I had the pleasure to interview a fellow mozzer and an inbound marketing practitioner on a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, International SEO.
Below are questions Gianluca was kind enough to answer.
1. Please tell us a little about yourself
Hi Marat and fellow readers, about myself? Let’s see…one thing not everybody knows is that I started my web marketing profession quite late with respect to many others in our industry. In fact, until 2003 I was working in the TV Industry as the “head of programming” for a couple of Italian thematic channels, and cinema was and still is my biggest passion: I’ve studied it and officially graduated with a degree in “History & Critics of Cinema”. Aside from that, my hobby, since I was a kid, is to paint miniatures. It’s a shame that between my kids and the clients (who are like kids, sometimes), I cannot enjoy my hobby as much as I would like.
2. What is International SEO? How is it different from regular SEO, if at all?
International SEO is that field of Search Marketing, whose purpose is to optimize a site, both internally and externally, in order to get it indexed, linked, and ranked to obtain organic traffic in regional search engines. For instance, International SEO is a process of working on multilingual or multicounty websites, but also helping a business enter into another market via Search Marketing. That said, apart from very few peculiar on-site specifications, I don’t consider International SEO to be different from “regular SEO”. In fact, doing SEO for the Spanish or Italian markets is the same as doing SEO for the British or an American one. The only biggest difference is the culture you are targeting, which varies by country in traditions, customs, and other acceptable norms.
3. How important is accurate translation? Is Google Translate a good substitute?
An accurate translation, done by a professional translation agency or a professional translator (better if native or natively bilingual) is essential if you want to succeed with your International SEO efforts. Google Translate, similar to any other automated translation tool, is far from being a good substitute. Moreover, there has been several declarations done by Google, which reaffirm that using automated translations is a bad quality signal, hence potentially penalizing the sites using it (and I’ve seen sites penalized that rely heavily on the Google Translate APIs).
4. Please tell us of any recent updates, as they pertain to International SEO, that the readers should be aware of
Surely the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”X” has been hot topic news during these last months. Actually it is not really a recent novelty (it was presented in 2010), but it became a “hot topic” just at the end of 2011. An interest which is surely due to the mainstream interest for International SEO as a business development, even for those companies centered on their national markets. Related to the correct use of rel=”alternate” hreflang=”X”, the most important news was the clarification done by Google about the correct use of it in combination with the rel=”canonical”, which was the biggest concerns about the tag, and the quite recent option of using the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”X” also in the sitemaps.xml, an option which allows us to work better and have a cleaner code.
5. Any general tips you might have for business owners taking their business abroad?
The most useful tip I can give is to spend a considerable amount of time studying the culture, customs, and norms of the country you want to target. Conduct market research; discover how people in that country search for things related to your business. Research the local competition, not just their SEO tactics, but also how they engage their users with social media. Learn from them the language and the approach. With that tip I want to suggest the uncertainty of successfully replicating a link baiting campaign in another country. For instance, infographics in Italy have great visibility in social media, but to see them embedded widely on other sites is not so frequent. That is why I always suggest you consult with local experts in order to not fall into “expensive misunderstandings”, even in those cases you are the one managing the International SEO strategy and link building.
6. Should you redesign your website to reflect cultural preferences? Colors, layouts, etc.
In the case of targeting “western” countries, for instance those in Europe or Latin American, if you are based in the USA, probably I would not suggest that. In fact, the cultural archetypes are common between all those countries. Obviously a certain kind of local culture design optimization should be needed. For instance, if you sell beauty products, you should use photos of women who reflect the “ideal” of beauty between women of that country. But surely I would suggest it if you are going to target a culture very different from yours, for instance Chinese or Arabic. Not just because of the difference in reading and thinking how content is presented formally, but also because they have cultural archetypes which are completely different from ours.
7. Can you share with us any useful tools?
I am a man of not too many tools, honestly. I tested many, but finally I tend to use just those I feel totally comfortable with. Aside from SEO campaign suite, like SEOmoz Pro or Raventools, these are my preferred “toys”:
Keywords Search > SEMRush and Searchmetrics Essential
Competitive Search an back-link analysis > Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO
Crawlers > Screaming Frog Spider SEO
Link Building > Link Prospector, Ontolo, Linkstant
Link Building Campaign Administration > Buzzstream
If your website serves up different versions of your URL for different languages and/or regions, rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” link attribute can help Google understand which language version of the URL to show to users.
For example if you have a German translation of your page at the following location http://de.example.com, add a link in the <head> section of http://www.example.com which points to the German version, <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”de” href=”http://de.example.com” />