When it comes to targeting search engines to reach international markets, we’re going to have to do things a little differently. As we expand our horizons we begin to form connections with those who not only speak different language but bring a whole set of different cultural expectations to their business dealings online.
There are two broad approaches to meeting the needs of our international customers. The first option is to focus on languages. Alternatively, we can consider our foreign markets on a country by country basis.
Optimizing by Language
While getting the words right is key to international communication, the SEO strategies at your disposal will not vary widely from one language to another. Bear in mind, though, that when you switch language you also gain the attention of those search engines designed with speakers of that language in mind. It’s worth taking some time to get to know which search engines you need to optimize for.
The advantage of optimizing by language is that it gives you a broad-brush way of reaching new customers. English already gives you the potential to reach markets around the world. Add Spanish and you can include much of South America as well as Spain. French can make many African countries accessible in addition to parts of Western Europe. Next consider how many people in and outside of China read Chinese and you can see how adding a few key languages to your SEO marketing can open up significant regions of the global market.
Approaching your SEO on a language basis can be an affordable and time-efficient option. You can focus on finding the best possible keywords, which may not be the direct equivalents of those that perform well for you in English.
On the other hand, you might not want to optimize by language if you have an interest in promoting your business to certain countries only. For instance, Brazil could be a key market for you while your business is not well-placed to serve Portugal.
You will want to consider too whether some languages benefit from being delivered on a regional rather than global basis. If you are selling fine leather purses, your customers in the US will expect to see a selection of bags but your British customers will be looking for somewhere to store coins. Similar miscommunication can happen with any of the major world languages and can be frustrating for customers.
Optimizing by Country
Opting for your content to be visible to a specific country is known as geo-targeting. Although SEO targeting of this kind can initially seem daunting, the fact that it is more specific can make it a more effective marketing strategy. Use geo-targeting to deliver your online content to the markets that matter to you, without having to worry about those that don’t.
It also gives you the flexibility to deliver locally relevant content to different countries who share a common language, without having to mirror your content on more than one top-level domain. With different pages geotargeted for different countries, linguistic and cultural differences can be allowed for and you can confidently quote local times, currencies and holidays.
Carefully geo-targeted content can help you by reducing the number of visitors who don’t find what they need and hit the back button. This will in turn bring down your bounce rate. Your overall visitor numbers may not increase but you are more likely to see visits that convert.
Geo-targeting your web content does require some initial thought as to who you want to reach and what differences there will be from one market to another, but it’s fairly straightforward to put into action. If you want to know more about geo-targeting and how to take advantage of it, Google’s Susan Moskwa has a handy geo-targeting video.
There will be times when geo-targeting is worthwhile but it is not going to meet the needs of every business or situation. Customers will only be delivered geo-targeted content if they opt to search for local results. Also remember that marking content as relevant to one specific country will mean that potential customers speaking that language in other countries are unlikely to see it.
Another consideration is that many countries have more than one official language, for instance if you want to target Switzerland you would be ignoring around a third of the population if you opted for German-only content.
Get to Know Your Markets
The key factor in your decision will be the needs of your potential international customers. Combining SEO with language that is both accurate and reads naturally to foreign visitors can be challenging, but get it right and you can make the leap from a national to a global customer base.