Note: This article was written by guest author Christian Arno
Everyone now recognises that if you want your website to succeed in the search engines, it needs to be search engine optimized using tactics like keyword research, content optimization and back-linking to improve its rankings on Google and other major search engines.
Localization is another hot ecommerce topic. While English remains the single most widely used language online, it still only represents around a quarter of total online usage. Additionally, studies have shown that multilingual users place more trust in websites of their own native language, especially when it comes to making purchases or otherwise spending money online.
Localizing your website for foreign markets has clear business advantages – not least the possibility of selling to a whole new audience for minimal set-up costs. When it comes to SEO for foreign language websites, however, you’re faced with the question of whether to target your efforts by language or by country.
Targeting by language
Many languages are spoken in more than one country and it’s entirely possible to have a single language website catering to every territory in which that language is spoken. A single Spanish language site, for example, could cover Spain and much of Latin America, while an estimated 35 million people speak Spanish as a first language within the United States.
A French language site, meanwhile, could cover France, parts of Belgium, Switzerland and Canada and various former French colonies in Africa and Asia. The clear advantage here is that a single website costs less and takes less time and effort to both set up and maintain.
The major drawback to targeting by language is that linguistic usage can vary from one country or territory to the next, especially when it comes to aspects of vocabulary such as slang and colloquialisms. This has a major effect upon the keywords you’ll use for linking and to optimise your content.
Just as vocabulary varies between American and British English, so there are variations between the Spanish spoken in Spain and that spoken in Latin America. A computer, for example, is an “ordenador” in Spain but a “computadora” in Spanish speaking Latin America. If targeting by language, you should always ensure that all vocabulary used is applicable to each market and that your targeted keywords are the top performers.
Targeting by country
You can avoid those troubles, and target the specific top performing keywords in each country (‘ordenador’ in Spain and ‘computadora’ in Latin America, say, if you’re selling computers) by launching websites or microsites for each country you wish to target.
This has added bonuses, as search algorithms operate, in part at least, on location. Targeting by country affords you the opportunity to invest in seperate country-code Top Level Domains such as www.example.es for Spain or www.example.mx for Mexico.
Having a separate ccTLD for your localized site will boost its rankings in the local search results of Google and other search engines. Having the site hosted on a server that is physically located within that country will boost your rankings still further.
Your content can also be specifically tailored for each target market, potentially making it more vibrant and appealing. There may be keywords that are highly effective in one country and far less effective in another. When targeting geographically, you will be able to make use of these more focused keywords.
A site localized by country will also face less competition, allowing you to achieve higher local rankings. As already mentioned, Internet users place more trust and prefer to order from sites in their own native language. Beyond this, studies have further shown that they also prefer companies and services they consider to be ‘in-country’.
Google’s geotargeting tools
If you decide not to invest in a ccTLD, Google will still attempt to geographically place your site using signals including IP address, location information on the page, links to the page, and any relevant information from Google Places. There is also a geographic targeting tool you can use to set your website or subdomain’s location. This won’t be as effective as choosing a ccTLD, but is certainly better than nothing.
It may require a little more time, money and effort, but in pure SEO terms, there’s no doubt that targeting by country is the ‘true’ localization. But as with so many business decisions, thorough research and planning will reveal whether targeting by language or country is the right direction for you.