(the following is a guest post from Monica Wright)
I have been asked recently about some of the best practices for international SEO (aka geo-targeting). Being a modern day socialite, I did what came naturally... I reached out on Twitter and a number conversations including @seomenno in Utrecht, Netherlands and @grosenfriis in Copenhagen, Denmark, ( and even Lee Odden pitched in). Together we came up with some of the simplest aspects of getting your local SEO efforts in order.
Here are some of the best practices:
1) Choose a Top Level Domain Structure for Sites in Multiple Countries
This has been a sticking point with me, and many others from what I can tell. The debate exists between which is the best choice:
Using a Generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) such as .com, .net .org .biz .tv
Using a Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) such as de .fr .es .se .uk .cn etc.
Some argue that it makes no difference, but the recommendation is that using a ccTLD will always be a safer bet. If there is any rank bias within a country, it is likely be in favor of the ccTLD from that same country. In addition, a ccTLD will logically be included in local results for the local language.
So if you were to prioritize which to use:
If possible, use the ccTLDs, domain.se, domain.de, domain.co.uk
If not, use subdomains for each language, such as se.domain.com, de.domain.com etc. This allows you to set up multiple Webmaster Tools accounts.
If all else fails, use subfolders such as domain.com/se, domain.com/de.
2) Host Sites in Target Country
Another good practice is to host website in the target country. If web hosting is not an option, then at least have the DNS server in the target country.
Here's some advice from Google on that;
3) Obtain Backlinks from the Same Language Market (and Country)
Another possible variable (this is a subjective thought): backlinks from domains within the same country (and language) could offer more PageRank value than those sites hosted in another country with a different language. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense in terms of cross-linking content.
Avoid mixing languages on same website; for example don't have a German website in 35% German and 65% English. It would be preferable to create a directory/sub-domain for each language (more work, but well worth it).
(Dave's notes; it is advisable to look at primary and secondary languages in countries where applicable)
7) Generate Language-Specific Sitemaps
Generate Google XML sitemap for each language (country) to improve geo-targeting. Or once again, with multi-language sites, you can use one for each directory/sub-domain that has been set up. Ultimately, Id even advise this for HTML site maps as well (still effective)
8) Local Address
Place your local address on your template, it will only help your site rank locally. If not in the template, then certainly put it on your contact page (and even Google local/maps as well). If you have multiple locations (and are targeting them) be sure to also include them as well... this can be an important aspect to any local SEO campaign
9) Whois Address
I read that some IDN domain owners claim that in order to be indexed in certain markets that the address of a domain owner in whois.com may have an impact on rankings. So, if your whois address is not registered in France, you may have a harder time getting ranked well in French search. I'm not sure if this is true, and I would be more apt to optimize sites with good content and outreach then to determine where the domain owner resides.
Monica Wright is a kick ass SEO, honourary SOSG and friend of the FireHorse whom works as an in-house SEO - If you haven't already, be sure to get the feed on her SEO blog and hook up with her on Twitter for good times and search geek chit chat