According to findings by the Eromonitor International, emerging economies will grow three times faster than the developed economies of North America and Europe and will account for a whopping 65% of the global economic growth by 2020.
What does this mean for online business?
Although the markets in developed countries will continue to provide a vibrant customer base with great purchasing power, businesses that want to diversify, increase sales and boost their bottom line can no longer ignore the power of emerging markets in Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa.
Strategising and implementing an international SEO campaign is a game changer for any business that is looking to tap into the latent potential of its global audience.
Here are essential best practices to help you win in your global SEO campaign:
Unveiling the Nature of your Global Audience
An essential preliminary step before getting started with the technicalities of your international SEO campaign, is understanding the characteristics of your global audience. Which countries are generating significant traffic to your local site, which keywords are visitors using to come to your site, how are they converting, which countries are providing the greatest conversions?
You may not be able to effectively target all the countries in the world with your website. But, keenly analysing your audience allows you to narrow down your scope and to focus your campaign on audiences in promising geographical locations.
Working out the Website Technicalities
The technical structuring of your website will take up the bulk of your internationalisation efforts. Technical best practices can be broken down into:
Choosing the appropriate domain structure
The domain structure is the most important aspect of your international website. This is how search engines are able to identify your site and make it visible to audiences in the target language or country.
The two primary options for domain structures are country code top-level domains (ccTLD) or alternatively, the subdirectories can be used.
CcTLD structures are used when dedicating an entire website to a particular country for example .nz, .fr, .ie, or .uk. Subdirectories are helpful in subdividing a main website into different directories or pages that target different countries or languages.
Subdirectories work well with generic top-level domains (gTLD) such as those that end with .com, .org, .net. It is easier to internationalize your website using subdirectories than it is to create separate sites for each country or language you are targeting.
Targeting your site to the right audience
Google Webmaster Tools is indispensible when it comes to geo-locating your website.
This involves toggling with code to tell Google which pages of your website are targeting a specific language or country.
Choosing a ccTLD or subdirectory domain is not enough; this information needs to be relayed to Google using the hreflang annotations to specify the target country or language. This entails including an HTML link in the page headers or in the HTTP header for files that are not based on HTML.
Localising Your Website
Keyword research is important especially during content creation and content marketing. Utilise tools to analyse specific keywords and keyword trends in your target country.
However, your international SEO campaign should go beyond keywords. Website localisation enables you to design your website in a way that is familiar and appealing to your target audience.
Localisation requires that you take into consideration factors such as customs, symbols, cultural attitudes and behaviour, language nuances such as colloquialism and the implications of certain words.
Visual elements such as the choice of color used on the website, the layout, choice of images and even the fonts can impact people’s decisions to subsequently visit your site, link to you, trust you and share your content.
Do not overlook the importance of link building to improve your rankings on Google or the local search engines. Best practices for link building apply—earn the links or ask for them through outreach, networking and, again through good old content marketing.
Internationalising Your Social Media Presence
Social signals are yet to significantly impact a site’s ranking. However, it is evident that a strong social media presence can provide brand visibility, credibility and thought leadership, all of which affect ranking especially in countries where Google is the leading search engine.
Each country has its own popular social media sites, making it necessary for the international marketing efforts to establish a presence in these country-specific social sites and to engage with the local audience. For example, while Facebook and Twitter are the most popular in North America and Western Europe, Sina Weibo and QZone are the most commonly used in China, while V Kontakte and Odnoklassniki are popular in Russia.
It will take time to fully strategize, implement and expand your international social media campaign, but the efforts are well worth it—an increasingly large number of consumers globally is preferring to engage with brands on social media and brands without a social presence will lose out.
A global SEO campaign is only as good as the ensuing analytical data. Web optimisation and localisation is an ongoing effort that needs to be measured and analysed against the campaign goals you set out to achieve as well as overall business objectives.