Foreign Search Engine Visibility

With the proliferation of the Internet and growth rate of websites, Optimization for foreign search engines is becoming a more commonly asked question.
The question typically provokes more qualifying questions that influence a best course of action.

  1. Is your website constructed with multiple languages?
  2. Does your website automatically detect the source IP and deliver the appropriate language?
  3. Are the keywords to be optimized English keywords or are they non-English?
  4. Do you have domain names with the target country suffix (e.g. .de for Germany; .fr for France)?

The answers to these questions help determine a Search Engine Optimization path.  Before discussing the details, we should point out that all major search engines maintain one (1) index of all websites.  There are not separate indexes for different language or domain names.  Search Engines maintain a single index and classify websites by 2 general categories:

  • Language
  • Country domain name

Therefore, if someone in France is using http://www.google.fr, searching using “dog food” as a keyword and are using the default search preferences, they will get websites that have “dog food” in them (figure 1).  Since ‘dog food” is an English phrase and English websites are more highly optimized (typically), English websites will occupy the higher-ranking positions.

But many non-English search engine domains offer visitors a choice.  With few exceptions, users can decide if they want pages in their language or pages from their country (when detectable).  If the user changes their search preference to request pages from France (figure 2), then the results change accordingly.  Websites in French that contain the keyword “dog food” will show up in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page).  Although Google is shown in figure 2, the same options exist for Yahoo.

In general, if visitors use English search terms, they are looking for an English website (certain brand names are an exception as they transcend language barriers).  Likewise, searchers using non-English search terms are seeking websites in a specific language.

Based on these observations, website in English only should not optimize their sites for non-English terms.  Likewise, websites in non-English should not optimize their websites for English terms.

When a website does have non-English language options, non-English keywords may be optimized.  But, the best course of action is more complex.  The first criteria for success are defining the non-English keywords.  Next, check the Pay-Per-Click (PPC) cost for keyword.  For example, the Overture 2nd place bid price for the keyword “dog food” on 6/29/04 is $0.43.  The French translation for “dog food” is “traquer la nourriture”.  The Overture 2nd place bid price is $0.00 (ZERO).

This is not an unusual condition.  Most non-English phrases are available through PPC services at very low prices.  Even the keyword “assurance-vie” which means “life insurance” is $0.00 (ZERO) compared to $10.02 for the English term.  Thus, in the majority of cases, the low cost of PPC for non-English keywords does not justify the investment in SEO.  In these cases, it is more cost effective to manage a PPC campaign.

However, if SEO for non-English terms are still justified, non-English websites should have domain names of the target country.  In this way, whether the visitor search using the default search attributes or chooses the country or language attribute, the website will still appear.