The Global SEO Landscape: An Interview With Jonathan Allen

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Last week, I talked with former director and L& founder Jonathan Allen about the challenges facing search marketers in the global marketplace. The interview left me with four key takeaways about the perils and opportunities in global SEO. The following is a summary of our discussion.

Peril: Competition Goes Beyond Geography

The bottom line is that larger, media-dominant countries of a particular language have a huge advantage over smaller countries of the same tongue when it comes to global SEO ranking.


Portugese Search Engine Marketplace


Take Portuguese, for example. It’s the official language of ten countries, but Brazil alone has a larger population than the other nine combined (shown in the map above). As Jonathan points out, “Brazilian websites naturally beat out any Portuguese websites; it’s the nature of the beast. These huge countries dominate because there’s more media in those countries that competes with everything.” A simple metric that demonstrates this fact is total web properties by country. Brazil has 525,981 registered domain names while the runner up Portugal, only has 83,812 (see

What does this mean for SEO marketers?

Competition is about more than geography. Portugal must compete with Brazil, just as The United Kingdom is forced to compete with the US, due to shared language. To demonstrate, I ran a simple search query from that I thought would have no bearing in one country versus the other; “Chinese Crested” and “Dinosaurs.” The results support my theory. Seven of the twelve organic results show up with a US domain for “Dinosaurs” and six of ten organic results are a US domain for “Chinese Crested.” For SEO professionals in the UK or any other English speaking country who are struggling to rank against US domains, I would suggest they target long-tail keywords that are as specific as possible and unique to their own dialect.

Opportunity: Targeting Less Competitive Markets

Since the US is the primary controller of English language media and SEO competition is so fierce, it often makes more sense for American search marketers to start elsewhere. By targeting your less competitive English language markets, such as Australia or even Russia, you lower the barrier of entry in organic search results. Again, Jonathan points out, “In smaller international search markets you can get noticed easier and that can have a snowball effect, which gives you a really positive impact in the States.”

After you gain momentum with search queries in less competitive markets, it’s much easier to piggyback off of this success and re-target in the US. In addition to Ads and organic search tactics, you can supplement your strategy by targeting your audience via social media with messages at specific intervals, relevant to users’ time zones.

Peril: Fragmentation and Relative Market Size

US search marketers face less of a challenge when expanding into European markets, than vice versa. Why? In the United States, marketers can focus on one language and arguably one culture across a broader population. European companies on the other hand, are forced to regionalize along cultural and linguistic lines. This requires higher technological and strategic investment upfront.

Jonathan says, “If Europe and the States were equivalent in population size – the difference is that in the US everyone speaks English or Spanish whereas in Europe it’s Polish, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Flemish, German, Etc. And the technology cost is more or less the same to regionalize [each time]. The relative market size of each of these regions is incomparable [to the United States].”

Peril & Opportunity: Device Fragmentation

Jonathan notes that, “Fragmentation is huge from a desktop point of view, but it’s going to get worse and worse from a mobile point of view.” In a world where multiple devices, with multiple operating systems and versions exist, fragmentation among mobile and tablet users are at an all-time high. This has serious implications for SEO marketers trying to reach a specific consumer subset, especially when device variance occurs at a local and global level.

As Jonathan points out, “If you design stuff to work well on an iPad you’re probably going to be targeting middle class across the board. If you’re designing for iOS7 you’re probably only getting a small fraction of the global audience.” This can be both a peril and an opportunity depending on the way that you look at it. On one hand, marketers have the ability to target narrowly based on device usage. On the other hand, hardware and software are continuously evolving. What works one day could very well be obsolete the next. If you know how to build or optimize a responsive site, you can win big in this space.

Key takeaways:

1) Your search competition is beyond your geographic boundaries.

2) Know your relative market size and the problems inherent with regionalizing in diverse markets.

3) By targeting less competitive markets of the same tongue you lower the barrier of entry.

4) Device can be used to target by socioeconomic status, but be careful because what works today may not work tomorrow.

Leave a comment to keep the conversation going. What are your thoughts, challenges, or predictions for the future of global SEO?

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  • brangen

    Great topic! Quick question, do you have any insights on how much (or little!) country-specific links play into international rankings still?

    • mperzichilli

      One way that Google determines geographic relevance is by the CCTLD. By selecting a country specific domain, such as for the United Kingdom, you are telling Google that you want your content to be found in that market. Acquiring links from websites that also have the country specific domain will indeed improve search results for that market because it is telling Google that users in that market are finding your content relevant and therefore linking to it. You can use tools such as Majestic SEO or MOZ Open Site Explorer to check out where your current links are coming from.

      Hope this helps and thanks for the comment!

  • Michael Bian

    Great point and insights.

  • Spook SEO

    I like the strategy of targeting less competitive market to start with rather than starting in the high competitive environment which will cause a lot of obstacles in your way.Social media marketing is the best way of gaining popularity but also to attract more audience

  • Hotel Internet Marketing

    How this is possible, really an impressive work “The Global SEO Landscape”, great post..