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International Wine Marketing, Websites and SEO

Managing SEO when you are selling to different countries, different languages and a country with more than one language is technically difficult SEO. Google struggles with this, as do we all.

Apple international SEO - choose your countrySpecifically the problem is whether you have multiple websites each targeting a different country and/or language or whether you have one website with multiple sections. I’ll flesh out this issue first using Wine Regional Marketing Organizations as an example (as this issue came up while I’ve being doing research on them).

Before I was an internet marketer I was a brand management guy. As a brand manager I’d try to ensure that my brand was ringfenced from any other brand to ensure I could manage its perception – this included websites. In one company I worked for however there was not enough budget for two brands so in that case I recommended consolidation into one (to the CEO’s chagrin). I think many wine marketers think of country websites the same way – ringfence one website with one country experience. However it faces the same dilemma of resource as well as some technical issues. This post is about the technical and gives my preference after describing a few issues.

There are three options a international wine marketing company has:
1. Country Code Top Level Domains
2. Subdomains
3. Folders

Let’s go through each one.

Country Code Top Level Domains

From a strictly technical SEO perspective having your Wine RMO represented on separate websites each with its own country code top level domain is ideal e.g. US winermo.com, UK winermo.co.uk, France winermo.fr, China winermo.cn. Each of these domains would be hosted in each of these countries and you’d have Google Webmaster tools identify then as targeted to a particular country. Searchers also prefer search results from their own country domains (the French especially are known to prefer .fr, bien sur).

German Wines SEO - the wrong wayHowever the number of medium-high authority links to a domain’s web pages drives it’s Search ranking (see my forthcoming book or Wine RMO report for more on this) e.g. if you have one great link to a .co.uk website it will not carry over its link value to the .com website. It is hard getting a few of these to one website, getting lots of quality links to lots of country specific websites would require a significant effort and resource. Each website can also requires regular attention (404 errors, website crashes, blog comments etc) so each website will require internet marketing support. Lastly some countries do not allow non-resident companies to use their top level domains while others have severe alcoholic beverage promotion laws requiring age confirmation (and bizarre internet policy requirements for things like browser cookies).

So from a practical SEO perspective it’s a poor option, let’s look at the next option.

Subdomains

The next option is to use subdomains e.g. US us.winermo.com, UK uk.winermo.com, France fr.winermo.com, China cn.winermo.com. Using this method you can even have separate physical website software if you so desire. Probably easier to administer and now you have the same link value going to one domain, right? Not necessarily, as SEO expert Rand Fishkin puts it, “sometimes the subdomains don’t inherit all the domain authority, trust, value that you might get from separate subdomains or from all of the content being on a single root domain” http://www.seomoz.org/blog/international-seo-where-to-host-and-how-to-target-whiteboard-friday In theory you can use Google Webmaster Tools to show the country by subdomain and the next option but in practice Rand Fishkin is skeptical of effectiveness. Next, this option is out.

Folders

The third option is to have folders e.g. US winermo.com/us/, UK winermo.com/uk/, France winermo.com/fr/, China winermo.com/cn/. So now you have link value crossing over to all the folder websites and it is very easy to administer.

But we are back to the issue of searchers preferring and Google preferring the searcher’s country domains.

A frustrating dilemma!

Hello Apple

The answer for an Wine RMO is to copy Apple. Apple uses the folder method and I assume they have decided this is the best compromise. If there are multiple languages in a country like Canada then they add another subfolder level for the additional language.

You then use Google Webmaster tools and “Add a site” for each country and choose the appropriate country in the Geographic settings. Then use a country / language specific sitemap.xml. Your web developers will understand.

A well resourced Wine RMO which has offices, PR and SEO resource may choose to go down the separate country top level domain route but they risk a series of weak pages that fail to rank well in Search and at worst become dead orphan websites that are forgotten as website responsibility shifts from one person to the next. Exactly what I show with three countries below.

Note that when a Wine RMO links to its members’ websites it is providing a highly valuable link and directly causing members to do better or worse with their own SEO rankings.

Go the Apple way.

That means you German Wines

And Spain and South Africa. I’ll show you some results but first I need to explain the metrics.

I use SEOmoz Pro, arguably the SEO industry’s best Google Search analysis software. Notice the focus on external website links to your website from three different perspectives.

Overall Domain Authority

This is SEOmoz’s best prediction of how well a website will perform in Google rankings and combines all measures into a single score. It is a logarithmic scale where higher is better.

Domain Trust

Google has a trusted set of websites. These websites are governmental, educational and sometime corporate websites that are very careful about what they link to. Indeed perhaps 0.15% of any of these links are to spam websites. So Google starts its crawler “robot” or “bot” from the trusted websites. Research has shown that if one link away has very little spam then two links away has a bit more spam (4%) and three links has quite a bit of spam (14%). Indeed about 60% of webpages on the internet are regarded as spam so Google has to be careful about this. SEOmoz measures Domain Trust by calculating link distance from the website to the trusted seed set and calls it MozTrust.

Link Popularity

Perhaps the most well known component of Google’s algorithm is PageRank. The concept is that a link to your web page from an external web page is a “vote” of confidence in that page, the more votes you get the better. However some votes, those from trusted high-authority websites, are worth more than others. The idea is to get lots of semi-popular pages and/or a few popular web pages to link to your page. Note it is only about a particular web page not the website. SEOmoz measures Page Rank via something called MozRank.

External Followed Links

In my experience the number of external followed links is the most important factor in explaining high rankings. Technically part of of Domain Trust and Page Rank I’ve included it here to show raw data on popularity.

German Wines Websites

I’ll admit when I was doing research one of the first Wine RMOs that was recommended to me was German Wines. They have four websites and I assumed that given they are German (lots of government money and superb business people) they would be leading the way. Alas the issue of putting limited resources across multiple websites immediately sprang to the fore.

GermanWinesSEO

As you can see below the highest Domain Authority is 42 for their USA site. I would expect this to be in the 60s. The links are spread across four sites – if they were pointing to just one they would have more of those high authority links building up their Domain Authority.

Spanish Wines Websites

In Spain’s case it is the other way round with the International website getting more quality links and so having higher Authority. The ranking of 58 would probably beat the 66 I see in the best Wine RMO website, perhaps even break the 70 mark.

SpanishWinesSEO

South African Wines Websites

Perhaps the worst example is South Africa where their US consumer website has a Domain Authority of 32 vs 57 for the normal website.

SouthAfricanWinesSEO

What’s your thoughts?

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