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An Introduction to multilingual SEO part 4: where?

By Josian Phillips, 

The web has made it easy for businesses to trade internationally. Trading and trading successfully, however, are two different things. As we know, it’s not as simple as just adding more countries to your list of delivery options and waiting for the extra custom to flood in. Multilingual SEO is the difference here, and it should be handled carefully if your evolution into a truly global company is to go smoothly.

Location is one of the biggest things to consider when optimising your site for success elsewhere in the world. You have to think about where it is you’re going (digitally), as this should directly influence the changes you make to your online presence. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the things that should be present at the top of your priority list.

Domain names

Choosing your URL structure is one of the first tasks when launching a foreign website. The three options you have are: a new ccTLD (e.g. yourbusiness.es), a subdomain (es.business.com) or a subdirectory (business.com/es). There are pros and cons to each. Firstly, it’s important to bear in mind that the authority your original site has built up over time may not carry over to subdomains – and many businesses avoid this option for that very reason.

If you’re targeting a specific country, a new ccTLD – or country code top level domain – can be highly effective. Most search engines tend to pick up on the location of the user and direct them to the most geographically relevant site; so your ccTLD will be the perfect signifier in this case.

There may be restrictions preventing you from taking advantage of some ccTLDs, though; in which case, a subdirectory could be the answer. In fact, this is perhaps the most common option. The downside here is that you won’t have the opportunity to use a separate server, which brings us neatly onto the next point.

Server location

There has been some debate about how important the location of your server is when targeting different countries and regions. One thing that seems to be widely accepted though is that location used to have more of an influence on search rankings than it does now. That’s not to say it’s not worth considering – it might not push you to the top of the pile overnight, but it could still boost your chances of success.

Even if the search engines aren’t paying as much attention to this as they have in the past, hosting a site near to its intended audience should help keep loading speeds high, ensuring a positive experience for users. This, after all, should be your ultimate priority.

Geo-targeting

Geo-targeting, as mentioned in the previous blog in this series, is a big deal these days. Getting the right content to the right people really is half the battle, and if you can achieve it by utilising the user’s location, it’d be unwise to ignore the opportunity. By uploading a PHP file to the website, it should be possible to pick up on the user’s IP address and, in turn, their location. From here, you should be able to automatically direct them to the most relevant part of the site. This could be particularly beneficial if you’re using one site to target a wider region but have different areas specific to individual countries.

The hreflang annotation

Pleasing the major search engines can be tough, and Google is the prime example here. Its guidelines are in place for good reason, though. To make things fair, the Californian search giant puts measures in place to stamp out all instances of duplicate content. This shouldn’t be an issue when optimising original content locally, but when your website’s text has been translated into multiple languages, Google’s algorithm needs a way of knowing you’re not simply copying the work of others.

To avoid issues, and ensure the right content is presented to each web-user based on their language preference, it’s important to deploy the company’s hreflang annotation. To do this, it’s just a case of inserting rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” into your HTML header, HTTP header or xml sitemap – more information on this can be found in Google’s support section.

No mean feat

As you can see, ensuring your website is effective elsewhere in the world can take a lot of work. On top of the linguistic translation and localisation, you also have to consider the various technical factors that might influence your visibility on the search engine results pages (SERPs). This is exactly why it’s so important to work with experts who are fully competent in SEO as well as translation. When the right steps are taken, however, there will be very little standing between you and international success.

Everything you need to know about multilingual SEO Parts 1-4:

An introduction to multilingual SEO part 1: what?
An introduction to multilingual SEO part 2: who?
An introduction to multilingual SEO part 3: how?
An introduction to multilingual SEO part 4: where?

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