International linkbuilding: Learnings from the trenches
By Jan-Willem Bobbink on
This is the written version of the presentation which was presented during the famous SEO Campixx conference in Berlin, Germany. During two days, 130 presentations divided over 10 tracks where given. This makes it possible to have a lot of detailed talks, within one weekend. For everyone who speaks German, or just understands German like me, I recommend to get a ticket for next year!
Back to the basics
After years of development on the side of Google, linking websites are still the main infrastructure of the internet. Google is still evaluating websites based on their incoming links. During the years quality measures have been taken in the form of Panda and Penguin updates, but in the end links are still the most important way to make a difference against your competitors.
When discussing international SEO, there is always one question that is discussed: should you use one central domain (.com) and use country specific folders (.com/[country]), use country specific sub domains or should you use local country code top level domains? I have done multiple projects and in the end all situations have their positive and negative parameters. Choosing for one domain makes it easy to centralize link value and build up a decent domain authority. Local ccTLDs are favored by Google in the SERPs above international domains like .com and .eu domains.
Again the biggest differences are made with local links. When doing international linkbuilding it is important to be aware of cultural and social differences between languages and countries. The key to successful outreach campaigns is adapting to your (link) targets. In order to communicate on the same level, native speakers are necessary. Consultants who are familiar with the habits of your link targets are getting a much higher ROI than people who just speak a certain language.
How about creating unique content? Just using Google translate as your native speaker or auto generated texts is not enough these days. Ranking in Google is one thing, increasing conversion rates is even more important. Investing in native speakers in this case is the only right thing to do. There are enough examples of websites that have multiple wrong translations on their website.
Psychology of Outreach
People often write and talk about collecting link targets with all kinds of tools and methods but I have not seen that many articles about the following steps. It is nice to have a list of websites on which you wish to have a link, but there are people behind that website who will have to decide whether that link will be placed or not. SEO’s always try to categorize or automate processes. We can do that easily with themes, but dealing with human beings is a different story. Most link builders use their own intuition and methods to optimize outreach processes but I’m going to use a model that was published by Chris Dyson (Identify your Link Prospects Preferred Representational System) as an example and didn’t get that much attention yet!
When doing outreach campaigns, mostly link targets are categorized. But also people, who need to decide whether they are going to respond and place your guest post for example, can be divided into groups. You can easily distinguish people by their own writings. Make a list of writing styles, most frequently used words, negative or positive words and so on. By doing this, you get a clear understanding of how a person can be influenced effectively in such a way that you will receive a positive reply and maybe can publish a guest post, review, advertorial or infographic on their blog. In general, people can be divided into four groups:
Auditory: people in this category are triggered by their senses. This automatically means that they prefer to do business with people, not brands. Make your outreach as personal as possible. What works best is offering them to have a call in which you explain your background and intentions. Mostly young people can be categorized within the auditory category.
Auditory Digital: these people really like details. They are in love with data. If you see a lot of lists on a website, you can definitely place the owner in this category. Their main focus is structure. They prefer structure in their daily lives and therefore it is really important to be very honest and detailed in your communication. If you make appointments, be sure to live up to them before the deal is lost.
Visual: website owners in this category want to experience life. They want to see things and dislike details. One action that really works well is already providing them with the content you want to publish. Their ego is often quite big, so create ego baits. Organizing contests is another trick to get the attention of the people from this category.
Involving: this is very typical for travel related blogging activities. These people want to connect with each other, share ideas and thoughts. To attract these bloggers, you can for example organize meetings. If you work for a hotel, invite them and organize a guest tour around the hotel. They often want to know what others did, so include examples of previous work in the first e-mail you send.
As you can see it is quite easy to divide people in certain groups. As said before, you can have a list of hundreds of blogs where you want to have your guest post published, but if you receive no reply at after the first outreach, you can want a lot but end up with nothing. You will definitely get good results once you start adjusting your outreach as much as possible based on personal communication levels.
Based on tens of thousands of hours of linkbuilding activities you can easily find interesting differences between specific European countries. As a starting point, even before doing any linkbuilding at all, you have to know the local market. In the graph below you can find the Majestic Million (the million most linked domains) plotted against the number of ccTLD occurrences in that list. As you can see there are quite some European countries (blue bars) represented in this graph. It is always important to localize your linkbuilding campaigns because there are many differences per country looking to the link graphs of the websites that are ranking in the local version of Google.
Based on my own experiences I will list some of the interesting details of specific markets within Europe which are helpful if doing international linkbuilding campaigns:
Everyone knows everyone. The Dutch SEO scene is really small which logically corresponds with the number of Google users / queries per year. Since the market is relatively small, it is easy to gather all the data and monitor the market closely. The problem we have to deal with is that most tools are not developed for the Dutch market, because the number of paying clients is not high enough to invest money into development.
Since the market is that small, every start-up is being watched closely by other agencies. That makes it quite difficult to disobey the Google guidelines. Even before Google detects unnatural activities, you will already be punished by the Dutch SEO’s. Another positive point of such a small market is the fact that there are not that many companies interested in setting up undetectable blogging networks like SAPE for example. Most linkbuilding in the Netherlands is manual labor, as Google wants. The SERPs are relatively clean compared to some of the English ones.
One thing that makes the Dutch link graph unique is the influence of some authority directories like startpagina.nl They still receive millions of visitors each month, which makes them also indispensable when creating a balanced link profile. The problem is that most people do not know which directories still pass link value and which don’t so there are a lot of websites taking risks with the upcoming quality updates in Google.
It is much more difficult to be anonymous with your website in Germany because there is a legally mandated statement of the ownership of documents. This is also applicable to all websites. This makes it easier to do personalized linkbuilding, because you know who the owner is. Never think too easy; often the person who is maintaining the blog is not the same person as the owner of the weblog, meaning you will have to do your research carefully.
Germany is proud of their quality products. This is something that is also very much visible on weblogs. Be sure you deliver quality content, decent research and proper graphics. German bloggers are quite sensitive when it comes to authority and reputation. What works really well if your brand is seemingly unknown, is getting press coverage first. Doing outreach while you can quote national press as references makes your work a bit more effective.
I see a lot of people complaining about the SERPs for English queries but I can assure you that there are a lot more Spanish SERPs that Google must be ashamed of. I often tell people that if Google does roll out the same Panda and Penguin as in the US and UK, complete top 10s will disappear. There are a lot of active spammers and a lot of traditional websites have been doing unnatural linkbuilding over the past few years.
During the first contact moment Spanish bloggers always want to be addressed informally, even if the weblog is owned by an older person. This is really something typical from the Spanish culture. Since the start of the online communities there always have been groups gathering around a certain subject. But especially in Spain there are a lot of blog groups who discuss everything around a blogging subject in secret hangouts. You need to be aware of this and try to get a good relationship with specific people within these groups or even infiltrate.
French bloggers are very professional. They are very much aware of their market positions so they sure know they can be used by brands to create awareness. Based on that, French bloggers always ask for money. Addressing in France is the opposite of Spain, people always want to be addressed formally. Again, age doesn’t matter. Compared to other markets, there are not that many non-professional weblogs. Most bloggers are really driven to make something out of their online playground. Always try to offer something to help them with. Most bloggers start at Blogger.com & WordPress.com platforms, so what you can do as an example is to offer them a personal domain name and a hosting package for free.
- Work with native speakers
- Investigate link graphs per country
- Get to know language and country specific characteristics
- Investigate link targets on a personal level
- Use social media effectively
- Adapt your outreach as much as possible
Result: successful international linkbuilding results
Feel free to add me on Twitter @jbobbink to ask questions!