Expanding and reaching different markets is a dream for most businesses. With the world becoming more interconnected than ever before, this task is much easier. Most places in the world have access to the internet and search engines, with Google having more than 3.5 billion searches a day. This means there are massive opportunities for brands to get their name out. Now, instead of needing a physical location in a new target region (though that would be a bonus), companies can make do with optimizing their website for SEO worldwide. This is great for e-commerce businesses, as it is a cost-effective way of reaching new customers abroad.
To do so, international SEO must be implemented correctly. However, most companies run into the problem of doing things ad-hoc or not caring enough about SEO. Doing so may hurt your brand’s engagement in other countries in the long term. Therefore, a robust global SEO strategy is vital. Here are a few things below that you need to know or keep in mind when implementing international SEO.
What is international SEO?
International SEO, also known as global SEO, is like local SEO, but on an international scale. It is when you optimize your website so that search engines like Google can easily crawl and identify which country and language you are targeting. This adds additional complexity, as it also needs to take into account unique linguistic, cultural, and technical requirements so that websites can rank high in search engines and serve the right kind of audience. This makes it easier for overseas customers to search for your company.
International SEO is a fantastic way to increase brand awareness and expand your existing client base. Therefore, any company looking to enter a new market must use international SEO. Without an effective strategy, you will be going in blind and most likely will not be found in search results. This would further jeopardize your brand’s expansion by failing to reach your target audience.
We have compiled a few things to keep in mind when optimizing your website using international SEO. Although it is possible to implement these steps yourself, it is best to seek advice and help from SEO professionals who can take care of this step for you.
Know your market
If you only plan to target local audiences, and are not looking to expand beyond borders, then implementing international SEO is most likely not worth your time or effort. In fact, you should stick to local SEO. Most likely, if you use international SEO in this scenario, it can end up confusing your local customers.
If you do end up deciding to use international SEO, you must first know which market or region you intend to target. Whether you target a specific language or country depends on your goals and what you are selling. For example, if your products appeal to Spanish speakers, but you are not looking to target any country, language optimization might be sufficient for you. On the other hand, if you want to target a specific country or region, then make sure that your content is localized for the place.
If you have no idea where to begin, you can perform an audit on your business. This way, you can see which market your business has huge search demand in, or which market your business has low search competition in. You can also see which country you already have organic traffic in and choose to capitalize on this opportunity. You can do this by using SEO tools such as Ahrefs and SEMrush.
After you decide on which region or language to focus on, you can start analyzing the competitor landscape. This way, you can see how they are doing online and whether there are any opportunities you can take advantage of. Using SEO tools such as SEMrush, you can take a quick look at your competitor’s online presence. You can also see what keywords your competitors are ranking for, meaning you can explore which keywords to borrow, and which ones are best avoided.
Understand domain and technical structures
Aside from keyword research, you also need to plan out your technical approach to international SEO. This is the foundation you will lay your new global SEO-optimised website on. If you want to target multiple regions effectively, each landing page of your website must have separate, customized content with dedicated URLs in each language. If you want to be even more precise, experts recommend having a country-specific version of the pages.
Different domain structures of your website can make it easier or harder for customers to search for. Search engines will also rank your website differently depending on the region. A few options include:
Country code Top-level Domain (ccTLD): A very popular option, this allows the URL to have the top-level domain of a specific country. For example, .ca is for Canada, .uk for the UK, and .de for Germany. This makes the target country very clear for visitors and search engines. However, it can be costly if you are targeting multiple regions, as you will need to purchase multiple domains. It also does not specify the language targeted — .ca could either be for English or French speakers.
Subdirectories: Also known as subfolders, this is another popular option. Subdirectories let all content sit in a single domain like /gb/ or /en-us/. This makes it easy when you need to create a new version of a page as you just change the URL path (slug). Reporting and auditing your website is easier as well since you only need to install your SEO tool on a single domain. This is often used when the location of your audience does not have a direct impact on your product or service. For instance, if your target market is a region where most people speak the same language like Latin America. This is best for companies who do not have a global name or a high enough volume of content to maintain multiple sites. However, the URL structure may be ambiguous for viewers and are a weaker signal to search engines.
Subdomain: Unlike the other two, subdomains remain less popular. However, they do allow for customizable naming conventions. For instance, your site URL could look like us.example.com or gb.example.com. It also offers the benefits of a country code. Subdomains are a good choice for businesses who want to keep their name in the main domain but also need separate international sites. However, you might dilute your page rank if you split content across several domains – meaning you must build back your brand’s SEO authority.
Conduct keyword research
Make sure to carry out keyword research in your chosen markets. This is because keywords that work at home may not work overseas. You also must consider how certain phrases, slang, and vocabulary are used in different regions. For instance, searching for football in the US will bring up American football, whereas searching for the same term in the UK will bring up what Americans call ‘soccer’ instead.
Localize brand, copy, and website
When you are looking for keywords or creating content in another language, you must never use a machine translator. This will make phrases and words sound clucky, with a lot of grammatical mistakes. You should instead ensure that keywords and content are localized and sound like a first-language speaker has written them. This means that words and phrases are not only grammatically correct but are used in the right context or situation. If this is done successfully, your website will have a higher chance of ranking high in search engines and being found by local visitors. It is highly recommended you partner with someone who has lived in your target region for a while and knows the language like the back of their hand.
You might also want to create content specifically relevant to your target region. For example, if you are a travel and tourism brand, your home region’s site might highlight destinations for couples, whereas your Spanish site might focus on destinations close to Spain.
Make sure the internal structure is correct
One mistake most businesses implementing international SEO might make is not using the hreflang HTML tag. Not using it may result in your web pages being considered duplicate content in search engines. This results in each ‘site’ competing with the other, resulting in them not ranking as high in search results. Using this tag helps to specify the geographic area and language of a page. It lets search engines know that despite the similar content, they should not be counted as duplicates.
Other ways you can signal to search engines that your website is aimed at other markets is by including local addresses (if you have one), phone numbers, local currencies, and time zones.
Remember, if you are not sure how to do this, you should seek help from SEO professionals instead of implementing international SEO yourself.