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SES London 2013 – Day Three

Day Three at SES

I made a flying visit to the morning of Day Three at SES London 2013. Here’s what I picked up from the experience of my first ever SEO conference (besides the free coffee….)

The talk that I attended, ‘Breaking Down the Borders: International and Multilingual SEO’ was given by Andy Headington and Mikkel deMib Svendsen, discussing the key themes of conducting successful cross-country and cross-continental online business and SEO. The main point – repeatedly hammered home throughout the talk – is remembering the importance of localisation for each country of business and its top level domain, in order to maximise customer potential and ROI in that country. It might seem obvious that one country’s language will differ from another, but have you considered that its customs, laws and culture will also play a massive role in the needs and expectations of your potential audience?


How to Butter Up Your Potential Audience

The importance of localisation over blanket content across your individual country domains is immeasurable – content that is perfectly acceptable in one country may take on a whole different meaning in light of another. An example given at the talk was of one unnamed Danish company who produced advertising on a standard lighter, used by millions the world over. However, when presenting this advertising idea to their branch in Norway, the Norwegian team were horrified, seeing it instead as an unsellable association between their brand and the glorification of smoking.

The point was also brought home further by emphasising the linguistic differences even between two countries that appear to share a language. A great example of this is the UK and the US, who on the surface would be assumed to be speaking the same language, yet this assumption can lead to costly mistakes when considering local meanings. For example, the widely used British term ‘Merry Christmas!’ can sometimes be considered offensive in the US on religious terms and instead, the public is encouraged to use the term ‘Happy Holidays!’. This is a difference that is potentially responsible for alienating large portions of your target audience if not picked up upon.

The considerations regarding your country-specific domain when setting up each individual website or page were also discussed at great length. The three options with their pros and cons were suggested as follows:

Country specific directory:

-          A country specific domain is personal and makes the customer feel included.

-         It can give a small boost to rankings in local search engines, for example using will rank better when using

-          However, the negative side of this is that you’ll need to link build separately for each country’s domain, which can be time consuming and costly.

Country subdomains:

-          These effectively hold the same pros and cons as country specific directories but a subdomain may potentially hold less SEO power link wise.

Country directories:

-          A directory is easier for link building as it’s still part of the core .com domain

-          However, this diminishes the localisation and can make the customer feel less valued.


How to Keep Them There

Once you’ve drawn your target audience into clicking through and visiting your site or business, it is imperative that localisation also takes into account your on-page visuals. Instead of blanket offering one layout, consider the differences between each country – for example, an ecommerce site must consider each area’s individual formatting of delivery addresses and postcodes. Even Amazon – a global giant – has fallen into this trap, previously alienating entire countries from purchasing their products by being unable to enter their addresses successfully into Amazon’s ‘standard issue’ forms.

The websites’ appearance itself is also a point of consideration. Similarly to the different cultural meanings of certain words and their unintentionally negative impact, colours can experience this same trouble. As an example, most western countries would agree that the colour white is synonymous with purity and innocence. However, when transferring this to eastern countries, this is not the case and instead the colour is indicative of death, mourning and funerals – not something you would want your brand to be associated with (unless you’re doing SEO for a funeral parlour…).

What’s more, you need to consider that customers from each country will have different needs and expectations and that these can be indicative to the design of your page. An example given was one of price: a US customer may like to see the price of an item in large lettering, whereas more conservative countries would prefer if it were hidden or, at the very least, not a focal point.


Who Rules the World?

It might be easy to assume given their giant status in Europe and the US, but Google is not necessarily the search engine king in every country. In Russia, Yandex is a major player and the little-known-to-the-West search engine Badu actually ranks 4th in the world.

Search Engine World Market Share

In addition to this, it is worth remembering that even when using Google, country specific domains will have differences with regards to their algorithm. The US will always receive algorithm updates first, followed by UK and spreading across the rest of Europe. This means that something such as the Venice update (more on this later!) may not necessarily be as useful for one country’s SEO as another’s.

It is also important to remember that while each country has its own language, you need to think beyond the borders on this: think by language not by country! By this I mean that within each country, there will be a multitude of languages spoken and the standard may not necessarily be the best fit for your website – for example, a website in Singapore may find that the most effective language to use is English or the English-based creole Singlish.


A few key side notes were also revisited….


The Panda updates implemented by Google have heightened the damaging nature of duplicate content. Further to this, simply block translating on-page content can be problematic and unnatural to a native reader. This is where the HREFLANG tag comes into play, telling Google’s crawlers what language your site is using and therefore who your target audience is, easily implemented into your HTML.

Venice update

The importance of the Venice update – Google’s algorithm that offers localisation of search results – was also touched upon. As an example, the Venice update means that searching ‘accountants’ will automatically localise and subsequently prioritise the accountants in your area in the highest ranking results. This is beneficial even for a global company, as it will be much easier to rank highly in a number of localised searches as opposed to one national search. To truly benefit from this, however, your company needs to implement a local page or website for each specific area, including local title tags and meta descriptions. This also needs to extend to on-page content which won’t be beneficial if it is simply duplicated with interchanging place names. A number of suggestions were made to combat this, including localised reviews of your website and company or via guest posting on local sites.


And that’s what I learned from my morning session at Day Three of SES! For more of the indispensable Verve perspective, you can check out our very own Sachinda Jayatilleke’s take on SES Day One here and Matt Lindley’s review of SES Day Two here.

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  1. Pingback: A Snapshot of SES London 2013 - Day Two