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 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!
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.
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 localised 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.
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.