market, be it down the road or across the ocean, it’s a good idea to look at the competition. Their marketing efforts and price points are clues about your new customers. Although other, similar companies won’t roll out the red carpet to welcome you, the more you study their work, the more you can learn from them.
You may notice that your competitors announce sales in a particular way or package products much differently from the way you’re accustomed to seeing it done domestically. On the other hand, the differences may simply boil down to effective colors and product choices — either way, pay close attention if you want to earn a healthy piece of the market share.
5. Creating Content. You may be tempted to simply translate your site’s content into the official language of the new market you’re trying to tap, or to direct an English-speaking population to your site – but no matter how much this sounds like it should work, it won’t. If it were that easy, everybody would be doing it. Look at companies like UPS or McDonald’s that have a madly successful international web presence, and you’ll see one thing above all else — each country they serve has its own site, skillfully written for its target market.
These sites aren’t simply the main site converted into translated content, either. They’re carefully composed by local writers who understand the nuances of the language and culture of the people you hope to soon be serving. Whether it’s to help you avoid committing serious breaches of etiquette and violations of cultural norms, or to simply keep you from looking foolish because local slang differs from the base language, local experts are the key to success with international SEO content.
Launching an international SEO campaign requires extensive research and planning, similar to a domestic one – yet arguably more complex. To ensure your success, a foundation built on a laser-targeted market, smart site architecture, an informed keyword strategy, competitor analyses, and indigenous content is absolutely key.