Overview: This Embarque article highlights the significance of global SEO in expanding international business presence. In the post-2020 digital landscape, search engines play a crucial role in driving online purchases and global SEO targets multiple languages and locations, enhancing a brand's global reach.
Why you can trust us: Our expertise in global SEO is exemplified by our collaboration with Stagetimer. Initially, they were receiving a modest 40-50 monthly website visitors, through our organic traffic strategies, we successfully boosted their monthly visitors to an impressive 8,838. This increase not only resulted in significant revenue growth but also contributed to their overall financial success.
Why this is important: Investing in global SEO enables businesses to attract more traffic, reach broader audiences, and efficiently serve customers worldwide.
Action points: Embrace global SEO by focusing on delivering results relevant to customer language and location, and learning about the best practices, software, and common myths in the field.
Further research: Consider researching strategies tailored to your specific market and audience.
Need help with global SEO?
You might have heard about international SEO and its benefits on growing a global presence. You’ve come to the point where your business has its own website, on-page and off-page SEO, authority and trust in the market, and good rankings. Now it’s time to move on and expand your business worldwide. Are you ready for this?
After the 2020 pandemic, brands were pushed online. This digital acceleration expanded their potential but also their competition. Today, 68% of online purchases begin with search engines, and brands are fighting in the pit of rankings.
International SEO is your ticket to opening your pool of clients and potential revenue. With search engines developing faster than ever, you want to focus on delivering relative results to your customers according to their language and location.
In this Embarque article, you’ll learn:
- Global SEO: what is it and why is it important
- How can businesses benefit from global SEO
- How to do international SEO for your business (5 steps)
- The best global SEO software for your workflow
- Common myths on international SEO
- International SEO checklist
Let’s dive in!
Why listen to us?
For businesses like Upscribe, a Shopify subscription management app, global SEO is essential. Initially, Upscribe struggled with a clear SEO direction, essential for their growth.
Embarque stepped in, crafting a comprehensive SEO strategy from the ground up, focusing on relevant topics like ecommerce and Shopify, and identifying high-performing keywords.
Through our tailored efforts, Upscribe's organic traffic quadrupled from around 500 to over 1,800 searches monthly in just five months. Our approach included setting up a detailed content calendar, link-building plans for high-quality internal and external links, and ensuring content consistency.
These efforts not only improved Upscribe's Google rankings but also significantly increased its visibility and growth in a highly competitive market.
Global SEO: What is it and why is it important?
Put simply, global SEO is the process of optimizing your website for users that speak different languages or live in different locations worldwide. To do that, you need to set up a holistic strategy around your SEO efforts and follow international trends.
International SEO marketing could range from translating your website into more languages to creating different experiences for local markets. But, you might wonder, how is international SEO different from local SEO? Well, you should think of it similarly to geotargeting. Only now, you don’t optimize for local results but international ones.
40% of global buyers won’t purchase goods listed in another language. That’s why international SEO is essential for connecting with them and speaking directly to their needs.
How can businesses benefit from global SEO?
Businesses that invest in global SEO attract more traffic to their website, reach bigger audiences, and grow their global presence. As a result, they open their market worldwide and are able to serve their customers more efficiently.
Think of brands like eBay, Spotify, Amazon, Nike. They’ve optimized their international SEO marketing based on their segmented customers and their features. As a result, they’ve created online global stores that meet users’ search queries and earn their trust.
The possibilities are endless! By opening up to the global market, not only product-based brands make their way up to the rankings, but also SaaS businesses and digital product-based businesses. In fact, they are the most benefited since they avoid production and shipping costs by providing worldwide an instantly accessible product that doesn’t run out of stock.
Here are some key benefits that businesses can experience when they embrace a robust global SEO strategy:
Enhanced brand recognition
When businesses like Netflix or Airbnb optimize for global SEO, they create a consistent brand image worldwide. As users across various countries encounter these brands in their local search results, the businesses become household names globally, fostering trust and brand loyalty among an international customer base.
Diversified traffic sources
A diversified approach to traffic, similar to what online giants like Amazon employ, allows companies to attract customers from multiple continents, ensuring stability even if one market sees a decline.
For example, when consumer spending dips in the U.S. during economic downturns, Amazon can still generate revenue from Europe or Asia, where economies may be more robust.
Access to new markets
By reaching out to new demographics with localized content, businesses can tap into markets that were previously unexplored.
For instance, a streaming service like Netflix can enter the Indian market with Bollywood-centric content, optimized for local search trends and language preferences.
Appearing in international search results gives a business an edge over competitors who may not have a global SEO strategy.
As an example, the Swedish furniture company IKEA gains a competitive advantage by ranking in home furnishing searches in countries where local brands have yet to establish a strong online presence.
Instead of running expensive global ad campaigns, a company like Adobe focuses on SEO for its creative software products. By ranking for keywords such as "graphic design software" in multiple languages, Adobe connects with professionals and hobbyists alike, drawing them directly into its sales funnel without the hefty price tag of traditional advertising.
24/7 online presence
For service-oriented businesses, like online language tutoring platforms, having a website optimized for global search ensures that for a student in Tokyo searching for English lessons at midnight, the business is always visible and available to cater to their educational needs, no matter the time zone.
A business that appears in search results around the clock can capture customers in different time zones, increasing opportunities for engagement and sales. Let’s take a look at MentorCruise for example.
With our help, they were able to increase their flow of traffic from a little over 450,000 visits to over 2 million and improve their year-on-year revenue by more than 1,600%. We made this possible by implementing an SEO-based customer acquisition strategy and optimizing old content to target key customer segments in different time zones and locations.
How to do international SEO for your business
On the surface, international SEO might look easy. You simply translate your website to a few more languages and put the flag symbols next to your search bar. Right? Wrong!
Global SEO is relatively more complex and requires the right strategy if you want stellar results. Depending on your goals, you might want to target a different language, a different country, or both. In that case, you need to determine:
- Which language do you want to target
- Effective keyword research in different languages
- What country do you want to target
- What is your available content and resources
Here is your ultimate 5 steps strategy on how to do international SEO.
Step 1: Do your market research
First things first! You don’t want to invest in international SEO without actual data confirming a spike in foreign users’ organic traffic. This increased interest indicates that your products or services are on-demand in those countries.
In your Google Analytics, you can easily check which countries or regions attract those customers and determine which keywords are related to their searches.
Then, you want to conduct localized keyword research. Focus on which keywords are related to your lead generation, which to conversions, and which have a high click-through rate. This information will come at hand when deciding on your content and international SEO marketing strategy.
There are many tools to help you in this process, such as:
- Google Analytics
- Google Trends
- Google Search Console
- Rank Tracker
- SEO Scout
Step 2: Choose your structure
Once you’ve discovered the countries you’d want to expand to, it’s time to examine your available options. Some brands focus on language, others on location and localized SEO, and some on both.
For example, Zara directs users with its homepage to select their country and language and then redirects them to a specific URL based on their selection. The URL has the form of zara.com/es, which means that it uses each country’s specific two-letter code (ccTLD) as a subdirectory.
Subdirectories are cost-effective structures that are easy to maintain and take the authority you build for your primary domain. However, if a subdirectory is dedicated to a whole new country, it’s not as strong SEO-wise as a dedicated website. But, if your business wants to keep all its communication on one platform, they are the best fit for you.
Other brands like Amazon operate in 16 different markets worldwide with custom experiences for each market. Amazon, in particular, offers their complete shopping experience with customized content for local markets and uses the form of amazon.de with ccTLDs.
This means that it basically dedicates a new domain to each country which may bring the best possible SEO signals, but it’s not cost-effective in terms of requiring maintenance of different websites. The brand also has to rebuild its authority with SEO and content to convince search engines that it’s genuinely worth the rankings.
Another option is using subdomains. For example, Wikipedia uses en.wikipedia.org for English-speaking users, with the ccTLD before the primary domain name. Although easier to maintain than ccTLDs new domains, it’s not practical in terms of global SEO signal. In addition, subdomains are not as authoritative as domains with subdirectories and have additional hosting costs.
Alternatively, brands use general top-level domains (gTLDs) such as “edu”, “org”, “info” with language parameters, or entirely new domains for their internationalized content.
Step 3: Use Hreflang tags to target languages
Hreflang tags are small codes that indicate in search engines that a website is available in other languages. This way, they strengthen the language signal and avoid internal URL competition. They are usually placed in the source code of the header of each page or the sitemap, and they follow the format hreflang=“languagecode-country code.”
The point of Hreflang tags is to help search engines show the most suitable versions of your website to users. Google also suggests using a backup page in case there are unmatched languages.
Step 4: Adjust your content to new languages and cultures
No matter the URL structure you choose, you need to adjust your content to the new language and culture you’re targeting if you want optimal results. Nobody likes to read auto-translated content. Keep in mind that if you choose a new domain or subdomain structure, you will need to create your authority from the beginning to gain the trust of local markets.
Your content should also respect the cultural differences between countries. For example, colors, typography, tone of voice, or even anecdotes are not perceived the same way worldwide.
The goal is to blend it! Tailor your content to suit each market and think locally for long-term international SEO success.
Step 5: Enhance your international SEO signals
Your international SEO checklist should include both technical aspects and an overall thoughtful approach to local markets. Here are some things to keep in mind to enhance your global SEO signals.
- Optimize for different search engines. Google controls 92% of the global market. However, that doesn't apply to every country. For example, Baidu has more than 65% of the market share in China, while Yandex is quite popular in Eastern European countries like Russia. Each search engine requires different optimization to reach maximum potential. So, if countries like China, Russia, or Japan are in your international SEO marketing strategy, you’ll need to find your way around their top search engines.
- Don’t auto-translate. As we covered before, make your content unique and exciting to consume. Eliminate the content pieces that are not authoritative or fitted to the culture of each country and, most importantly, blend them with the local markets.
- Add local contacts. Local contacts, such as a local phone number or an office address, build trust 10 times faster and enhance your overall viewability.
- Let users decide on the website language. Don’t automatically redirect users because language and location might not always be the same. For example, a user in Austria might prefer an English-based website to a German one.
- Display prices in local currency. Nobody likes calculating prices for every product they encounter on a website. It’s time-consuming and misleading. So instead, offer local currency options to facilitate the navigation and overall website experience.
- Don’t forget off-page SEO. Equally essential and efficient, off-page SEO creates authority for your brand, especially based on quality relationships. For example, if Google detects that you’re receiving links from websites with the two-code “gr”, it will connect your brand with local results in Greece and favor you in similar SERPs.
- Follow international trends. Users’ preferences constantly change. So keep an eye on trends you want to hop on to open opportunities for larger markets. Use Google Trends to spot them early as well as discover critical insights on your current market.
The best global SEO software for your workflow
So you know now the importance of global SEO and how to do international SEO for your business. But how do you ensure optimal technical strategies? Luckily, there is a variety of software to help you apply your international SEO strategy.
- Screaming Frog: An advanced SEO audit tool that detects technical errors in your sitemap, hreflang tags, broken links, and more.
- Hreflang checker: A quick and easy-to-use tool that automatically detects errors in your hreflang tags.
- Aleyda Solis hreflang generator: An excellent software for your international SEO, as it generates hreflang patterns to use in different languages and country versions of your website
- Merkle hreflang tag testing tool: It performs checks and detects errors on your sitemap.
- Chrome Dev Tools: A set of web developer tools built directly on Google Chrome browser that checks your data and suggests improvements.
Global SEO best practices
Understand local search habits
Each country has unique online behaviors, and knowing these can guide your SEO strategy. For instance, in Japan, Yahoo! is quite popular, while in China, Baidu reigns supreme.
Additionally, consider how local populations use mobile vs. desktop, whether voice search is prevalent, and their preferred online platforms. Tailor your SEO tactics to align with these behaviors to enhance visibility in local search results.
Implement quality translation and localization
Effective translation transcends literal language conversion– it involves crafting a message that truly connects with the local audience. Skilled translators with a deep understanding of cultural nuances are able to modify expressions, jokes, and cultural references to align with the preferences of the local population.
Localization also involves adapting other elements like date formats, currency, and units of measure to avoid alienating local users.
Optimize for local search engines
While it's standard to focus on Google optimization, it's important not to ignore regional search engines that hold significant sway in certain areas. Take Baidu, for instance, which necessitates a distinct approach to SEO compared to Google, with a stronger emphasis on meta tags and the content hosted directly on your site.
Know the ranking factors for these engines and adjust your SEO tactics to fit their algorithms, which can sometimes differ significantly from Google's.
Maintain consistent NAP information
Maintaining uniformity in your business’s Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP) information is essential for establishing trust in local search results. Ensure that these details are consistent everywhere your business appears online, including your website, social media, local directories, and other listings.
Discrepancies in this information can lead to confusion for both search engines and potential clients, adversely affecting your local search engine optimization.
Focus on mobile optimization
As more people around the world use the internet on mobile devices, it's imperative to have a website optimized for mobile use. Your site should adapt smoothly to different screen sizes, offer fast loading times for mobile users, and feature a touch-friendly user interface. Since Google prioritizes sites that are mobile-friendly, this optimization is not only user-centric but also crucial for enhancing your global search rankings.
Use international link building
Building a collection of backlinks from trustworthy and well-known local websites can strengthen your website's authority within particular geographical areas. For instance, securing backlinks from respected French websites can be beneficial if you aim to reach the French audience.
Such links indicate to search engines the pertinence and worth of your content to that audience, potentially elevating your search engine standings locally and attracting more focused traffic to your website.
To see how international link building can really improve your online presence, take a look at our work with a technical SaaS client. When they reached out to us, they had no idea about link building and its role in SEO which is one of the reasons why they had low visibility and authority.
So, to solve this problem, our link building team immediately outlined a comprehensive link building strategy for the client’s website. We focused on implementing white hat building techniques, building links around high-priority pages, and partnering with high-performing domains with a 30+ DR.
The result? 60x organic traffic from a mere 27 visitors to an impressive 7,495 organic searches. This increased organic traffic also helped our client generate more revenue.
Monitor performance and adjust strategy
Ongoing surveillance of your website's effectiveness is key to understanding successful elements and areas needing improvement. Employ analytics tools to observe how your site is performing across various regions, with a focus on metrics like sources of traffic, user interaction, and conversion rates.
Consistently analyze this data to spot patterns and be willing to alter your strategy if specific components are not yielding the anticipated results. Adapting your tactics is crucial for thriving in the ever-changing environment of global SEO.
Cater to local regulations and privacy laws
Stay informed about the regulatory and privacy obligations relevant to each area you engage with. This encompasses adhering to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and any other regional rules that could influence your methods of data collection and management. It's important to align your website with these legal standards to prevent fines and foster confidence among international users.
By following these best practices, you can create a strong global SEO strategy that helps your business connect with audiences around the world.
Common myths on international SEO
Let’s take a look at some of the most common misconceptions around international SEO.
1. “I need to have several websites to rank in different countries.”
No, that’s not necessary. However, when deciding on your URL structure, it’s important to consider your resources and priorities. Remember that when you opt for different websites, you start building your authority from zero. You will need employees, time, and money to build your expertise from scratch. So, if you’re a small business, you might want to consider choosing the subdirectories or subdomain options.
2. “Geo-targeting is enough for global SEO.”
Although geo-targeting is an option you shouldn’t neglect, it’s not enough. You might do all the right things to geo-target your pages, and Google still won’t show them correctly. As we previously discussed, there are many ways to enhance your SEO signals, and you should opt for a structured global SEO strategy.
3. “Using duplicated websites and the same user experience is okay.”
Sorry to break it to you, but it’s not. Each country has its own signature, and its users are accustomed to different UX and interfaces. Take eBay, for example; it failed in its attempts to roll out in China due to users preferring Ali Baba’s familiar interface for their shopping experience. That’s why you should take the time to customize your business strategy and overall look and feel.
International SEO checklist
In a nutshell, international SEO aims to help brands tap into the global markets and expand their reach and profits. The bottom line is a 360 SEO strategy that will cover all aspects of a successful website.
The process is complex indeed, but with the proper planning, it can uncover huge potentials for businesses. Here is your international SEO checklist:
- Start with extensive research in localized keywords and determine which foreign countries bring traffic to your website
- Decide on a long-term URL structure and implement it
- Tailor your content to the specific linguistic and cultural particularities of each country
- Implement the technical parts of hreflang tags and sitemaps
- Use tactics to enhance your SEO signals
- Get local citations and local reviews to rank for certain regions
- In your backlinking efforts, make sure that most links directing to the domains that link you come from and create content around the regions you want to rank in. For example, if you want to rank for US queries, the domains that link to you better have content that targets American queries and have a backlink profile from US domains.
- Test your international SEO practices and adjust to changes and trends
You made it till the end!
Hopefully, by now, you’ve gained more clarity on international SEO practices and their importance to the blooming e-commerce economy we’re living in. SEO is no longer a one-location game but a globalized trend that SEO experts need to get their hands on.