Multilingual SEO: Off-Page SEO Success Starts With Top Level Domains
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Multilingual SEO: Off-Page SEO Success Starts With Top Level Domains

Multilingual SEO: Off-Page SEO Success Starts With Top Level Domains

DomainsPresenter Jon Ritzdorf is Moravia’s Solutions Architect and a global SEO expert. He also teaches translation technologies and localization fundamentals at New York University, the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and the University of Chicago. In his webinar, “Steps to Effective Global SEO: Off-Page Factors,” Jon discussed the challenges of multilingual content management for brands working in global markets with an eye to best practices that improve site ranking.

Last time, in our Moravia webinar on on-page SEO factors, we talked about keyword translations and specifically how you need to back it up with web research to come up with the best keyword candidates in your target markets. One of the main points I tried to drill home is the difference between English and localized SEO, noting that when you move your SEO into new markets you are not only multiplying by languages, but also by all the countries that happen to speak those languages. This is because, when it comes to SEM and SEO, you have to focus tightly on each locale for optimal sales of your products and services and, in some cases, you may even have to change your keyword strategy entirely to capture the attention of the market.

Today, let’s start talking about some off-page factors related to SEO.

Look to the top.

Every major search engine that I know of provides a higher level of natural ranking to any site that has a country code top level domain, otherwise known as a ccTLD. I get a lot of questions from people about what’s required in order to have a ccTLD. For many top level domains you don’t really need anything other than a credit card. You can literally go to your service provider that you have today — it could be GoDaddy or any one of the major U.S. domain registration service providers — and just register a country specific top level domain (like .it for Italy, .jp for Japan and so on).

However it’s not always that easy. For certain countries — for example France and Finland — there are other requirements before they will allow you to have a local top level domain. Why? Each country is granted control over their own country domain and they are allowed to make up their own rules and regulations regarding domain distribution. Sometimes, a specific country may require you have a registered trademark. Sometimes you have to have a local business registration ID. Sometimes, you have to have other evidence of a local, physical presence, like a phone number or an address.

Go local … but think subcontinents not countries.

The second thing that the major search engines prefer in natural ranking is a local host provider. So, if you are hosting locally (i.e., within that country) and have a local IP address you will typically get a better search ranking in a natural search.

Let’s say that you and your industry competitor both are targeting Korean consumers with your localized website. If you both host your sites in the United States and have more or less the same ranking stateside, then you will have an equal chance in capturing the Korean buyer’s attention.

But let’s say you decide to actually host your site in Korea while your competitor is still hosting in the United States. Data has shown that your site is nearly guaranteed to rank higher now in searches by Korean locals because Naver, the top Korean search engine, will give you a higher ranking simply based simply on the fact you have a local IP address assigned to Korea.

When I tell people to consider local hosting for better rank, they often bring up a legitimate argument. Namely, having a local service provider in Germany, and one in France, and one in Spain, and one in China, and so on is going to cost too much money, admin time and hassle.

Well, the fact is you don’t really need a host service provider for every single country associated with every top level domain that you’ve registered. What I generally recommend is to host as close as possible to your audience. It’s a good idea to think in terms of sub-continents. So, for example, if I’m going to focus on Western Europe, maybe I want to have my host provider in Germany. If I’m going to focus on East Asia, maybe I have my host provider in Japan or Hong Kong.

If you check out the strategies of larger brands like Amazon, that’s actually what they are doing (, and most of their European language sites are hosted in the Netherlands). I don’t deny that for some markets it’s a lot of hassle and additional admin, but if you are determined to rank above competitors and capture that local market it’s a strategic move (for example, China is notorious for favoring only sites that are locally hosted within the “great firewall”… is under a China IP address).

China & NSA: Unlikely Allies to Justify Local Hosting

In fact, China is always a fun exception to every rule. In China you have to also keep a careful eye to your content and not run afoul of government censors. Google famously took issue with Chinese censorship and privacy concerns and finally decided to use Hong Kong as their official gateway into China. If you are targeting China, there are online lists of content that you should avoid mentioning in your site to avoid getting blocked and losing your rank entirely. The sensors don’t tell you why you’re blocked, they just block you and you have no recourse. Therefore, you have to be extremely careful if you want to tap the Chinese market via their leading search engine, Baidu.

An easy way to justify the cost and hassle of a hosting provider outside of the United States is really a very recent development. Because of the recent NSA scares there actually has been some talk among EU countries about not allowing content or user data from these locations to be hosted on U.S. servers. There are now demands from the EU marketplace to the effect that “we’d really like to use your service but we would require client data be hosted locally.”

This is especially true for Germany where privacy is serious business. It’s not a bad idea to set up your web host in Germany because of recent issues. Not only would you likely have better SEO in the EU region, but you’d also be able to advertise that European data is all stored in a German data center out of the prying eyes of the NSA.

In a later post I’ll be back to talk about the role of social media in off-page SEO success.