Global On-Page SEO: What It Is, and Where to Start

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Lionbridge’s Director of Global Search & Marketing, Aoife McIlraith, discusses the importance of on-page optimization.

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a three-part series on techniques to drive global search success for your content marketing efforts. Read parts one and three.

A strategy for every market

“Why do I rank well in one market but not in others?” 

“How do I resolve this?” 

“Where do I even start?”

These are questions Aoife McIlraith, Lionbridge’s Director of Global Search and Marketing Services, hears regularly from her customers. “My answer is usually pretty simple,” she says. “Start with the data.”

“The reason most brands do well in their source market is because some level of SEO strategy and effort was applied for that market,” McIlraith explains. “But when the sites are localized, you can’t expect to see the same results. It’s just not that simple.”

If you’ve localized your content but failed to optimize it on-page, your key performance indicators and ROI are going to suffer.

Each market requires its own SEO strategy and optimization effort to climb in local ranking. Factors that affect that ranking are many and varied: language, search habits, variations in what’s considered important. Each market, McIlraith stresses, requires a customized data-driven strategy.

“Defining a local strategy doesn’t mean having to optimize the whole of your localized website,” she continues. The 80/20 principle applies: On average, 80 percent of traffic goes to 20 percent of your pages.

Optimize that 20 percent, McIlraith urges, or, if you have a large site, “follow global best practices and optimize the top 100 pages for that market. Put your effort and budget into proper on-page optimization, ensuring that you do so under defined best practices for that market’s top search engine.”

That means not only Google, but, for example, Baidu in China, Yahoo in Japan, Yandex in Russia, and Naver in South Korea.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” McIlraith affirms. Each search engine has its own multilingual SEO requirements.

Do your market research

Equally critical to success is keyword translation.

“Never, ever directly translate keywords without doing your research,” McIlraith emphasizes. “People in different markets search differently, and the only way to understand those differences is to do the research.”

She offers an example:

Joe lives in the UK and wants to travel to a warm climate in January. He searches for “holidays in the Canary Islands.” He’s open to which island to go to, he just wants to find a great deal.

Maria, who lives in Germany, also wants to escape the cold winter weather, and she too is considering the Canary Islands. But Maria is unlikely to do a search using the German translation of “holidays in the Canaries.” She’ll be inclined to be more specific, searching by the names of individual islands.

“If we simply translated ‘holidays in the Canaries’ for our German travel site, we would’ve missed the fact that Maria, in Germany, searches for the same end product in a different way than Joe in the UK,” McIlraith explains. “She has a different search behavior. Our German site wouldn’t be optimized for German search behavior, and we wouldn’t secure the critical traffic we need to sell the same Canary Island holidays in Germany.”

Fully leverage your on-page elements

Having conducted your data research and determined which pages to optimize for each market, you must now be certain that all on-page elements are leveraged correctly.

The following is a guide to the elements you need, and why you need them:

Meta “title”

  • Is the single-most important SEO tag
  • Must be unique for each page
  • Include both the branded and primary unbranded local keyword
  • Honor character limits

Meta “description”

  • Has no search engine ranking value, but it’s critical for click conversation
  • Is a brand’s first marketing message to the searcher and the first opportunity to ensure the searcher clicks on your result over a competitor’s
  • Must be unique to each page
  • Produce a very clear marketing call to action (CTA)
  • Include the primary unbranded local keyword
  • Honor character limits

Header tags

  • Think “newspaper headline”; this helps search engines and the viewer identify the primary topic for this page
  • Make them unique to each page
  • Include the branded and unbranded keywords as close to the start of the heading as possible

Body copy

  • Is, ideally, transcreated for each market
  • Write with human readers in mind, never for search engines
  • Include the unbranded keyword as close to the start of the first paragraph as possible, preferable the first sentence

Image alt tags

  • Develop descriptive text for each image
  • Include branded and unbranded keywords
  • Design to support visually impaired search queries and results

Internal links

  • Ensure that internal linking structure is in place

“Invest in this approach,” McIlraith concludes, “and you’ll enhance your ability to reach your target audience in a timely fashion and increase organic traffic to your site.”

Read next: Part 3 – How to Build a Winning Off-Page Strategy for Global SEO

Global search engine optimization is one element of an effective global customer experience strategy. To learn more about executing this strategy, download the eBook, A Marketer’s Guide to Global Customer Experience Management.

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