November 2011

Unravelling the Confusion of International SEO

by YC Ng on November 30, 2011

international seoWe received a few enquiries lately about international SEO. Most thought that getting top ranking in google.com will automatically place their website top rank in any Google countries specific results.

Is that simple?

Well, in fact, it is much more complicated than this! It’s a tricky and complex in formulating a strategy for targeting international search engine result pages.  This is because Google’s geotargeting algorithm targets their results for the relevant country.  The searches of google.com from Malaysia and Singapore, both will show the different mixture of international together with local results.

So, what are the factors that influence the results in each country specific results?

Here are few important factors to take note:

  • The top level domain – general (.com, .net, .org & etc)  or country specific (.com.my, .sg & etc)
  • The country the domain is hosted in
  • Contents (language, phone number and address)
  • Backlink profile

With the above-mentioned, we can consider 3 possible options to focus on multiple countries target:

Option 1: Having Countries Specific Domains

Effective and most targeted method (but expensive)

One of the most straight forward ways is to create a different domain for each country’s site with the extension that is identified closely to the country itself. This is referring to the use of “.com.my”, “.com.sg” and “.co.th” for Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand respectively.

Option 2: Subdomains for different targeting countries

Not the best but workable

Another option is creating them into subdomains instead of different URL sites. Subdomains can be created in different ways, such as http://my.yoursite.com, http://sg.yoursite.com. This approach is adopted by Wikepedia.

Option 3: Having Countries Specific Subfolders

Cost Effective Method

You can also create a country specific in separate sub pages to something like http://www.yoursite.com/my/ for the Malaysia site, and http://www.yoursite.com/sg/ for a Singapore site. This is the cheapest method. We have seen many sites did it successfully in international SEO.

Summary of the Pros & Cons

pros & cons of the international seo method

Reference: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2010/03/working-with-multi-regional-websites.html

There are issues to note about Option 2 & 3. Customer preference is one of the main concerns. This is because for some customers, the origin country’s extension in a site’s URL is a critical factor in their decision making for their purchasing process. This is especially true for French customers, and even in Canada. They will want to see the .fr or .ca before clicking on the search engine result to proceed for business. True, it is a little biased, but perhaps there may also be some company’s consideration to support local fellow businessmen.

Duplicate Content Issue

If you are setting up multiple countries versions of the sites, as long as they’re in different languages duplicate content doesn’t pose a problem. But it would be problem if all sites are in the English language targeting the Malaysia, Singapore, Australia & others. Even though Google stated in Webmaster Central Blog that “this is generally not a problem as long as the content is for different users in different countries”, we noted that in most cases, one of the sites will do alright and the rest won’t do as good.

To avoid duplicate content problems, it is recommended to vary the content, file names, and templates a bit on each domain so they’re not exact duplicates, as well as some unique contents to each site.

Decision making

Strengths and weaknesses always come in one package. How do we make the call?

When you are targeting consumers in multiple regions, it is advisable for you need to have separate marketing strategy for each target market, online marketing is no exception.

If there is no financial constraint, the definitive way to go is an option 1. We also recommend having an international .com site centralizing all the sites together in one page, where visitors may select the country and click to it specifically. For instance, like apple.com showing the international page and giving the option to choose the country version.

For limited budget or less important market, the best bet is going to be in Option 2 or 3. Personally, we prefer Option 3 due to the strength of potentially inheriting some of that root domain authority.