In the hype of all the recent changes in marketing, it is easy to forget about the global strategy for your business. SEO is about constantly moving from a deep focus on details like code quality and technical SEO, to a global view of your client’s business - like the one described in this case study.
SEO knowledge is merely one of multiple important factors when it comes to international SEO. Creating a strategy is usually relatively easy. What is difficult, however, is finding awesome clients that really want to dominate the market and are willing to take the risks. Picodi is one such client. The risk we are talking about is losing it all in 23 markets. I can only imagine how much trust is required to leave the whole business in my and my team’s hands (thank you for that guys!). This case study shows that sometimes the real risk is doing nothing.
International SEO efforts should focus on one domain to exponentially increase SEO results compared to multiple domains.
This article presents a case study of our international client - picodi.com - and how they managed to further improve their market leader position by merging 23 regional domains into picodi.com’s subfolders.
Picodi is a smart shopping platform originating from a coupon website with the widest, global coverage and visibility. Transforming from a single market player into a worldwide leader the company has already undergone the rebranding process into Picodi.
As some of you know, the coupon niche is one of the most competitive SEO verticals. Picodi’s goal wasn’t only about competing in this niche, but also to maintain their position as a leader. To do that, Łukasz Gwóźdź, Marketing & Analytics Director, asked us to have a strategic look at their international SEO efforts and find room for improvements.
Picodi is present in 25 countries worldwide. Until recently they’ve been using one domain per country.
Below is a list of all the domains we’ve been working with:
|Country||Before migration||After migration|
As you can see, there is no TLD or brand name pattern. Some of the domains were exact match phrases, while some had branded names (e.g. picodi.gr). As you can imagine, it wasn’t optimal from a brand building perspective.
What is really important from a technical point of view, is that we had all types of domains in this mix:
a) Subdomains, already hosted on picodi.com (e.g. http://thailand.picodi.com)
b) Exact match domains (e.g. codigosdesconto.com.br)
c) Domains with a regional TLD (e.g. picodi.es)
This shows that each of the solutions above weren’t as efficient as one, global domain.
Let me start with a little background. Picodi is one of our most result-oriented clients. Their team is always looking to find room for improvement. While looking into their structure, my logic was that migration of all country domains to one can help them with many problems they are trying to solve on a daily basis.
The main migration goal was to standardize marketing communication and reduce maintenance costs. Traffic and visibility improvement on this scale is a "side effect" we didn’t expect. While recommending this move, we were expecting a visibility boost, but not at such a scale. The problem we had is that, this migration was depending fully on our knowledge and expertise, as there was no previous case studies we could find on this topic. Of course, we wanted to kill 2 birds with 1 stone. Not only did we want to improve visibility, we also sought to help Picodi with their SEO process. Let me list the most important benefits of implementing my strategy.
This is stuff that every website has to go through each week/month, depending on how dynamic the niche is.
In theory, it is more expensive and takes much more time, workload etc. In practice, those tasks get neglected. Rapidly growing organizations usually lack time and resources and those tasks get pushed aside.
Fortunately, this strategy is not just focused around cost reduction, but also on speeding up growth.
I am a big fan of having one, clear global SEO and marketing strategy. This belief comes from my experience from work with many international organizations. In theory, local teams should be closer to the client, as well as the product, and do really well. Reality usually is that smaller, local teams face huge problems with internal politics, budgets, access to developers, content writers or other resources. One global team can also face these problems, but usually it is much better at "pushing them through pipelines".
Now, let me show you how merging all your domains into one can help you with boosting your marketing efforts.
Local success supports global structure
Imagine that Picodi’s team in Russia creates awesome, viral content that gets shared worldwide. It gets published on Picodi.com/ru and it attracts thousands of backlinks. This content and the backlinks it generated supports not only the Russian website, but the whole structure as well.
Taking that one step further, it can amplify link building efforts and massively reduce content marketing and link building costs.
What’s in it for Picodi?
Picodi can now clearly communicate their marketing strategy and, at the same time, global structure can now claim benefits from local efforts. Awesome content in Turkey, for example, will also improve rankings in Australia.
This idea is simpler than it sounds. Simply said - it is much harder to analyze an international brand’s SEO efforts than a small website.
With only 1 domain targeting multiple countries, the number of factors "making" website rank is complicated to the point that is making it impossible for competitors to copy/analyze it. Let me show you few key reasons for that.
Obviously, migrating such a large structure always comes with a huge risk. We took all the possible measures to make sure it was a clean move without any loose ends. There are endless risks behind such a move and you need to be aware not to try it at home without supervision from awesome developers from Picodi, great management (Łukasz Gwóźdź) and, of course, an SEO agency specializing in technical SEO.
Now, this is the beefy part of this article. I already explained a migration process that works wonders for our clients in my "Orca Technique" case study written quite a while ago. Orca Technique was designed for websites with a Google Penguin problem that wanted a fresh start. In the case of Picodi.com (fortunately), we didn’t have to worry about previous Google Penguin or Google Panda problems. Even though, as huge fans of total organization and clean processes, we decided to redirect one domain at a time, strongly focusing on cleaning up link profiles and potential technical problems before merging all domains into one.
I am putting a lot of pressure on this first step, as this is usually where domain migrations fail in the long term. SEOs and SEO agencies often overlook this complicated and time-consuming process.
The tricky part is that migration without checking all the links WILL go well in the short term. In many cases, you will celebrate huge success, not knowing you have a ticking SEO bomb under the carpet. At the same time, recovering a large structure made of multiple domains and backlinks pointing to them is a real life nightmare.
One domain with a spammy link profile can affect the whole structure and flatline your traffic. This risk is very real and I (unfortunately) saw it happen more than once. If you are active in the SEO community, you probably have at least 5 cases of epic drops related to website migration. Even more are related to poor backlink management (if you haven’t, I highly recommend reading these awesome Expedia or Halifax drop case studies).
Due to all the scary reasons mentioned above, I am a strong believer in detailed, manual link audits and zero tolerance for poor links. This is why we’ve built an awesome team dedicated to not only going through the link profile, but to find, footprint, scrape and track all the links they can.
A detailed process for a single domain (copied over all migrated domains) is as follows:
1. Gathering all the backlinks (LinkResearchTools, Google Search Console, Ahrefs, Majestic, SearchMetrics, SEO SpyGlass, our custom scrapers, footprinting link patterns + scraping)
2. De-duplicating the list of backlinks and loading it to LinkResearchTools - Link Detox
3. A manual audit of all the backlinks (most time-consuming process)
4. Disavow file creation
5. Disavow file upload to Google Search Console of olddomain.com
6. Appending created disavow file to a disavow uploaded to newdomain.com
Step #3 is extremely time consuming. Proper check requires manual link by link check. We take this even further and we tag every single backlink with info about the nature of the link (e.g. scraper, spammy comment, directory etc.) and a score on a scale from 1-5.
Step #6 in the process above is where most SEOs fail. If you redirect domain olddomain.com → newdomain.com, just as in marriage, those two domains become one. This means that links from olddomain.com will show up in Google Search Console of newdomain.com as direct links.
When our link audit team was working on cleaning up links, a technical SEO crew focused on making sure that structures are clean and good to go.
Apart from all the obvious technical SEO issues, we focused on basic SEO problems that can affect domain migration, like internal redirects, 404s, proper canonicals etc. 404 Status Codes, for example, can be easily identified with the help of Ryte.
Fortunately, most of the on-page SEO heavy lifting was done last year, so we only had to polish a few things, fix some broken backlinks etc. No major structure or on-page SEO changes were done during this step.
After having clean structures, we’ve exported the unique URLs from every domain and saved them for use in a later step.
After cleaning up all the off-page and on-page issues, we decided to move forward with redirecting domains. We started with just 2 domains, to create an efficient process and test all possible problems that may arise. After a successful move of both Brazil and Turkey, we waited for almost a month to see the results.
Brazil - codigosdesconto.com.br
Visibility before the migration
Visibility after migration to picodi.com/br
As you can see, our initial 1 domain test went quite well :).
Now that we had everything redirected, we moved forward with the process (after celebrating these awesome results first, of course).
Using the URL list from step 3, we checked if all URLs redirected properly to new ones without creating redirect chains, pointing to 404 pages etc. (we used ScrapeBox Alive Check and ScrapeBox Redirect Check to do that).
As a last step, we’ve made sure to inform Google about our migration using Google Search Console.
After that, we run a new crawl for picodi.com to find potential structure issues that could be a result of migration.
Now, my favourite part. I must say that we were all really stressed about this step and we couldn’t wait to see the final outcome of our actions. After all, the risk behind the migration of 23, well-established domains on 23 markets is hard to ignore.
There is no good way to describe the scale of how good it went, so I will just confirm - yes it was a success. All I am going to say is that average SearchMetrics visibility improvement is (at the time of writing this case study) 841%.
Of course, as with everything, there must be one exception to the rule. Black sheep. That little grain of sand that is ruining a perfectly running mechanism.
The Russian domain recorded a negative visibility change of -16%.
Due to our joy after enormous success of the other 22 domains, we simply accepted the picodi.com/ru drop, hoping that Russian Picodi will finally catch up to the trend.
Our best country was Turkey, where the visibility skyrocketed 40x almost overnight.
As Neil Armstrong said - "There can be no great accomplishment without risk". In this case, it was our client’s risk and we were the ones sitting in a control room. I hope that this case study will encourage more brands to not only take risks, but to do it wisely and invest in technical SEO as one of the best ways to grow their international visibility.
Practice makes perfect!
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Published on 06/21/2016 by Bartosz Góralewicz.
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