Aleyda Solis, founder of Orainti, is regarded as a foremost international SEO and has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Huffington Post to name a few. What does one of the highest-profile and most recognized SEOs recommend for companies looking to develop a European expansion strategy? With the EU’s fragmented populations across multiple countries, and its multitude of languages, internationalization is much more important than other regions–not only because of the geography, but because of the many territories and cultural considerations:
- How important is it to do the initial research on the search potential of an international market in advance?
- How do you identify which markets are the most established and are bringing in the most traffic, and those that will generate enough search volume and demand to be profitable?
- How do you validate and verify the level of competition in a target market?
- What are the pros and cons of launching a new, top-level domain or creating a sub-domain?
- What is the playbook and order of operations for localizing content?
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Ben: Welcome to Global SEO Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and this week, we’re talking to five superstar SEOs about their strategy for planning, launching, and optimizing global properties for organic growth. Joining us today is Aleyda Solis, who is the founder of the international SEO consulting firm, Orainti, which is an experienced and world-renowned international mobile and technical search marketing practice that helps their clients establish and optimize their mobile and international websites through audit strategy, project management, and in-house training.
Ben: And today, Aleyda is going to talk to us about her playbook for international expansion and what it means to be an international SEO superstar. But before we hear from Aleyda, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions.
Ben: To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a complimentary consultation that reviews how your website content and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to search metrics dot com slash diagnostic. Here’s my conversation with founder of Orianti, Aleyda Solis. Aleyda, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.
Aleyda: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me. I’m very happy to be here.
Ben: It’s an honor to have you here. You’re one of the highest profile and most recognized and most respected international SEOs, and I want to go on the record of saying Jordan was absolutely adamant that if we were going to do a global SEO superstar week that you had to be at the top of our list, so I’m glad we were able to connect, and thank you for coming on the show.
Aleyda: Oh, thank you. I’m very happy to be here that for sure, and very, very nice to hear that Jordan thinks so highly of me, of course.
Ben: He does, I do, and let’s talk a little bit about your background first. I want to start the conversation off by understanding a little bit about how you got into international SEO and how you feel that it is different working in Europe than it is for us here in the United States and other places in the world. How did you get into international SEO, and what is it like being an SEO where you live?
Aleyda: Yes, funnily enough, it was something very natural for me because I started to work in SEO back 2007 in this agency that was located at a very small town in Spain, in Salamanca, which is a students’ town, but funnily enough, it was one of those towns that had many online marketing agencies at some point because they were born by the fact that there were so many Spanish schools at this university city trying to attract international students to learn Spanish at their place, so they started to do a lot of SEO to build their websites to be highly optimized.
Aleyda: And the owner of the agency where I was working at, he was a huge believer in the power of SEO because he had built his business, the Spanish learning business, from scratch thanks to it, so again, he established an agency, and he ended up hiring a lot of local people, a lot of local students, and at some point I went to Salamanca to study with an e-commerce master, and I started to look for a job, and shockingly enough, I found that they were look for at the beginning, it was like a content manager for a number of websites that they had. It was websites to help learn Spanish at some point, and then after a while, they were looking for an SEO to take charge a little bit of the SEO process of the other clients.
Aleyda: And then I did the switch because I was already learning about it. I was already loving it, so when they said, “Oh, who wants to become the next SEO in the team?” I say, “I would love to.” And the thing is, most of the clients that the agency had were clients from all over, were clients that were not even in Spain, were in the U.K., were in Germany, a lot in the travel and location sector, so I actually was pushed to do SEO not for the Spanish market necessarily, but for the U.K. market, the German market, the French market, so it was pretty natural. It was the way of how I learned to do SEO at the end of the day.
Ben: Interesting. It sounds like the environment that you lived in was a contributing factor. You were in an area where there was lots of colleges, lots of students, which meant lots of recruiting for people that were looking to do technology-driven businesses, taking advantage of the early career entrance. Actually, your story is somewhat similar to Jordan maybe a direct opposite in a way, where Jordan started off running a bookstore to sell Spanish books.
Ben: And he started doing translation from Spanish to English, and it sounds like you were doing translation from English to Spanish or other languages to Spanish as part of your work. Talk to me a little bit about you mentioned that because you were in Spain, lots of companies were coming to your agency to try to translate their content into Spanish. How do you think that’s influenced how you think about SEO starting off with a background focusing on internationalization, not necessarily just thinking about it from a single language perspective?
Aleyda: I think that it helped me to realize that people could search in a variety of ways, that the preferences will likely change from country to country, that the preferences and the tonality will be different, that the top products that a company may have in Germany might not necessarily be the top products in Spain or in France, that the products might be different, that there are so many different ways to search for something too, so it really gave me a wider view, I have to say, of how SEO work and how you could also achieve the results that you were looking in so many different ways, because this is that we’re not necessarily only focused on targeting the Spain market but a variety of countries at the end.
Ben: You have some perspective about all the different aspects that go into making search special in a given market, whether that be some of the language differences, some of the cultural differences. You’ve made quite a name for yourself as a world-renowned SEO. I believe I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you won the SEO of the year for the European market, and you’ve won a fair amount of awards.
Ben: How have you been able to establish your brand as an international SEO in Europe, and how do you feel that being in Europe is different than being an SEO in other markets?
Aleyda: Well, I think that it’s funny because I never intended to establish a personal brand or so, but it was very natural again because at some point, I started to block, and it was something that I enjoyed to do a lot, and then after writing, at some point I got invited to speak first in Spanish, then in English. I still remember the first time that I spoke internationally. It was in 2012 at SMX London, so it was a very natural part of being in SEO, of the sharing type of experience, like giving back to the community.
Aleyda: This is something that I learned from very early on, and how I was also able to learn a lot about SEO, like by following key people on Twitter, or interacting some forums and exchanging knowledge with the community, so this was my way to give back. Also, blogging about my own experiences that might be or not necessarily be advanced at that point in any case when I started, but sharing about it, and then at some point, I started to also speak about them, so it was a very natural thing.
Aleyda: I think that giving back to the community had also the consequence to establish my own personal brand next to it, and it was a nice consequence of it, I have to say.
Ben: How do you feel that being an SEO in Spain and in a broader context in Europe is different than being an SEO in the United States? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Aleyda: I think that in fact, one of the advantages of being in Europe is that people here, when they think of SEO, I think that they are much more open, and for them, it’s much more natural, the international SEO type of setting. In the U.S., because the market is so huge, if you are not a big brand, if you are not a huge corp, it is not natural to target many countries at the same time or to think of how audiences in another country search or target them necessarily as a priority.
Aleyda: In Europe, that is something much more natural to do. Many companies that are established in the U.K. at least have a couple of other markets in Europe where they are also trying to enter, even if these are not their top markets, and many companies here are spread all over Europe. And many conferences too, I have to say, the community, even if the schools are local communities in the U.K. and in Spain and in Italy and France and so on, at some point, it’s very funny because a couple of events in Europe where you can run into each other and get to know each other much more easily because of this overall European layer and some events, like SEO, for example, that gather people from all over Europe, and it’s like when you go to as big conference in the U.S., but it’s in Europe. There’s this additional layer of community and people from all over in the same territory.
Ben: I think that’s a very important point is that being in Europe, internationalization is going to be much more important, not only because of the geography but because the territories are smaller. It’s not China. There aren’t billions of people or more than a billion people in one country. There’s lots of sort of fragmentation in terms of the population size across multiple different countries and also lots of languages being used in a small place, and even within country, when you-
Ben: -languages being used in a small place. And even within country, when you get somewhere like Switzerland there are three languages that you need to be able to translate to have an effective website. Let’s turn the page and talk a little bit more about the strategy of internationalization.
Aleyda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: When you are working with a client that is looking to or considering expanding to different markets, what are some of the things that you do to decide what markets to go to, and what’s the right strategy to approach?
Aleyda: I love your question because, actually, that should be the starting point ideally, right? The bad part is that in many, many cases your client or the decision maker or your boss comes and says “Oh we are going to launch in these markets because of all of these criteria,” right? And unfortunately, one of those criteria or the interests that have been taken into consideration haven’t included necessarily the search potential in that market in some cases.
Aleyda: And I would say that that is something critical if possible: to verify, to validate which are the top markets, which are the top languages that are bringing you at the moment traffic and rankings even if you are not on purpose targeting them. But for which you already see a good, relatively good share of activity from and conversions from and some even, some rankings already that you may want to prioritize, to validate if there will be a good potential by targeting them right? So that is the next step: not only to identify from where you are already more or less established and bringing traffic from and rankings from. But also: which are those markets that will generate you much more potential, search potential? That will generate enough search volume, the search demand to make it profitable.
Aleyda: Because in many occasions unfortunately, again, the decision is like “Let’s launch also across all of these 120 countries.” And half of those countries, they will never generate enough traffic to compensate all the work that is connected to the website’s versions for them.
Ben: So, the first thing that you’re going is a research phase where you’re talking about understanding the search opportunity. And you know, that’s doing your keyword research and it’s understanding what your competition looks like.
Ben: There’s also some technical components of deciding what you’re going to do before you expand. Do you decide to launch a new, top-level domain? Are you creating a sub-domain? Talk to me about your thoughts on, you know, should you be creating a separate website? Or should you be modifying or adding a sub-domain to your existing site?
Aleyda: It depends. It depends as with always like with any situation, right? But it’s important to validate if there are certain factors there.
Aleyda: So, for example, the ideal way to geolocate if you are targeting to a new country, if you are targeting countries, you will be with right? That is the ideal configuration. However, not that I tell you all time that will be the best way to go for you necessarily. It will be important to validate and verify the level of competition in those markets, in those countries. And if identify that the top ranking websites are properties, are domains that have millions of links that you won’t have because you will need to start with a new CCTLD that had zero link popularity, then it might not be wise to start with a CCTLD. But start with a sub-directory that you can geolocate towards the relevant country through the Google Search console geolocation feature. And then you will be able like this to leverage your current link popularity of your well-established, right?
Aleyda: The problem is that previous domain, your well-established domain that you had had until that point is not a dot com. It’s not a dot net or a GTLD for which you can enable a sub-directory that you can geolocate through the Google Search console that if you make, there are some UK, Spain companies or France companies that start with a FR, or dot CO UK, or dot ES, and that’s a handicap, right? Because they are pushed whether to create a new dot com, or to even enable another CCTLD. So that’s also the good part, and a, I will say an advantage that many US companies have, and they don’t even realize, right, because they usually work with a GTLD.
Ben: I was just about to say that is, you know, the default here in the United States is you’re either using a dot com, or you’re using a dot IO or some sort of global TLD, and that’s not necessarily the case when you’re starting a company in a, mostly a European market or something that has a geographic, a country-specific top level domain.
Ben: It sounds like if there is an opportunity to use a geographic specific TLDR then that’s the best performing option, but you’re also risking the amount of link juice that you can pass on from your existing domain when you’re starting a new site.
Aleyda: Yes. I mean it’s definitely the best to send geolocation type of and not necessarily only for Google, for this you’re changing, but also from a user perspective. They will know that you are definitely targeting them, right? That this is the version for them. And you can, of course, also find alternative ways by geolocating your sub-directory with the pros of leveraging your previous link popularity indeed.
Aleyda: So, at the end of the day I think this should be about an analysis of local competition in those targeted countries. Take a look at not only the link profile of the players that are already well-established for those top terms or inquiries that you want to run for in these countries. But also to take a look at: what are the extensions that they are using, right? If you see that there are GTLDs ranking there with sub-directories that are geo-localized towards those countries, or even sub-domains and then, and not only CCTLDs, and no problem about it. You can definitely reuse your sub-directory, and especially if you see that it is a very competitive market.
Ben: Talk to me about the implementation process. When you understand whether you’re going to use a sub-directory, or a new top level domain, TLD, and you’re going through the process of internationalizing or localizing your content. What’s the playbook there? What’s the order of operations?
Aleyda: The beginning should be always pure research. You should understand how the specific audience of each market searches, and for that it’s also important to have a native speaker of that market to develop that research with as your validation.
Aleyda: So ideally this should be, for example, an SU who’s also from that particular market, right? So a native speaker from the UK, from France, from Spain. For example, if you are targeting Spain, ideally it should be someone, a Spanish person, right? It shouldn’t be someone from Mexico or from Chile because the Spanish is different between the countries. And it’s also important that this person understands and validates that that is actually the right way to speak about certain topics, some terms, and confirms this type of language usage.
Ben: So, when you’re internationalizing or localizing large sites. You can go and find somebody that is a native speaker, but when you have mass amounts of content, there isn’t going to be one person that’s going to translate each individual page.
Aleyda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: So, when you’re doing this at scale, or let’s say you’re internationalizing the multiple sites. You’re going to 30 new countries. You’re not going to bring on 30 different people to localize individual sites. What’s the process when you’re doing localization or internationalization for large sites across multiple countries?
Aleyda: Well this is the thing. This is why it is really important that you target the markets that are actually profitable for you because if you are targeting 30 countries at the same it’s because I expect that, well, you have already validated that these 30 countries can bring you enough traffic that will make your operations profitable, right? That is the first thing.
Aleyda: So, the typical challenge of “Oh, I don’t have enough resources to create new content, or to create localized content, or optimized content for that version.” My answer is like “So why you are targeting that market?” If it is not worth it for you, if that market cannot compensate to create new content, right? So there’s a bad fit there, probably.
Ben: I think there’s something to consider where a company could be expanding into a new market with the understanding that they’re going to grow a business over time, and that they don’t want to necessarily want to put a big investment into capital, but they want to establish a presence.
Aleyda: For sure.
Ben: And so that’s where, you know, I guess the question is, is it easier to bring people in house to do the internationalization? Should you hire agencies and consultants? What’s the process there?
Aleyda: So that is why it is important to do this strategically. You will start with those markets where you see that there’s actual potential. And even like that I understand that there are resources restrictions and realistically you cannot localize every, single URL at your former website because you may have 30 million URLs, right? And that is not just logical.
Aleyda: So that is why it’s very important that you do an actual research to identify which are those real pages that have potential to rank and attract traffic from that market. Probably it won’t be the 30 million URLs that you probably have, many of them with right? Maybe it’s, you just need to start with 100 of them or 1,000 of them, and then you can much more easy prioritize to translate or localize these 1,000 or 100 pages.
Aleyda: Of course if you are not a huge company I don’t expect that you have a native speaker hired full time for all of them, that you rely on translations agencies, or localization agencies, and then just double check with an SEO who can also speak the language, too. This is what is important: don’t just hire a translator and a localization agency that doesn’t have SEO input and also validation because again you can translate the terms to another language and choose the grammatically correct way to say it but not necessarily the way that people search with, right?
Ben: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Aleyda: So, for example, and it’s very funny. But in Spanish we also say “Building,” right? We don’t translate the term in Spanish. The proper translation will be but nobody searches for it. Nobody uses it to search, or to call it like that. So it is important that if you are offering services in Spain or in any Spanish-speaking country, actually, that you call it properly and there is a proper validation going on.
Aleyda: So, yes. I don’t expect that you will have like an in-house team of marketers from all over the world from each country, but that you, of course, have an agency that translates worldwide and have this capacity, and that of course, that you add a layer of input and of validation to make sure that this-
Aleyda: … course that you add a layer of input and of validation to make sure that this really fits and makes sense for your specific context and products and vertical where you are.
Ben: Talk to me about optimization as you go through expansion and you’re working, going beyond just an individual site that is a global site to being one that is localized across multiple countries. Let’s use the example of an eCommerce brand that’s launched in 30 countries. How are you evaluating the performance of each country and how are you thinking about looking at a top level, like a global website or collection of websites, without just being buried in work, right? When you’re launching 30 different sites, how does that not become 30 times the amount of work to evaluate?
Aleyda: Yeah, indeed. That is why it’s important to choose wisely. Indeed, you have completely tackled the issue, focused on the issue. That is why it’s important to choose wisely. If you really want to go to 30 markets, is it really viable for you to operate, to maintain, to keep? Even if you’re not working with 30 single domains. That is one of the reasons to simplify the tracking, simplify the maintenance, simplify everything, right? So many things.
Aleyda: But yes, usually whenever you are working at a global company and you have hundreds of markets, you usually have your top players, like your top meaningful markets, your top five to top three markets. Even if you have, even presence in, I don’t know, Thai tea or whatever because you’re a huge brand, really like your efforts and your focus will be very likely in five markets or so.
Ben: Yeah. When Jordan and I worked together on the SEO team at eBay, and I will preface this with, I did not have a lot of SEO experience at the time, and I was really just there to run the meetings. One of the things that we looked at a lot was the various page types. And at eBay you’re looking at search listings pages, and products pages, and product description pages. There are page classifications that are universal across multiple different sites and that was one way that we’re looking at it, and we’re looking sort of at a global collection of all of our content by page type, and then we were also looking at individual markets and seeing how they were performed. How do you prioritize the difference between looking at the global version of a site and then when should you look at it on a per country basis?
Aleyda: Well, at the end, I think it depends a lot on the nature of the business, the business model, and what do they want to achieve in general? What’s a conversion for them? And actually how do they run their businesses across the world? And that has to do much more from the business side than from the SEO side. At the end of it the SEO will tend to replicate that, especially if it is not an internet first type of company. Like one of my top clients right now, they’re a huge company. They have offices locally in all of these markets, and they have a proper owner of the project for each market who are there in the country. And the goal for that person is to achieve certain results, certain goals from rankings, traffic conversion perspective in certain products for which they really want to achieve certain growth per year, year over year growth and things like that.
Aleyda: And those goals are completely different from another owner of the project in another country in Europe that have another line of products, that these are the ones that they really want to push for that market. And yes, the KPIs might be different, the goals might be different. So yes, it can go very complex if you have a proper multinational company like that. Although if you are working again, let’s say a classifieds website or an international website that has many different languages or country versions, but there is a single owner and everything is much more simple. Right?
Aleyda: Yes, of course you can’t try to categorize and segment. So it’s much more easy for you to identify the performance of certain areas of the site that you expect that perform in a certain way. And you know, for example, that pages should be the one bringing and tracking traffic, searching terms for mutations that are transactional enough, that are not branded, and are the ones that will bring the most value, et cetera. So there’s complete flexibility on this based on the complexity of the business idea.
Ben: I think that the context is very important and where there are some ways where you can look at your entire business globally, one of the things that you need to consider when you’re going through an internationalization process is what resources do you have locally that can make sure that not only the tone and the content of your website is going to be appropriate, but also do you have the resources to be able to evaluate that website and optimize it over a long period of time. It is not just a launch and forget it process. It’s something that needs to be consistently managed.
Aleyda: This is something that is also super critical, and I believe that a lot of people forget that it’s not only… Again, even localizing your content at the beginning of that set, but if your targets to that market you can expect people reaching from that market expecting to have support in that language, and have like ongoing capacity of content or publish a blog, social media activity, et cetera, like a proper version of your business centered towards that marketing need.
Ben: So Aleyda, any last words of advice for people that are going through an internationalization process for the first time? What do you recommend they do to stay up to date with best practices? What are some of the resources they can follow?
Aleyda: I think that a good place to start is always the good best practices. They have a data documentation and there were masters guidelines docs. That is always a really good place to start because a lot of the questions that I’m asked, honesty, they are even documented there and then I will say that about international SEO, the best way to keep updated, I will say in any setting with SEO you will be. There are so many conversations around what is working, what it doesn’t. There is also a conference that is completely targeted towards international SEO for web searching, that they usually run it before or after SMX, but now they also have their own specific conferences happening from time to time. I participated in the one in Barcelona at the end of last year too, so that is also a good place to keep updated I will say.
Aleyda: But yes, I will say that Twitter is great because I get a lot of questions from there and all the SEOs, international SEOs, also tend to be very open to answer any, any questions, any doubts or be referred to resource this.
Ben: Okay. Well Aleyda, let me just say thank you again for joining the show. It’s an honor to have you here, one of the world’s most renowned international SEOs. Thanks for joining the Voices of Search podcast.
Aleyda: Thank you for the opportunity.
Ben: Okay, and that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thank you for listening to my conversation with founder of Orainti, Aleyda Solis. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Aleyda, you can find a link to her LinkedIn profile and our show notes. You can contact her on Twitter. Her handle is a Aleyda. Or you can visit her company’s website at orainti.com. Or you can also find her You Tube channel, which is called Crawling Mondays.
Ben: If you have general marketing questions or if you’d like to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can send me a tweet at Ben J. Shap. And if you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for a complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.
Ben: Or if you’re interested in joining our Webinar to learn about the joining forces of SEO and SEM, you can go to searchmetrics.com/webinar and if you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed the show and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Okay. That’s it for this time, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.