International SEO Management of Mystery

Posted by Alec Biedrzycki

Feb 25, 2013, 2:45 PM

Today's Question-MARKeting challenge (that's the new title of coined for the series) comes from Ed, International marketer extraordinaire, who asks:

"How do I maximize aggregation of inbound SEO authority across bundled domains (various intl tlds e.g., .com versions & affiliated web properties) to leverage common blog content and authority?"

Very good question. Perhaps too good.


I've never dug deep into international SEO, which as you might imagine, can be quite the beast. If you thought regular SEO was complicated enough (it is), international SEO is a completely different ballgame. Why? Here are two (dos, ni, deux-- see what I did there?) fundamentals that one needs to consider before diving in to this particular challenge:

  1. TLD (top level domain) Infrastructure: Deciding on how you setup your domain infrastructure plays an important role in optimizing effectively for international SEO, because it'll be a key factor in how you go about strategically building your sites' content. More on what this means after we chug through the next two points.
  2. Multiple Languages: Furthermore, if you need to cater to multiple languages across different sites, you'll want to ensure that you're optimizing correctly for each international audience. This means creating content for each unique language and even considering which site is displayed in a search query for countries that speak the same dialect but have different TLDs.

To answer your question Ed, I'll break down the above two factors and explain how each needs to be considered for international SEO. Then, based on those observations, how you should start thinking about building SEO authority considering your current strategy.

TLD Infrastructure:

First, let's dissect TLDs and how they play a role in international websites. There are a couple ways you can go about structuring multiple sites for a business. Here's a basic break down, in table format:

Type Examples Detail
TLD suffix
  • This method incorporates multiple domains, each with their own TLD suffix.
  • Pro: This is the best way to ensure that your content is found by the right geographic audience, because the TLD suffix is the most dominant factor that search engines consider when indexing web pages based on region.
  • Con: Definitely the most labor intensive and time consuming, because you need to manage and produce content  for separate URLs.
Non-TLD subdomain prefix
  • This method is building out the region-specific content on a subdomain of your main site.
  • Pro: Much easier to manage from a content perspective (and less costly) because you only need to utilize one domain, building the subdomains off the parent site.
  • Con: Not as effective as the TLD suffix method at having your pages get indexed and recognized by search engines (as subdomains are restricted to the specific parameters as TLD suffixes are). Search engines will still recognize the subdomains, but not as efficiently as the TLD suffix setup will allow.
Non-TLD subdirectory suffix
  • This method involves building out subdirectories for each of the different languages.
  • Pro: Most simplistic approach that requires no backend knowledge of setting up subdomains or alternate URLs to build.
  • Con: Not as effective as the first two examples in getting indexed efficiently for geographic location, as subdirectories (like subdomains) don't have specific guidelines for categorization as the TLD suffixes do.

For those who may have glazed over the above table (I'm hoping you didn't because it took me a little extra effort to code that bad boy in HTML), I'll go with an analogy to summarize each domain infrastructure's effectiveness in terms of SEO optimization:

The TLD suffix method is like Google understanding that you're fluent in multiple languages.

The subdomain structure is like having Google recognize you understand different languages to a certain degree but need a translation guide for quick reference.

The subdirectory method is like taking one semester of Japanese and having Google assume you can communicate very detailed driving directions to the Japanese taxi driver on how to get back to the hotel. (Side note: this happened to me, except replace "Google" with "dad").

If you have the resources and capacity to manage the first method, I recommend it as the way to go. Ed, it seems like you're leaning towards this method--so that's good news right away! But the main challenge to consider here is how we get the most out of our content creation. Meaning, how do we leverage these multiple domains to ensure we're optimizing the best we can in the most efficient way possible?

To explain (and complicate) things further, we need to throw the language factor into the mix. Vamos a hacerlo!

Considering Multiple Languages

Creating useful content that's optimized with target keywords is a fundamental activity of anyone's SEO efforts, international or not. Being said, a pitfall one must avoid is duplicate content--meaning you don't want to be publishing the same thing multiple times as you'll get penalized by search engines. This is a pretty easy activity to avoid if you're only managing one website in one country, because honestly, you just need to refrain from publishing that blog post twice. So unless you're forgetful or have some strange OCD tendency, you should be all set.

But with international sites it's a bit different. There are really two combinations you can run into:

1.) Different Sites, Different Languages:

This case is pretty straightforward. When you have the same content posted in two different languages, there's no way you'll be penalized for duplicate content. You just need some sort of translation methodology and you should be in good shape to publish that content.

2.) Different Sites, Same Language:

In this case you'd have different TLDs that use the same language, but custom-tailored to different regions. For instance, you may have a separate sites for your French audience and French Canadian audience, but the same blog post in French would be beneficial for both sites. SEO instincts would tell you this is a bad idea, as you'd get penalized for putting up the same content on two different URLs. However, in this case, you don't actually have to worry about duplicate content.

Google states that: "[Duplicate content on different TLDs] is generally not a problem as long as the content is for different users in different countries. While we strongly recommend that you provide unique content for each different group of users, we understand that this may not always be possible. There is generally no need to "hide" the duplicates by disallowing crawling in a robots.txt file or by using a "noindex" robots meta tag." So that's comforting! However, you can (and should) give Google a helping hand by inserting the correct rel="alternate" hreflang="x" tags on each site.

So, what does this mean for building up SEO authority? First, the (sort of) bad news...

Back to the bigger question on how we get the most out of the content creation efforts. In both above examples, there's no real "best way" to maximize inbound authority across domains, even if you're developing different international entities. Despite the fact content is different to some degree (whether it be language, dialect, or regionally indexed) there aren't any unique opportunities brought about from these factors that can help build authority.

The bottom line (as far as I can see it) is that SEO juice is going to be most beneficial when it comes from outside domains other than your own, so linking between content isn't really going to be a good strategy. Plus, if it's the same content but in a different language, there's no logical sense it linking to it from its foreign brother.

Now, for the Good News!

While unique opportunities to build SEO authority from separate foreign domains might not exist, there is definitely some merit in how you produce and repurpose the content between the websites. The best strategy here would be to firstly understand that you don't need to re-create the wheel when you want to publish the same content to different websites that cater to geographically different audiences of the same language. Secondly, you can definitely leverage the same content easily by translating it using a service or professional who can do it for you.

While it makes sense to link multiple TLDs together in a general sense (i.e. easy navigation to the various linguistic variations of the site for those who may have stumbled into the wrong one), you're not going to capitalize on building up SEO authority from this method. You'll need to drive outside domains towards yours by producing that useful, well optimized content.

The main takeaway I can glean from this is that you should leverage the same content across multiple languages by translating it and not worry about getting penalized for duplicate content on geographically different sites of the same language. As it is with any domestic site, building up SEO authority requires creating the content that people will link back to. International factors play an interesting role (and complicate things a bit), but the rules are the same.

Anything I may have missed when considering building an SEO strategy for International sites?