What is International SEO?
International SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is the process and strategy of ranking your website on Google in different languages and in different locations across the world. Google has different versions of its search engine for different languages and for each specific country. This means translating content and understanding the user journey in multiple languages.
Why go International?
If your business, service, brand or product is offered to consumers across the world, there are many benefits to opting for international SEO.
- Access to more traffic
Mandarin and English is the most commonly spoken language in the world, closely followed by Spanish. If you are planning on expanding your business to international foreign markets, imagine the amount of additional traffic you could get from translating your content into Spanish. This is just one example. The more languages you translate your website into, the more traffic you have access to. Simple right?
- Relevant content
If users are searching to solve a problem, find out more information or educate themselves, content needs to be relevant and localised. International SEO focuses on creating relevant content, applicable to a specific region. Put yourself in the user’s position. You don’t want to be reading a blog about investing in property in the UK and for it to mention Paris, Rome or Bulgaria.
- Improved user experience
Users want to digest information in the easiest way possible and in their native language. Your website should facilitate that, bringing website visitors access to the information they want in the easiest way possible. That could mean translating website content, offering local phone numbers or ensuring you have the correct currency during the checkout process.
- Increased leads, sales and revenue
International SEO efforts will essentially result in more leads, sales and revenue. By accessing new foreign markets, you are getting your website and brand seen by new audiences. With the correct strategy, content and product, you can then convert these new audiences into new sales.
International SEO Hurdles
Baby steps are crucial. Before you dive head first into an international campaign, you should tick a few boxes first, such as understanding the local audience and culture and having the right infrastructure in place to deliver your product or service.
1. Local Competitor Research
Before you start on your international SEO campaign you should ensure that there is a market for what you’re trying to sell. Local competitor research is crucial to understanding market trends, needs and wants. It is also important to understand what marketing tactics your competitors are doing and why they are doing it.
A good place to start is with your target audience. What issues are you trying to solve for them and where are they searching for this solution? You should be able to find who else you are competing against.
Do you have the right business infrastructure in place to deliver your product or service around the world? For example, if you want to sell a hair care product in Spain, do you have the right delivery service in place and have you considered the difference in shipping costs? Or, if you are offering a service in the United States, do you need physical staff on the ground to answer phone calls? Below are a few things to consider:
- Shipping costs
- Online abilities
- Resource and capacity
3. Keyword and Culture
One of the biggest challenges you will face in tapping into international markets online is identifying the right keywords for a foreign language market. Every language has colloquialisms and slang that is acceptable within a conversation. Buzzwords that make your product or service irresistible in your own language may not necessarily translate easily into a different language.
This is where the phrase ‘lost in translation’ comes from. A marketing message lost in translation can often cause a significant business cost. When deploying an international SEO campaign, ensure you have access to a native speaking SEO or content expert that can give invaluable insight into your translated content.
Keyword research is one of the most important stages of an international SEO campaign. It sets the foundations for success or failure. Your keyword research should consider cultural boundaries, user experience and local dialect. This will guarantee keywords that have not only great search volume but relevancy. It is also crucial that your USP (Unique Selling Point) is blended into your keywords and that this is correctly translated.
4. Translating Existing Content
Everything on your website needs to be translated in order to market towards a different language. You local copywriter will need to consider translating blogs, website copy, social media updates, buttons and headings – the list goes on.
The process of translating does not simply mean copying the text and regurgitating it in a foreign language. It means understanding the message behind the content and translating that into a message that makes sense to the reader. You should consider at this point how big your website is, how many pages need translating and what capacity you have to do this. There are many online translation services, freelancers, copywriters and agencies that can help you with this.
Let’s Get Technical
5. URL Structure
You wouldn’t mix ketchup and beer, right? Then don’t mix Spanish and English. Each language used across the website should sit on its own URL structure and should have a different section of the website per language or location. Don’t try and hide multiples languages on one page to make it rank on Google – you will get penalised!
Country-specific domain name extensions should be considered. Users within different countries can be more likely to convert on a domain extension that they recognise and trust. For example, Canadians are used to browsing on ‘www.exampledomain.ca’ and Americans are used to browsing on ‘www.exampledomain.com’. These subtle differences can increase trust signals.
However, Google reads these domains as separate entities. It is best practice to structure your international website using sub-directories. Ensure that each language is separated by a different URL structure, making it easy for Google to read the page and decipher which country to rank that page in.
For example, you could have local sub-directories like ‘www.exampledomain.com/france’ and ‘www.exampledomain.com/france/paris’.
6. GEO Settings
You can tell Google which country your subdirectory should be targeting by using Google Search Console. This is the place you submit your sitemap, fix errors and tell Google to crawl your website. As a best practice, you should submit a separate sitemap for each language.
For example, your ‘www.exampledomain.com/fr’ should have a different sitemap compared to ‘www.exampledomain.com/it’.
You can change the settings of your sitemap in Google Search Console by following the below instructions:
- Log into Google Search Console
- Click on the website (property) you want to set a geographic target for
- On the left, select Search Traffic > International Targeting
- Click on the “Country” tab
- Select the region you want to target or select “unlisted”
- Click “Save”
7. Hreflang Tags
Hreflang tags are small pieces of script that you can either put into the head section of the website or directly into the sitemap. This allows the search engine to read the content on the website and decide which page it matches in different languages. Below is an example of hreflang optimisation:
- /en-ie should be added to an English page in Ireland
- /en-ca should be added to an English page in Canada
- /en-au should be added to an English page in Australia
- X-default is the main page that you want to set as the default. Google then understands that all of these pages are connected together, but should be delivered in different locations.
8. Correct Language Codes
This ties in with website structure and sub-directories. Each language has its own universal website code. Below are a few examples of the most common language codes:
- EN = English
- ES = Spanish
- FR = French
- CA = Catalan
- CS = Czech
- ZH = Chinese
- IT = Italian
9. Internal and External Linking
Your sub-directories need the same SEO attention as your main domain. This means correctly internally linking each language with other content in that language. This helps Google bots crawl through the site and feed link juice and domain authority through every ranking page on the website.
External linking is just as, if not more important, that internal linking. With an international SEO campaign, it is important to secure localised authoritative links to each of your sub-directories. This not only helps to build local trust but also feeds relevant traffic to the right part of the website.
10. Local Meta Tags
Because sub-directories and sub-domains don’t completely separate country-specific websites from one another, in the eyes of readers and Google,it’s important to correctly market each page using meta tags as well.
Meta tags are the lines in the HTML of a given web page that give Google the proper context when crawling that page. Meta tags should resemble both the country and language listed in your sub-directory. Basically, if you’re writing for a French audience, you should use French language meta tags! This gives Google another layer of data when crawling republished content for SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) you’d see in other countries. Having optimised meta tags also helps confirm to users that they are about to click on the right page.