As an expert in global SEO, Eli Schwartz has worked with multiple companies like Shutterstock, Zendesk, Quora, and G2 Crowd tackling their SEO challenges and accelerating their online growth. What has he learned during his long career focused on global SEO, and what are his strategies for managing high profile SEO properties across multiple countries?
- Why do so many American companies end up focusing mainly on the US, and when they do consider going global, it’s primarily Canada or Mexico?
- When developing a globalization plan, what is Eli’s strategy for deciding on locations for online properties?
- What are the pros and cons of expanding your existing site using the right content and the same offerings, versus setting up multiple different sites?
- With the advent of mobile first, has the strategy of having subdomains and top level domains (TLD) changed?
- What are the important tactical steps when expanding into Mexico, UK, and Canada, including their similarities and differences?
- How do you determine the regulatory environment of a country and the needed resources?
- What are the different approaches to keyword research depending on the country?
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Ben: Welcome to global SEO week on the Voices of Search Podcast. In this week we’re talking to five superstar SEOs about their strategies for planning, launching, and optimizing global properties for organic growth. Joining us today is Eli Schwartz who is a growth advisor helping B2B and B2C companies scale their SEO visibility. Eli has helped companies including Shutterstock, Zendesk, Quora, and G2 Crowd tackle their SEO challenges, and accelerate their online growth. Previously, Eli spent six plus years managing SurveyMonkey’s Global SEO team’s strategy and implementation across their entire brand portfolio. And today, Eli is going to talk us through some of his strategies for managing high profile SEO properties across multiple countries.
Ben: But before we hear it from Eli, 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. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary consultation 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 consultation, go to searchmetrics.com/request-free-consultation. Okay, here’s my conversation with growth advisor, Eli Schwartz.
Ben: Eli, welcome to the Voices of Search Podcast.
Eli: Hey man, great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Ben: Wonderful to finally get you on the show, and I’m excited to hear about some of the growth in your career. You’ve a recently branched out on your own. So let’s get a little background on you. Tell our listeners about what you’ve been up to, and what you’re doing today.
Eli: I’ve been in SEO probably for about 14 years, 10 of which I was in house at larger companies. And one of the things I’ve always liked is seeing how different companies are doing things. And it first started with people sharing their Google Analytics with me, and then sharing their SEO problems. And this is many, many years ago, and then asking me to consult. It’s one of the things that I’ve always loved the most in my career, which is seeing different problems.
Eli: When you’re working in house you have company problems, and culture problems, and long roadmaps of things you need to get done when you’re consulting. It’s really like, “How can you solve a specific problem?” And it’s something I’ve always loved. And I finally decided to follow that passion and start working with, for now, just a few handpicked companies. And helping them really magnified the organic visibility, and help them overcome their specific challenges that they’re having, or get to that next level. And I’ve been doing it for a couple months now, and it’s really fascinating. I love the challenge, the new challenge of different things I haven’t seen before and helping them figure out how to expand beyond what they’re trying to do.
Ben: It’s absolutely a different ball game running an independent business, and I hear what you’re saying in terms of getting reps and being exposed to multiple companies and understanding what their business problems are, as opposed to some of the cultural and in house problems. One thing that I noticed, that you have a wide variety of experience across multiple different types of businesses. We mentioned that you worked at Quora, B2C content business, G2 Crowds, more B2B in content, but also in house at an e-commerce company and then you know what we call it I guess a SaaS product in SurveyMonkey. Talk to me a little bit about how you think, having worked in a wide variety of different industries and different types of companies, how do you think about globalization, and what’s your strategy for figuring out what locations each property should be in?
Eli: That’s an interesting question. I’ve stumbled into international SEO and global SEO while I was at SurveyMonkey, because they had an international product. They had customers all over the entire world. And the site was itself translated to 17 different languages, and they accept the currency from people all over the world. So, they want to gather those customers and acquire customers from different parts of the world. And I started learning international SEO from that. But I would say this is a skill I really tried to hone, and I had the opportunity to hone, and I thought it would be something that every company would eventually want to start doing. That said, I’ve been pretty disappointed that most American companies really want to focus on an American customer. And when they talk about going global, it’s going to Canada and they’re not really… They don’t have to do much other than except the Canadian currency, or maybe shipped something in Canada. And maybe if they really want to get crazy they might do Mexico, and they might do Spanish. But that’s a little bit more complex, or the banking’s a little bit more complex.
Eli: But I really did think that there was going to, eventually, be this huge audience. And I think it’s a strength of the American economy. And eventually our tech economy won’t be as strong, and I do think that’s when people need to start looking international. And the time to prepare for that was a long time ago.
Ben: So, it’s one thing Jordan Koene, Searchmetrics’ CEO, and I talked about earlier in this month. We started talking about globalization, and expanding the different geographies. There’s really two approaches. There’s expanding your existing site to be able to have content, but not necessarily changing your business offering. And then, there’s really setting up multiple different sites. When you were working at SurveyMonkey, or when you’ve done internationalization for some of your consulting clients, do you tend to lean on trying to extend the existing property you have? Or are you actually creating different TLDs?
Eli: So, I think the advice and the best practices around that has changed. So, when I was at SurveyMonkey we were expanding internationally. So first they had subdomains, and we wanted to move that into TLDs, top level domains, from a “.com” to a “.co.uk”. And the advice and best practices at the time was to do that, because the global consumer cared. So a UK consumer cared if it was “.co.uk”, or a US consumer cared if it was “.com”, and they were not necessarily going to shop on “.co.uk”. I think that has changed in the last few years. And one of the things that’s driving that is mobile first. So when you think of mobile first, obviously, the results are you’re building something for mobile, and the results are showing up on a mobile screen. Google actually doesn’t show the domain at all. So that domain wouldn’t necessarily play into a buying decision.
Eli: So, I think if we’re doing things for consumers because we want them to see it, we shouldn’t bother with the domain, because it is definitely more complex from an SEO standpoint. You’re taking… Let’s say you have a “.com”, now you have to make a brand new “.co.uk” for UK, or “.ca” for Canada. And you want to make sure you get all your rankings. And there’s all sorts of considerations, there’s migration considerations, there’s redirect considerations, and certainly risk. And if the consumer doesn’t care, I wouldn’t bother going down that risk at all. And I’m not even sure Google cares because the consumer doesn’t care.
Ben: So, talk to me about your playbook. When you decide you’re going to expand internationally, you make the decision first, whether you’re going to be creating a subdomain, or whether you’re actually changing the top level domain. What’s the process that you go through once you’ve made your decision? Which direction to head? You mentioned things like migration, you’re setting your language. What are some of the other things that you’re considering, and what’s the order of operations?
Eli: Now you want to go to the UK. For now the UK is part of the EU, so you want to make sure you comply with the GDPR, of course, and in European laws. And then the next thing you want to do from an SEO standpoint, is determine whether your content is appropriate, and the keywords you’re using are appropriate for a UK audience. British people have different ways of referring to things that, in American English, we don’t. And, obviously, because they refer to things differently than us, they’re are going to search differently. And it’s not really those little nuances around, “Do they use an s or a z for localization or optimization?” It’s really nuances of, “Are they even going to search for the concept of localization?” We may, in the US or in American English, search for that concept of localization, and in the UK they’re not going to. So, it’s determining the keywords, and if they’re different keywords, then maybe you need different pages.
Ben: So, some of the things that you mentioned is, first off, you need to have a sense of what the regulatory environment is like. What are the resources that you’re going to, to understand the regulation for a given country? I’m sure there’s nuance depending on where you’re expanding. What’s the best way to figure out what’s going to get you into trouble, and what you can get away with?
Eli: A lot of Googling. I mean, luckily I think the regulations are pretty standardized. I think for now, the UK is part of the EU, so there’s just European law. Canada’s a little different, but just a lot of Googling to figure out what laws you need to comply with. If you’re using any services, most of them will force you to comply with those laws. Using MailChimp… MailChimp will want to make sure that you comply with the Canadian law, and American law, and GDPR. But I don’t know that there’s one perfect resource. Unfortunately, the best resources are going to be government homepages, and they’re usually not great about informing the uninformed about what you really need to do.
Ben: So, you have to do your homework. There’s a fair amount of research, and this is one of the reasons why working with somebody who’s done a fair amount of internationalization, if you’re doing this for the first time, getting an advisor might be a good idea. Talk to me about the keyword research. You mentioned that there are some language changes, even when you’re not changing the underlying language, when you’re not going from English to Spanish. The example you used was in the United Kingdom, some of the words are different even though you’re still in English. My favorite example is the term pants. From my understanding, the word pants is the equivalent of underpants, here in the United States. If you’re trying to sell pants, you should probably be saying something like knickers. I’m sure maybe, I might be flipping those words around, but there is some sort of different way that they are using a very standard term here in the United States. There’s language changes. How are you figuring out what those keywords should be, and how are you avoiding getting yourself into trouble with some same language changes?
Eli: So, that’s a great example for the UK. So the first thing is really, and I do this in any language, look at the competitors. See what the competitors are using, go to a competitor or some page and look at what they have in their navigation, because that’s usually going to be the most important words. And they’re giving away essentially their keywords in that language. So, if they’re selling clothes, they’re not going use the word pants. If they’re referring to knickers, they’re going to say knickers. That would be your first giveaway. And the problem with doing just straight keyword research is you can go to, obviously, Google keyword planner. You can go to any other keyword tool they use in Searchmetrics, of course. And you can put in the English word, and put it in the language, but they may not necessarily pick up that when you said “Pants” you want to know what it is that people in that country wear, I guess, that are long, that cover their legs.
Ben: Yeah, over their naked body or under the second layer.
Eli: Exactly. So that’s where I find that you first look at the competitors. And one of my favorite websites to look at these ideas is Wikipedia. So what are the crosslinks that Wikipedia has, that are not necessarily applicable for English? But if you go to another language, what are the cross links that Wikipedia is recommending other pages. So now you know the different, I guess, entities or objects that are surrounding the topic you’re looking for. I don’t know that that’d be so helpful in English, because English is just English. And I think they’ll… Maybe they’ll reference that pants is something in one country, and pants is something in another country. But, definitely looking at other websites before I do actual keyword research.
Ben: So, talk to me once you figured out what your country’s going to be, you understand the regulation, and you have your set of keywords. What’s the process for building the site? What are some of the other considerations you go through?
Eli: So, you want to create it a new directory on your site. So if you’re creating a different country… So say you’re an American website, and now you want to target the UK. I would create a slash UK, we’re throwing out the concept of doing a sub domain. We’re definitely not going to do a TLD either. That’s really expensive and complicated. You may want to do a TLD if there’s a completely different product, or the regulatory environment, if you’re a bank. So maybe you want to have a different UK bank website, and you don’t want to just localize your American bank website. But if you’re an e-commerce website or you’re a SaaS product, there’s probably no reason to even think about the TLD, because it’s not going to offer you any SEO benefits. So you want to create a subdirectory, and you want your subdirectory to be very clear that it’s targeting one country. And you either need to do two letter ISO codes or three letter ISO codes.
Eli: So, two letter ISO codes for the UK would either be GB or UK. And the reason you want to do that and not make up one… For the UK, you don’t want to do, I don’t know, U-N-K-I-N for United Kingdom like a shortened United Kingdom, is because Google doesn’t know that that is referring to the UK. So you want to do what they know is referring to the UK. I think for another three letter codes… Or the three letter version is E-N-G for England.
Eli: So, you’re creating this new directory. Users sort of understand it, if they’re in that country. Google understands it, they know that that content is localized to them. If you’re doing something in another language, same idea, but now you want to do language and country. So say you’re doing Spanish, and Spanish is spoken by Spain and Latin America in very, very different ways. And if you’re targeting a country, say you’re targeting Mexico, and you want to do two letter ISO codes. So E-S, for Espanol. Not something made up like S-P-A-N, and then you want to do the two letter ISO codes for language. So ES, MX for Mexico. Or E-S-P-E for Peru. So you’re really defining where your content is, and what that audience should be. And then as Google calls it, they’re going to see Spanish. No real way to make it perfect, but ideally an English users should not be ending up from Google on that page.
Ben: What do you do when you have multiple languages for the same country?
Eli: Same idea. So that’s why you want to have that country folder. So it depends whether country or language is more important to you. So if language is more important to you, you want a ES slash MX. So then you have this entire bucket of Spanish languages. If countries are more important to you and your target… Say you’re e-commerce and your shipping, and it doesn’t matter what language they speak, but you’re shipping to the UK or you’re shipping… A better example’s actually as you’re shipping to Switzerland, where they speak three languages. So here’s your e-commerce page for Switzerland, and now you as a user can choose whether you’re looking at the German, the French, or the Italian. So it really depends on hierarchy for your actual company rather than the hierarchy for SEO.
Ben: Once you have your site internationalized, and you have your keywords created, your content’s been translated appropriately, you’re marking all your content for what language and what country it is, and you’ve published everything. Talk to me about the process of optimization. How are you thinking about optimization? And how are you not getting buried, having tripled your site when you launched for two other languages?
Eli: Well, let’s be clear. You are getting buried. I mean that’s one of the things that I’ve always had a challenge with is that you created a whole new entity. You now need a monitor, and it’s a whole bunch more work. So you will be buried and that’s where you’re just going to have to do a lot more work, and create more processes. Dashboards are great. So, something to go on links would be great. Where it’s a dashboard of… Your overview. One other plug for wanting to do a subdirectory versus a subdomain or an actual TLD is if you do a subdirectory, it’s the same domain. So you only have one analytics account you’re logging into, and you can create a dashboard out of it. Whereas if you had a different domain or different subdomain, that’s a whole different property, harder to have in the same dashboard.
Eli: So, you’re probably going to be buried, but what you want to get them to do… And actually we skipped a step, the optimization piece. Very important that you use a local.
Eli: So, I wouldn’t rely on the keyword research you’re doing for the UK, that you did on your own. And assuming you’ve got everything, have a British person, ideally someone that recently lived in the UK so they can catch all the slang, just look it over or write it for you. If you’re doing it in another language, let’s say you’re doing German, have a native German speaker look over your content or help you with your content. Not someone who’s just learned German in college, or knows German because their parents spoke German. You want that native speaker to help you.
Eli: So now you’ve created that content, you’ve optimized the content. The way you’re going continue to optimize and iterate on it is if you’re ranking. You want it to rank on where you want it to rank on a specific product. We want to rank on pants or knickers in the UK. I’m usually not a fan of monitoring keywords, but I would do some manual searches. Or set up some keyword monitor… ranking monitoring, and see if you’re showing up in the top 50 for knickers. If you’re not in the top 50 for knickers, you’ve done something wrong. So that would be the first step. You may not get to number one, but you definitely want to be making progress towards where you could rank. If you are not making progress, something is broke.
Ben: As you’re thinking about going through the optimization strategy, and you’re debating whether you should be expanding into new geographies… You mentioned that build your dashboards, and try to understand the workload that’s going to happen. What have you done to manage the influx of incremental work? And other than combining your dashboards, it seems like your doubling the amount of effort that you have to put in every time you launch another language. How are you doing that while keeping the scope of your work reasonable? And also, what are you doing to not get distracted from the core business?
Eli: I say that that’s a very difficult challenge. That’s where people bring in consultants, or hire more people to their team. The mistake that many sites or companies will make is think that it’s not doubling the scope of the work. If you’ve added another language you’ve expanded your audience, whether a product audience or just a readership audience, to another country. Especially if that other country is speaking another language, you have absolutely doubled the scope of your work. And it’s likely that you’re not going be able to do the same level of work on both of these entities that you were doing before. You’re splitting focus. So I would encourage people to hire a consultant, hire more people on their team. Or get more resources that will help monitor things.
Eli: What people will do wrong here is that they will sort of not do that, and then the quality of their original countries, likely the audience here is going to be focused on the US, so likely that original country will suffer. Or if it doesn’t, they expansion country or expansion countries will not get the focus they deserve.
Ben: Talk to me about some of the challenges you faced whether it be at SurveyMonkey, or any of the other companies that you’ve worked for in house, prioritizing international expansion as opposed to some of your other efforts that are more domestically focused.
Eli: I think that goes back to my earlier point on whether there’s a global focus by US companies. So the challenge is that there could be so much low hanging fruit when it comes to other countries, but it will usually be under-resourced because it won’t be as important. That other country, or that kind of entire concept of international, may not be as important as the domestic audience. So that’s probably the biggest one is that you’ve put the work in, you see so much opportunity. There’s things that need to be fixed. Maybe it’s website hierarchy, maybe it’s content, maybe it’s the need to expand. And this may fall on deaf ears because it’s just not a focus right now for the broader company.
Eli: And it should be, because when it’s time to go international, say hopefully this never happens in our lifetimes, but we know the recession will come. When the recession comes, then suddenly Europe is doing better than the US, and companies want to be focused on Europe. You can’t do SEO overnight. So that’s why it helps to have done it, be ready for it. Maybe not necessarily to be selling to the audience, but as soon as audiences there you are ranking.
Ben: Last question for you is you think about the global in SEO. You mentioned that it’s great to have somebody in local market doing some of your keyword research. How do you feel about hiring your SEO team locally, here in the United States, or should you be branching out and actually hiring satellite offices, and people that are going to live in market to do this work? What’s your thought on building the team locally, as opposed to a global team?
Eli: So, I’ve worked with international SEOs that don’t speak any other languages. And I don’t think their location or their language abilities is the biggest barrier success. It’s really their talent. So wherever there’s a talented person with SEO and creative skills around digital marketing, that’s the person you want on your team, wherever they are. Whether they be here, or they be in European office, or another global office, or just located somewhere else, working remote. I think most important is their SEO skills. Second is their ability to understand the language. If they don’t understand the language, they can find someone who can just read and write. That’s really all you need, is someone that reads and writes and knows the local language.
Ben: Okay. Any other last tidbits of advice for people that are thinking about global SEO or how you can manage a global SEO team?
Eli: Yeah, I think that the most important piece of global SEO is that it really just is SEO, and its matching keywords. And I personally think that the international search landscape isn’t as complex as the English one, just because Google is putting more resources into English. So whereas in English, you have to watch for intent and make sure your keywords are, not just relevant for a match of what someone would be searching for, but relevant to the intent of what a user searching. When it comes to international, I don’t find that the synonym matching’s as good, so it becomes even more critical to make sure you’re using the exact word. English was a bad example. We were talking about pants versus knickers, but in German, whatever that difference is, if you don’t use knickers, there’s not going to be a synonym matching for pants. So the keywords become absolutely critical.
Ben: Okay. Well Eli, let me just say we appreciate you giving us the advice. It’s great to have you as part of our global SEO month. Congratulations on branching out on your own, and thank you for being our guest.
Eli: Great. Thanks for letting me be here and share my thoughts on international SEO.
Ben: Okay. All right, that wraps up this episode of Global SEO Week on the Voices of Search Podcast. Thank you for listening to my conversation with global growth advisor Eli Schwartz. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Eli, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is 5LE. That’s the number five, the letter L, and the letter E. Or you can contact him through his website, which is EliSchwartz.co.
Ben: If you have general marketing questions, or if you’d like to talk to me about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes. Or you send me a tweet at Ben J. Shap. 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/request-free-consultation for your complimentary advisory session [inaudible 00:24:00] digital strategies team. And if you liked 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 and we’ll be back in your feet tomorrow morning. Lastoly, 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 wherever you listen to your podcasts. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.