The correct implementation of multi-site international SEO can be a minefield, particularly when pages targeted to different countries are in the same language (as this can cause duplicate content issues).

Stay with me for the next 5 minutes and i’ll let you into a little secret; the secret of successful international SEO set up

 

Domain Strategy

Use folders on a strong .com TLD. For example:

  • www.example.com/us rather than www.example.us

This is because:

Recent changes to the way that Google deals with geo targeting means that country specific domains no longer provide the strong benefits they once did. Our experience working with brands targeting multiple territories is that a subfolder on your hero domain provides more clout. This is due to inherited domain authority: so by putting the US site in a subfolder on the .com, the US version “inherits” the authority of the .com, meaning that we aren’t starting from ground zero with the US version.

N.B

Through my experience working with UK brands with medium sized budgets that are looking to test new markets over seas, this strategy has worked the best for them in terms of delivering both traffic and sales. Global brands with larger budgets may well benefit from country level TLDs (as in some territories this may increase CTR) as they will have the resource available to them to undertake the extra work, in addition to the strength of online branding, that it will take to establish a reasonable position in the SERPs.

Geo Targeting in Webmaster Tools

A very simple step; ensure that you create profiles in Webmaster Tools for each of your international versions, and set the geo-targeting in that profile to be the country that you are targeting.

Create an XML sitemap for each international version, and submit this to Webmaster Tools.

Hosting

We do still recommend hosting the site in the countries being targeted.

This is both for SEO (as the location of the servers is taken into account by Google’s algorithm when deciding on to which countries your site is relevant), and also for usability, as the site will load much slower for US visitors if it is only hosted in the UK (plus, site speed is another factor taken into account by Google).

Avoiding Duplicate Content Issue

If you do go down the route of having a separate version of the site for US and UK visitors, and the content is exactly the same on both, then there is a risk of duplicate content issues.

This can be avoided by:

  1. Using the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” tags in the XML site maps of both versions. These annotations help Google serve the correct language or regional URL to searchers. An example of how this would be set up can be found here
  2. On pages where content is exactly the same on the US version as on the UK, you would then also want to point the canonical tag of the US version to the equivalent UK page (due to the above tag, Google will still show the US version to those searching in the US).

Content and Outreach

Finally, once the technical set up of the site is in place, it’s time to create a content and outreach strategy for each language and territory in order to start attracting backlinks from sites in your target countries.

Originally posted on the Make It Rain blog.