Recently at Foremost Media we have been getting more and more questions about how search engines work as it relates to ranking for international markets. In order to answer the question, it is important to explain how the search engines work, particularly Google.
Google is the most popular search engine Worldwide. So, we will focus on them for this post. If you work inside of the Russian or Chinese markets however, we will want to target different engines in addition to Google. So, contact me if this is the case and we can discuss (contact information below). Now, back to Google. Think of Google as having multiple companies, one for each country it serves. Google.com is the American search engine, whereas Google.de is the German engine, Google.in is the engine for India and so on.
The first thing Google does when reviewing your site is determine which one of their engines you belong in. If they determine the website is targeting the US market, they rank you in Google.com. If they believe you are targeting the German market, then they will rank you in Google.de. Now, most people don't know that each website can only have a single national engine as their primary engine. So, if you are an American site ranking in Google.com as your primary engine, then you will barely rank in any other countries. For this reason alone, it is absolutely vital that you establish different presences for different countries.
It is also important to note that Webmasters can override the primary engine inside of Webmaster Tools, as long as you are using a generic domain name and not a country specific one. This can be done on the domain level, subdomain level, or even the sub-directory level. Your SEO provider will also want to help you rank better in that country. There are many, many ways to do this. However, there are a few little tricks we can pull off if we are helping you with the website as well. For instance, having your hosting located inside the target country usually helps in two ways. #1, it makes your site load faster, and #2, it gives you more geographic relevance in the search engine and by default lets Google know the target country. Structuring the site correctly is also very important, as well as making sure you aren't making any common SEO mistakes.
For instance, I have heard on numerous occasions that a company wants to just create the home page with pages on the site that go to different country specific pages. This is fine, if the subdirectories are targeted in Webmaster tools separately. Though, many users find this confusing. If this is not done, then the landing page will be used to push the traffic to different country-specific pages will only show up primarily in one engine. So, as a result, the site will likely be disseminating traffic, and leads, for one particular market for the most part. While there are multiple structural answers here, there is a lot of data supporting that users trust country level TLDs (such as .de or .in) more than they trust subdomains or subfolders on websites. So, my preference is typically to use those domain names that are country specific and then structure the web presence around this. I have typically seen better results with this method. Unfortunately, sometimes a company cannot get their branded domains for all their target countries. We have some great solutions for this as well.
What is your situation? Contact Jon (Jballard@foremostmedia.com) to explore the best option for you.
If your company is targeting international markets, but is based in Wisconsin, you may want to take a look at the WEDC grant for Online Marketing.
More Ways to Optimize Your Online Presence:
How To Optimize Your Home Page
Optimize Your Link Building with Social Media
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)