Interview with Aaron Wall about International SEO and Global Search Marketing

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Aaron Wall - SEO Book
I have the pleasure of starting the SpanishSEO interview section with someone who is a leading voice in the SEO arena and a name I am sure many of you will know and respect as much as I do.

SEO expert Aaron Wall recently shared with me his perspectives on International SEO, Global Marketing strategies and other important SEO and online marketing issues that I am sure you will all find very useful, interesting and core to your global internationalization plans.

I have been fortunate to actively exchange local and international SEO perspectives with Aaron through his SEOBook Community Forums, access to his second-to-none free SEO Tools, and are very pleased he has agreed to join in my interview section.

Trends in Search Engine Optimization

Thank you Aaron for taking the time to sharing your thoughts with us. You talked in the past about SEO techniques being the same here in the US as anywhere else. What are the main similarities and differences between International SEO and local or regional SEO?

Search engines try to return relevant results matching the intent of a search. The three leading criteria are the content of the page, the links to the page, and domain related trust (links to the domain and the domain age). I think those are core relevancy elements in most search algorithms.

Some big differences between locations are:

  • The quantity and quality of competing content. In smaller markets it does not take as much work to be a market leader as it does in the largest global markets.
  • How well the search results are policed by the search engines. The US English language is much more likely to be well policed than a relatively rare language and country.
  • Cultural aspects influence relevancy. Link building techniques that are common or easy in one area may not work well in another.
  • In the US raw PageRank and domain authority count for a decent amount, but in international markets some other important elements are making it easy for search engines to know your site is locally focused. This can be done through how you use language, using a local domain extension (like .de for Germany), hosting your site on a local server, publishing your address on your site, and getting links from known trusted local sites.

You are a big proponent of the concept of owning ideas. How can companies implement this concept as part of their global web identity within international markets?

Many international markets are nowhere near as competitive as the English language is. If you see particularly effective marketing ideas that work well in the US market (or other large well established online markets) consider figuring out how you can apply those concepts to local markets.

If local domain names are affordable try to buy up a lot of them because Google seems to be trusting local domain more in their local markets as time passes, and this exposure (as well as general preference by local businesses) work together to build a self-reinforcing effect where people begin to look specifically for local names.

The other interesting concept that you’ve been talking about is the fact that the nature of Search Engine Optimization has become more social. Can you give some examples of how people can benefit from that at the international level?

Even the simple act of allowing product reviews and asking past customers to review products online x days after they purchase is a step to making a site more interactive.

Google has hired representative that monitor webmaster discussion across many languages. If you have a large company and a market is an important part of your business strategy then make sure you are participating in the conversation.

One of the easiest ways to participate is to write an interesting and original blog, but tracking the conversation and participating in it helps you establish a deeper relationship with online publishers in your marketplace.

The idea of focusing on the US or the English speaking markets is more attractive for some than others. In fact, you have had numerous offers to translate your SEO Book into different languages, but decided not to go that route. What do you think are the pros and cons of consolidating efforts in a specific market such as the US rather than going international?

If you are the #6 player in the US you might think going after foreign markets is a good strategy for growing your business. As a 1 person company that is not a good strategy for me though. If you really want to participate in foreign markets you need to have someone inside your company who knows the local language. If you are small and only know English try to make your service the best it can be and get people talking about it. Many people from foreign markets will be attracted to it. But it is hard to dominate foreign languages if you are not yet dominating your primary market.

Multilingual Keyword Research and Pay Per Click

According to the Website Globalization Report 2007 by Marketing Sherpa, more than 30% of respondents to a survey of 1,939 Multinational and International Marketers said that they are already using multilingual keywords in their AdWords campaigns. My question is: What is the future of Multilingual Keywords in PPC?

I think you can track some of the trends that have happened in the English language and presume many of them will occur in foreign languages as well. In the short run affiliates can make a lot of money in international markets, but as those markets mature they will grow more efficient and Google will attract more brand advertisers. When they get enough brand advertisers it will become harder to make a living as a thin affiliate.

From your perspective Aaron, how important is that keyword research be conducted by native speakers rather than just using translation tools?

Even if you know the language it is easy to screw up distribution (getting lots of irrelevant keywords and/or missing important related concepts) and/or the marketing message (you have to know the market and the product). So if people can screw up stuff pretty bad in their own language it is somewhat frightening to think how bad we might do it in foreign languages. If you are a big brand you are best off making sure you have humans who know the local language and culture doing your keyword research.

Talking about keyword research and tools, you have developed several great free tools. What utf-8 SEO tools do you use to help check your competition for new markets like Asia, Middle East and Eastern Europe?

I have not worked much in those markets or languages beyond interacting with our community members who tell me stuff about what is different in their local markets. I believe our free Firefox Rank Checker should work on Google and Yahoo! in most markets, but we do not scrape results from search engines like Baidu or Yandex. Some paid rank checkers like Advanced Web Ranking do so.

Website Localization

Search Engines and Global companies are improving their array of services to better cater to different languages and nationalities. A good example of this is eBay.com, that in partnership with MercadoLibre.com (Nasdaq:MELI) are reaching more than 500 million people in Latin American with operations in 12 countries including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.. How important do you think it is to properly localize web sites?

To some degree some of these partnerships will provide added exposure and cheap traffic channels that will help build out the marketplaces. Short term it might make sense to rely on some of these networks for a significant portion of your revenues. But at the same time you probably want to make sure you build your own website / brand / destination. As the markets get more mature the businesses that will last will be those who have direct engagement with their customers.

Google Webmaster Tools allows webmasters to set the geographic target for ccTLDs, sub-domains and folders. How important is geo targeting for international Search Engine Optimization?

People identify with their country, their currency, their culture, and their local customs. If your domain name matches the local market you are much more likely to cater to local needs, so if possible for a large company I would typically prefer to own local domains than to try to make an international domain name rank in many locations. If you do use one global site for many languages I would separate the regions using subdomains like uk.site.com and de.site.com.

Does hosting ccTLD’s on locally based servers help with Search Engine Positioning?

Most of my experience is US based, but from conversation on our forums I believe that it does.

Web Globalization

You wrote a post on September 26, 2007 titled '5 Differences Between Google.com & International Google Search Results' in which you explained how there are subtle differences in the way the top ranked global / US results are mixed into international search engine results. One of the differences was that exact domain name match seemed to get more love in international search results than the US. My questions are:

a. Is that something that companies should be focusing on, getting exact match keyword domains? Or they should carefully consider branding aspects when choosing a domain?
I think that for most large companies domain names are so cheap that they should buy them up just in case they remain important and valuable. Some large web based publishing companies like Monster.com and Bankrate work both angles, building out their flagship sites and building up many mini-sites focused around important keywords. That strategy seems to be working quite well for them.

b. People are known to search in their local language for their country location. An example of a local search for Hispanics & Latinos in the US will be the term 'cancion'. The grammatically correct form is 'canción', which is not heavily used for search purposes because of the accented 'o'. The International Domain Name (IDN) will be canción.com. Under the circumstances, how important do you think owning an IDN domain for Spanish is for success?
I think in our forums you mentioned that people typically do not use the grammatically correct versions of keywords when searching. I am guessing the same is probably true for domain names. If the grammatically correct version of a name is available cheap it might be worth buying it and 301 redirecting it to the related part of your site, but if you already own the common English version of a name I probably would not create a sister site at the grammatically correct version of the domain name.

Multinational companies like Caterpillar.com, Ikea.com, and agencies like the United Nations (un.org) are using Global Gateways for navigational and usability purposes. What do you think about Global Gateways? Is that the next big thing for international sites?
I think the best bet is to focus the homepage on their primary market (typically US for most large international corporations). From their homepage they can also link to a page listing international market sites. And if the market is important to them they probably can and should create a different site for each major market.

Local and Global Link Building

Search Engines are capable of identifying a site by the type of inbound links. Under that premise, what do you think will be the best strategy for websites moving into the international arena? Perhaps aiming for a combination of local and global links? If so, what should be the balance?

I think you have to get whatever quality links you can get. If you have enough time and money to promote many different sites I think you should make a site for each language. And each site should be promoted both through your internal network of sites and from other link sources.

From the internal linking perspective, what is the best approach to maximize language coverage, for instance, linking the Spanish page to the English one? What if you have 12 languages, would you link to all of them from each page?

If you split PageRank evenly across 12 languages then your smaller profit languages (ie: markets 11 and 12) are going to eat a lot of PageRank that would be more profitably spent on your top few markets.

The most valuable markets might make sense to get linked to from every page. But some of the lower value markets might only make sense to be linked to from the homepage of the site or from a sitemap.

The Dark Side of Search Engine Optimization

In the recent Advance SMX conference there were some topics that were considered bordering the dark side. What’s your take on the SEO industry moving towards black hat instead of white hat?

As Google aims to extract more profits they need to keep putting more effort into public relations and trying to reshape the web as they see fit. The labels of white hat vs black hat are sort of arbitrary. After all, many techniques that were at one point considered legit end up being considered black hat after many people use them. It’s all about controlling profit flow.

Are Black Hat tactics needed to be competitive or at least to know what you are up against?

You need to have some competitive advantage to compete in the high value markets. For some companies that competitive advantage will be pushing the limits. Others that have offline competitive advantages, strong brands, or other advantages may not need to be as aggressive to dominate their markets.

Some international markets are well known for being driven by Spam. Webmasters are still using techniques such as cloaking, keyword stuffing, hidden text, etc., and are getting away with that. Google is very careful on spam use. How do you feel the other search engines powerful globally treat spam?

I think that spam is just a label used to help search engines extract profit and arbitrarily pass judgement against companies or individuals who profit from Google without giving Google a taste of the action. For example, my affiliate program had its ability to pass PageRank stripped after it was outed publicly. And at the same time some large corporations are benefiting from affiliate programs passing PageRank and it is fine. The technique was only wrong because I was the one using it. If a preferred partner (and large brand AdWords advertiser) does it, well that’s just fine.

Local and Global Search Engines

You have been very vocal about unfair practices led by Corporate America in terms of Search Engines. Have you seen any improvements in that field?

Not really. As more of Google’s relevancy game has been controlled by human review I think smaller webmasters with affiliate sites are more likely to get their sites banned than larger corporations. If you are a small independent webmaster and you want to be aggressive with your SEO strategies then you should make your brand look bigger than it is and/or make sure people are socially invested into your brand, such that Google is less likely to penalize you and you can make it a public event if they do.

Google has a very strong presence globally. However, internationally there are certain areas where they are seriously competing with other Search Engines such as Baidu, Yandex, Naver, Virgilio and Yahoo!. How do you see the composition of the Global Search Engine market changing within the next 5 years?

Google recently bought Begun from Rambler Media and signed a deal with Ramber to deliver Google ads on Rambler. Google spent a lot of money doing offline advertising in Moscow. Those aim to help Google win momentum in the Russian market against Yandex.

In China Google recently partnered with Top100 and music labels to give away free MP3 music via a music onebox.

Google’s strategy to compete in each market is different, but I would expect Google to keep winning search marketshare in most major markets. They have around $13 billion in capital and can keep investing in growth, taking what they learn from one market and applying it to the next. The only things that will prevent them from achieving global domination are their own hubris, cultural insensitivity, and/or government intervention.

SEO Truth or Myth

Is it true that the first anchor text is only what counts?

When Michael VanDeMar tested it, the first link counted. But a friend told me that when Matt Cutts was interviewed about the issue he may have said that Google tries to compare the links to each other and if they are similar they may just count the first one, but I think this has probably changed over time, and may change again in the future.

Short URL’s are better than long ones, therefore, they achieve better rankings?

Shorter domain names are easier to remember. That should aid in their brand, making them easier to remember. And if something is easier to remember then people will be more likely to remember it and recommend it.

If your domain name contains your keywords in it then when people link at your homepage they will be more likely to use keywords in the link anchor text, which should help you rank better. Some search engines (like Google and Microsoft) may also give benefit to premium domain names that match a keyword phrase.

But some longer domain names (like icanhascheezburger.com) have become exceptionally popular, so a site can still succeed with a bad domain name, but a strong domain name makes you more likely to succeed.

Aaron Wall and his Future in SEO

Aaron Wall - SEO BookTell us about your new ventures, more specifically about the SEOBook community. Any resemblance to Threadwatch.org?

Threadwatch was a watering hole for advanced SEO professionals…but it was quite cliqueish and negative in tone, which seemed to drive off most people new to the industry. The SEO Book Community is much more positive, with members helping each other build their businesses. They were both created as sites where people could discuss SEO, but with vastly different intent.

How’s the life of a married man these days? Does that mean more love and less search?

My wife is the most wonderful woman in the world…but we both work too much and should take more time out for play. At some point we will cut things back, but we still have a lot of work to do on the SEO Book site. I have stuck with it for about 5 years so far…I probably have at least another couple years in me.

And my wife started PPC Blog, a blog covering pay per click marketing…so in the short term if anything we will do more search rather than less. :)

Again, Thank you very much Aaron for giving us your insightful comments. It's been a pleasure having you at SpanishSEO.org.

For all of you who want to understand SEO and be involved in a positive, interactive and fun community, I encourage you to join the SEO training of SEOBook.com.

Unlike some other training programs, Aaron does his best to share his wealth of experience and knowledge with each and every member regardless of his or her level of expertise. And he pretty much addresses each question with a straightforward and useful response. You will be confident to apply the techniques discussed on daily basis in what I believe is the best SEO forum on the internet.

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5 comments

It is great that the big industry gurus are now focusing on multilingual issues and seeing the importance that multilingual websites will have in the immediate future, now that USA is not the country with more internet users anymore.

Augusto Ellacuriaga

Augusto Ellacuriaga's picture

Welcome to the blog Webcertain!

The importance of multilingual websites and web globalization is a phenomenon that is happening right now and growing at a very fast pace. Very few SEO experts like Aaron are really paying careful attention to world class localization systems like Google’s geo targeting, IP delivery, language recognition and other important search technologies that are relevant in International Search Engine Optimization.

Indeed, the US is no longer the largest country in terms of internet user with 215 million people connected to the web. China has become the largest country in the world with 230 million users as of June 30, 2008. Plus, the language composition is also changing with more Chinese and Spanish speakers getting immerse in the web at a higher rate than English speakers. No doubt multilinguism is getting more traction these days.

Interviews & News…
…and Augusto Ellacuriaga interviewed me about SEO on his Spanish SEO blog.

That Google moves the needle on what is ethical or not is hardly a justification for black hat techniques or excessive use of paid links.

I can concede that Aaron may have a point that targeted paid links could be justified, but the Text Link Ads are bad for the web and users and relevance.

As long as Google can make a viable argument back to usability and/or relevance moving the needle is not a counter argument.

Laws change too based on time and culture, the fact that we got a 14th amendment based on a changing perception of the rights of minorities in the states is not a rationalization for tossing it aside.

The text link vs. human rights example is not wholly analogous, but is enlightening.

Also, even if Google ignores or minimizes the effect of targeted paid links in its algo, the buyer still derives traffic based dividends.

Great interview!

kristymartin

kristymartin's picture

Having multilingual website is good nowadays as technology zooming out and that it is that a company don't really target only one country (US). English language can be understand by most of the people but others will definitely appreciate a website that can be read with their language on it. Its nice to read this interview of yours of Aaron Wall. I definitely learn a lot. I do agree that the 3 main factor of SEs algorithm are content, link popularity, links to the domain and its age. Linking to related website will help you on your way to the top. :D

Thanks
Kristy Martin
search engine optimization