How Different is International SEO from Normal SEO?

International SEO

Webmasters often talk about international SEO as if it were a completely different animal than regular SEO. They host conferences, they have international SEO webinars, they buy (and write) eBooks and so on and so forth. But at the end of the day, is international SEO really that different?

Let’s take a look.

The Language Issue

Language Issue International SEOOne of the biggest issues with optimizing web pages for international markets is the language issue.

If your website isn’t in the language of the searcher, chances are you aren’t going to show up at all. In order to rank, you need to have your website(s) translated.

This is one of the big differences between international and national SEO. How do you write content that’s high quality and has personality, in a completely different tongue? How do you make sure the new piece of content has all the idioms, analogies, metaphors and examples written in a way that captivates attention? How do you make sure the cultural references that make sense in the United States are replaced with cultural references that make sense in whatever language you’re now talking to?

Creating content for another language isn’t just a matter of finding someone to translate your US content to your international language. Most translation firms simply do straight translations, where they take the English phrase and directly transpose it to another language.

In order to create high quality content that gets backlinks, you must get the language issue resolved.

Too Much Focus on Infrastructure

In international SEO, a lot of people spend a lot of time on the infrastructure. They talk about how, when and why to buy local domains and TLDs. They talk about the benefits of a local domain versus creating a subdomain for another country. They talk about putting multi-language sites on the same TLD in different subfolders.

All this is valuable information, but it’s not where the important distinctions are. Anyone can buy a foreign TLD or setup a subdomain. This does not tell Google anything about whether or not you have quality content. All it tells Google is that your site is meant to be in a specific country.

These factors are good to pay attention to, but they’re not what will determine your ranking.

Is the Algorithm the Same?

Is the ranking algorithm the same across the board, or are you playing with a completely different ranking algorithm when you move into foreign markets?

As far as Google goes, the ranking algorithm is more or less identical across different countries. They still care about links. They still measure authority. They still look at relevance. All the important SEO metrics you’d use to rank in the United States apply to ranking in the rest of the world.

However, in the rest of the world you’ll often find that new features lag behind. For example, tools like Google Places or Universal Search might show up in other countries only after they’ve been in the United States for a few months.

The same applies to ranking algorithm changes. For example, when Google Panda rolled out, much of the rest of the world didn’t experience any shift in rankings for several months.

Fundamentally, the things you need to do to get ranked in the United States are the same as the things you need to do in the rest of the world. You might see differences in specific search features or updates to the search algorithm, but by and large it’s the same.

One important caveat: The ranking algorithm between different international search engines can be drastically different. It’s true that ranking in Google is relatively similar globally. But if you go into China, you aren’t going to try to rank for Google; you need to rank for Baidu. If you’re going into Russia, your goal shouldn’t be to rank for Google, it should be to rank for Yandex.

Make sure you understand the search engine market share landscape of the country you’re going into. If you’re targeting a different search engine, make sure you research and study that search engine before diving in.

So is international SEO really all that different? Yes and no. You need to overcome the language barrier, which is a huge stepping stone. Once you do however, most SEO is the same, unless you have to target a different search engine.

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2 Responses to “How Different is International SEO from Normal SEO?”

  1. Andy on December 5th, 2012 4:28 am

    International SEO is big business, and big business equals big websites. It can be really confusing when you have to cater to a target audience that is the entire world: you know that people from different countries and cultures are going to be looking for different things.

  2. preeti on December 5th, 2012 9:46 am

    Thanks for explaining this difference in such a good way.

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