Hoarding Domain Authority for Multi-National Companies is Now Easier
Rel=Alternate HREF/HREFLANG Allows Brands with Multiple Audiences Across the Globe to Create a Single, Authoritative Web Presence
Can’t they do this already? Well, sure, using redirects and basing content on a detected language only, though not a language-region combination. This change creates a work-around for multi-national companies so they can keep all content on their main domain, and serve substantially similar content to same-language-different-regional audiences while avoiding a duplicate content filter/penalty (Panda).
Before: Regional Top-Level Domains were Gateways into SERPs
Google’s regional search engines prefer regional, or country specific, Top-Level Domains like .de for Germany. In the past, if you were not using one of these domains, you would have a difficult time showing up in search results in non-US Google searches. The “rel=alternate” and “hreflang” elements seem to be a significant change to this historical behavior. Google’s Search Quality Highlights throughout 2012 covered many improvements to search results for countries outside the US, and for results relevant to searchers from one region, but requesting info from another:
“Ref-16.[project codename “Other Ranking Components”] Changes to an “official pages” algorithm to improve internationalization.”
This change, on the heels of so many others, is a move to make it possible and easier to rank specific content on regional search results without a country specific TLD. Those who will reap the benefits of this change the most are big brands that already have the content for the audience, but maybe not enough domain authority to immediately rank in a search engine like Yandex in Russia or Baidu in China. Imagine Coca-Cola, hypothetically speaking, wanting to move into China. If they used the .hk for Hong Kong, they would be like every other new business that wants to move into Hong Kong – starting with zero domain authority. Now, when a big brand wants to move into a new region, they can build on their existing domain authority, which will give them a boost above other regional brands (potentially) and any smaller competition. Nice for brands, isn’t it?
Yeah, We Get it – Google Prefers Brands
Well, we all know that Google prefers brands. That is not even a point of discussion. And some of you may recall all of the hype in news outlets like Bloomberg last year surrounding Asia as the new frontier due to their growing consumer-led economy.
Now we are seeing a partnership between Google and Yandex, Russia’s market leading search engine, on this new Rel=Alternate/HREFLANG attribute.
The point of this new attribute is to provide a way for webmasters to tell Google, either via a header tag or their sitemap, what part of their site to serve users by region according to their specified language. The “x-default” element allows the webmaster in question to also specify a landing page to serve users with no specified language or region.
What does this do for websites and brands? It removes the necessity of housing content on a country-specific TLD to get into regional search results, and allows brands to keep all of their content on a single TLD, consequently hoarding all of their domain authority in a single place.
This will further give major brands a leg-up on search domination They already have multiple websites, with content for multiple regions and languages, but they may have been faced with some difficulty in getting to the top of search results in new markets – China and Russia specifically – where their brands may be relatively unknown. This change allows them to keep the authority to rank, but removes all prior risk of duplicate content issues.
ccTLDs, IPs and Other Credibility Signals
One barrier to quick adoption and success of this new approach is that those in other countries have come to trust the ccTLD for their specific country. I can’t speak to their willingness to click on a dot-com, but it seems dot-com was around before ccTLDs, and, therefore, should still be familiar enough NOT to inhibit a click when the title and description elements are in the correct language.
On top of the mental barriers of the audience, there is also the difficulty of “votes” from external sources in the region where you want to rank. Rule of thumb up to this point is that you host your ccTLD in the country where you want it to show in search results because the hosting IP address will indicate you “belong” – for lack of a better word.
This is not always possible, and is not, I believe, going to be the best course of action in the future. What’s the alternative? Well – international link building, of course. If a brand is producing high quality content in region-specific dialects, and providing value to that audience, then people will link and share naturally. A brand big enough to have taken this approach should have marketing plans to target each region, and have social media and other brand/audience building tools set up, and a consistent execution strategy in place. Assuming all of these things are happening, the brand’s dot-com site will be able to dominate regional search results. Further international PR and website promotion would augment this work, and help boost that success.
How Rel=Alternate/HREFLANG Works as Panda-Repellent
The rel=alternate/hreflang attributes effectively canonicalize region/language pages so Google knows the pages have substantially similar content, and that they are meant to serve different audiences.
You place this on the page (or in the site map) showing Google the “alternate” versions of the page for different region-langauge combinations, specified by ISO standards 639-1 and ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2. Region is optional, and will be most widely used for companies with a different marketing message for regional audiences.
So, this new attribute also helps provide a way around Google’s Panda. There are many smaller brands that may be looking at expanding into new markets. For those of you looking to do this, moving to a brand new site would be a mistake. You can now take your existing domain authority with you, but serve the right landing page to the right audience to provide the best marketing and user experience.Published by Lorianna Sprague on April 16th, 2013 in Business, Google Algorithm, Sales & Marketing, Search Marketing & Optimization, Web Design & Development