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Modern SEO embraces the user journey more than ever before, but it is when we look at multinational businesses that we see the greatest SEO opportunity for performance around today.
Step one: gain control of your SERPs locally
When we look at local (i.e. single country) SEO, we see general acceptance today that algorithmic benefits can be gained from improving your clickthough rate (CTR).
In fact, this has been true for at least five years, it's just that over the last two or three we've seen an increase in its importance as part of the ranking algorithm mix.
In general terms, the logic is simple: by gaining a higher click rate than the page ranked immediately above you, you usurp their position and climb the rankings, improving your click history as you go. Of course, the opposite also applies: poor CTRs can cause you to slip away from competitive rankings and can be catastrophic for traffic.
As long as you have taken control of your organic SERPs by solving any duplicate content issues your site may exhibit, and mapping keyphrase targets to landing pages which feature the target search term in their meta description, then you can consider organic snippets to be as controllable as your PPC creatives.
Therefore, by focussing on user conversion call to actions (CTAs) in the SERPs you can gain that improved clickthough independent of other algorithm elements.
By reinforcing those CTAs, you will also likely improve your landing page bounce rate (because you've better set visitor expectations) and freshen up your onpage content (reinforcing the SERP CTA onpage with pull-out boxes, for example) for another SEO boost.
By following that conversion thread through to final conversion you close the loop from visibility to revenue: bottom line profit driven by SEO concerns.
I think of this as virtuous circle SEO: SEO that is self-reinforcing over time and has collateral benefits across core digital marketing channels (improved page conversion rates in this instance).
To kick off this process, compare your impressions versus clicks data from Google Webmaster Tools (via Google Analytics) against expected CTRs based on historical click data.
I've written about how you can build this report before, so check that out if it's new to you.
Although this focus on SERP conversion seems a simple process, it's remarkable how rarely this report type is used systematically out in the wild. What's especially odd is this virtuous circle is easily one of the most actionable, fast returning strategies out there.
It's straightforward to set up. Everyone should be doing it.
They aren't though. So make sure you are, and relish your competitive advantage.
So that's SERP conversion basics in the local, single country, SEO world, how do we apply it to a multinational campaign?
The key is getting full control over your multinational listings. And to do that, you need to make sure you're localising pages to the right country (and the right language) using Google's hreflang tools.
Step two: going global for exponential traffic return
Exponential traffic return. Sounds like black magic, doesn't it? Amazingly, this is a walkthough that simply follows Google's own guidance and will deliver exponential traffic returns for multinational campaigns.
The key item that delivers return is a consolidated existing backlink profile over all brand properties to a single domain, then leverage hreflang localisation to effectively multiply your SERP performance into any target market.
The key item here is Google's treatment of hreflang localised content as non-duplicate, and therefore not diluting of your URLs localised to any other territory.
This means that if you take, say, a domain that currently targets the US, and create a multinational structure such as the one described below to build out identical content, but localised to the UK, then your SEO strength to allow ranking in the UK would be equal to the strength you held in the US, without weakening the US's strength.
In effect multiplying your ability to perform for SEO by the number of territories you target.
Free SEO performance? Who wouldn't want that (assuming you can transact and fulfil in those target territories to deliver revenue of course!)?
We've done this a number of times for our clients, and it's a guaranteed SEO boost for most multinationals (especially those who solve local duplicate domain issues along the way). The challenge is achieving accuracy in your execution: one mis-step and you'll not receive the full, powerful benefits.
So make sure you are on top of your multinational SEO by putting your thinking cap on and following along.
Familiarise yourself with Google's hreflang guidance. In particular get on top of the hreflang sitemap.xml schema.
Execution. We've found (and I've written before in more detail) that cross-domain implementations of hreflang strategies are sub-optimal out in the wild.
Why? The overall backlink profile isn't guaranteed to come into play (this is key to driving the exponential traffic via massively improved SERP visibility due to creating a global, consolidated backlink profile). In fact, Google seems flakey on generally localising accurately across TLDs, so I always advocate a single TLD architecture to guarantee results.
Use: [country].domain.com/[language], or domain.com/[country]/[language] as the root of your multinational architecture. This gives you the opportunity to choose a structure that fits easily into a clear sitemap, and can be updated either by crawling the site and hand generating your hreflang sitemap, or building it into your CMS publishing process.
Define your global site architecture, including all target countries and languages. Consider localising an English version of the content to every target country (in some markets like the UAE, for example, English is considered the language of business, and a significant number of high value searches in multiple verticals there will be in English despite the searcher being fluent in Arabic).
Define your 'Global Catch-all' path. Typically, I'd recommend that sits outside of country-localised subdomains, (so your www or non-www subdomain should be 'unlocalised'). We use Google's x-default markup to define this, and it should be in the dominant language of your customers (so likely English, but potentially also Chinese, or Latin American Spanish, etc).
Set up country-by-country analytics reports from your roll-up cross-domain, unfiltered profile (you have one of these set up already, right?), to allow you to identify where your traffic and conversion numbers indicate your efforts would be best spent 'localising' the standard English content (to reference local offices/outlets, to use the correct currency, to use local idioms, spellings, etc).
While you're here, set up 404 error reports in Webmaster tools to follow up on your migration strategy (see below).
Implement any required migration strategy (for example, are you consolidating multiple TLDs to one .com? If so, make sure you have a comprehensive migration map & 301 ruleset to pass content - and SERP history - accurately over).
Also, be prepared for backlink disavowal reports if you should trigger an audit going through this process as links can get reassessed when they are redirected.
So you have now covered off the key milestones in delivering a multinational architecture that protects your search-term by search-term mapping to URL across any target country you require. You also have ensured that should you have content in the appropriate language for a particular market, that it will be returned to searchers in that country using that language.
In effect, you have gained 100% control over your organic SERP visibility globally and can now execute the virtuous circle SERP conversion strategy described at the start of this article.
I recommend extending the Impressions versus clicks report to filter across key languages and territories.
You can also use these reports in combination with the hreflang strategy to test new markets: roll out content with immediate SEO ranking availability at minimal cost and see what how existing searchers react.
If you're getting positive SERP CTRs, then kick off rolling landing page improvements guided by your analytics conversion reports to further localise content to each area. Again, as this involves content refreshes, we're back into the virtuous circle SEO groove again.
So that's it, well done for reading this far: now go out there and get optimising!