In the first part of our series on international SEO, we looked at how Google search results will vary from country to country. In this part, we’ll look at the different factors that Google uses to determine whether a site is relevant to users from a specific country.
Elements of International Rankings
There are several elements to a website that Google will use to determine what country it is most relevant to. The more of them you can take into consideration when building a country (or language) specific portal, the better you will rank in your target national markets.
Site Domain: TLD vs ccTLD
A site’s Top Level Domain (TLD) is an important indication that Google uses to determine the geographic relevance of a website. Simply put, a TLD is simply the extension that appears at the end of your domain name, such as .com, etc. And the more relevant your TLD is to a geographic market, the more likely your site will be to rank on searches for that country. There are two kinds of TLDs: general TLDs and country specific TLDs. General TLDs include extensions such as .com, .org, .net, .edu, etc. These are better for ranking internationally, such as with the site of a parent or multinational brand. Country Code TLDs (ccTLD), on the other hand, are ideal for ranking within a specific country (but limit your ranking potential abroad). Examples of ccTLDs include .ca for Canada, .co.uk for the UK, and .de for Germany. One reason that Google places such importance on ccTLDs is because many ccTLDs are available only to businesses operating within that country. For example, to register a .com.au domain, your business must be registered in Australia. So obtaining the relevant ccTLD will be critical to your rankings in any given national market. But you might also have to budget for any legal or business costs you may have to incur before being able to register those domains.
Site IP Address
Another variable that search engines consider to determine the geographic relevance of a site is its IP address. Basically, your site’s IP address is determined by the server that your site is hosted on, and that IP address indicates where that server is located. So if you want a site to rank well within a certain country, you should consider hosting that site within that country. Here it can get a bit tricky. For instance, if your company relied on its own in-house servers, you will need to rent out rackspace in a different country. Conversely, if your hosting is outsourced to a hosting provider, you will need to make sure that your hosting provider can provide IP addresses that correspond to the countries you’re targeting (or find a hosting provider that can).
Onsite Content (is King)
You’ve probably heard the phrase that content is king. Well, it couldn’t be more true than it is with SEO. The most fundamental part of SEO is onsite content. And this means more than just page copy. It also includes page titles and meta descriptions. So if you’re targeting different linguistic markets, you will need page titles, meta descriptions, and page copy (such as product descriptions) in each of those languages. Similarly, if you’re targeting different countries that use the same language but different dialects, you’ll want to make sure your onsite content uses those dialects. For example, Canada and the UK use many different spellings than the US. So if you’re targeting both the UK and US, you will need to ensure that the content on your respective sites reflects these different spellings.
Another fundamental aspect of SEO is having targeted backlinks from relevant and related sites. First, the more backlinks you have, the better your site will rank overall. But more importantly, the more of those link feature targeted anchor text, the better your site will rank for those keywords. Well, Google also looks at the TLD, IP address, and onsite content of the sites linking back to you. For instnace, getting a backlink from a .co.uk site that’s hosted in the UK will boost your rankings more than a link from a .com or a .co.uk that’s hosted in the US. What this means is that you’ll need a separate linkbuilding/link-baiting strategy for each of the countries you’re trying to rank in. This will entail obtaining backlinks from sites that have relevant TLDs and IP addresses, as well as onsite content in the right languages. In the next and final installment of our series on International SEO, we will look at different site architecture strategies.