SEO is categorized into two broad categories: off-page and on-page optimization.
On-page is more straight-forward, in that full control lies with the optimizer. In the simplest terms, they have to incorporate key search phrases into the main copy of their website so that search engines can link the site to searches made by the web-browsing public.
Off-page optimization, however, is a little more precarious, simply because it all depends on the cooperation of third parties, many of whom may not be keen to collaborate.
It’s often said that link-building can contribute up to 80% of a website’s search position – so it’s not enough to have quality content on your website…though this is still important.
It could be said link-building is all about quality rather than quantity for modern-day optimizers. There was a time when link-swapping was commonplace, as website owners attempted to boost their search engine positions. This is no longer enough – links should form the basis of content that is useful. And it should ideally be contained on a website that’s trusted by search engines.
A link from CNN, BBC or Reuters is better than a link from a low-traffic website at the lower-end of the Alexa scale. So if you’re trying to optimize a website for domestic markets, then you need to adopt a more sophisticated approach in 2010 than you would have done in 1998.
With international markets, the hows and whys of link-building are similar to domestic markets, but there are a few additional factors you must consider.
Keywords and anchor text are intrinsically connected. So if a company ranks highly on Google, Yahoo! or Bing for a specific keyword, it’s probable that there will be a number of in-bound links with that keyword as the anchor text.
Now, if this same company launches a website aimed at French markets, they may be tempted to translate their keywords directly. But when linking keywords from foreign-language websites, you must consider that local consumers may not use direct dictionary translations to search for their product or service – they may use any variation of the term – such as slang words, abbreviations, synonyms or even pseudo-Anglicisms.
For example, Italians use ‘lastsecond’ when searching for travel deals online – and this fact could be missed if you don’t research your international link-building campaigns properly. If you’re optimizing your website for holiday chalets in Sardinia, then a smattering of in-bound links with ‘lastsecond’ included in the anchor text might just be what you need.
Pitch perfect: content is king
Similar to your domestic link-building initiatives, you need quality content to accompany your link-building on the foreign-language internet. Fresh, useful and relevant – three words you should remember with any content your produce, and with a smidgen of industry keywords included, you will be rewarded by the search engines.
Writing in English might not secure you coverage (hence no links!) on the top German blogs and websites, but it might be enough to secure you a freelance native-German article writer. You can post a simple ad in English in your home country, and the chances are you’ll find a professional writer or even a student looking for a little spare cash – someone who calls German (or whatever your desired language is) their native tongue.
And this is key to your international link-building. Pitching your content to foreign language publications requires sufficient language skills AND knowledge of the local markets. Hence, a native will always know best.
When targeting US/UK publications, for example, an informal tone may work. But in Germany, the way you approach and address a publication’s editor will have to be different. Oh, and don’t be tempted to use Google Translate in your pitches…it most certainly won’t get you very far.
PR and Link-building
For businesses with international operations, PR could well be your best friend in terms of getting high-quality links.
If anything newsworthy happens in your company, you should shout it from the rooftops. Press releases are free to send, and you can target all the top online news publications – if they pick up on the story, the chances are they’ll provide a link to your website.
If you’re new to PR, you’d be surprised at how many latent stories there are in your company. It could be how your company’s founder gave up their day-job to start the business and now you’re turning over millions every year in a country you really didn’t expect to succeed in. And such a story may go down very well in the business sections of the press in your target markets.
Of course, this probably won’t get your desired anchor text linked, but even your company name linked from the BBC or CNN-equivalent online news site in a given country holds tremendous value.
It might even be worth hiring a professional PR expert for a short while, who can help you identify any hidden stories within your business and tailor your stories specifically for your target markets – a little creativity is all that’s needed.
Link-building is a key facet of (international) SEO strategy and the quality of your links is every bit as important – if not more so – than the quantity. With foreign-language link-building, your underlying strategy won’t be all that different. Just remember that ‘thinking local’ will get you far – treat each country separately and tap into local knowledge and expertise where possible.