Is your local market starting to look small as your business grows? This might be a good time to expand your brand internationally. Reaching new audiences involves new challenges and more competitors. It also demands an in-depth understanding of different cultures. But, with the right digital strategy, you can reach your goals.
In this post, we’ll explain how to do international SEO, especially for eCommerce global growth.
- What makes an international SEO strategy different & why it matters
- 11 key international SEO best practices
What Does an International SEO Strategy Entail?
With the right international SEO strategy, you’ll be able to:
- Grow your audience across markets
- Get a higher ROI from your digital presence
- Build brand loyalty on a global scale
But, what’s the difference between international SEO and your regular strategy? In short, international SEO is SEO plus localization. To succeed, you’ll have to adapt your website and your plan to the needs and preferences of a new location.
Some companies kickstart their international SEO strategy by translating their website. Others create different platforms to exclusively target certain regions and audiences.
Whichever option you choose, Googlebot should be able to easily crawl your website and identify:
- Which language/s it supports
- What geographic area your website is relevant for
However, most international SEO challenges aren’t technical: they’re cultural. We’ll dive deeper in the next section.
But, before getting started, there’s something we have to mention: If there’s a language barrier between your target market and your marketing team, we recommend hiring SEO experts that are native to your target location. To give you the most useful advice possible, we’ll assume there’s no linguistic difference between your target location and your home country. But, in some cases, it may be best to delegate these challenges to a team of local SEO experts.
Without further ado, let’s dive deeper.
11 Key Best Practices to Create an Effective International SEO Strategy
Now, let’s look at how to create an effective international eCommerce SEO strategy, fueled by localization best practices.
- Checking your current site’s organic visibility
- Considering other search engines, besides Google
- Analyzing your competitors
- Conducting international keyword research
- Keeping cultural nuances in mind
- Investing in UX localization
- Avoiding Google Translate and other automated translation tools
- Localizing, rather than just translating
- Designing a solid link-building strategy
- Choosing an international site structure
- Creating separate pages for each target language (using hreflangs)
Let’s take a closer look.
Don’t Just Translate, Localize
Localization is key to an effective international SEO strategy. Essentially, localization is the process of adapting a website, brand, product, or service to a specific culture. Localization goes beyond translation and involves:
- Functional adaptation
- Legal compliance
- Cultural and religious nuances
- Market trends and preferences
Even if you have perfectly translated content, tailored to your target audience’s search intent, your reach will be limited if you don’t also adapt your website’s visuals and UI elements. Simple things can completely ruin or improve your new users’ experience.
Thus, it’s very important to localize:
- Color usage
- Cultural references
- Titles and meta descriptions
- Local time and date
- Currency use
- Customer representations
- Illustrations and stock images
Check Your Site’s Current Organic Visibility
When implementing an international SEO strategy, the first question you should ask yourself is: What keywords does my website rank for in the countries I’m targeting?
You can discover this with Google Analytics. Just go to Audience > Geo > Location Language on your control panel to see the number of sessions from a particular country. There, you’ll also be able to examine traffic volume and trends, along with keywords and top pages.
Moreover, analytic tools such as Google Webmaster Tools, SEMRush, or Search Metrics can help you find the most common user queries for your industry and target locale.
Consider Other Search Engines, Besides Google
Depending on the country you’re targeting, Google may not be the best search engine to optimize for. For instance:
- Baidu and Qihoo 360 are more popular in China
- Yahoo is the top search engine in Japan and Hong Kong
- Yandex is the search engine of choice in Russia
- Seznam is more popular than Google in the Czech Republic
- Naver and Daum are the most popular search engines in South Korea
Research your target audience’s search engine preferences and design your international SEO strategy accordingly.
Analyze Your Competitors
Once you have a solid understanding of your position and your users’ preferences, it’s time to identify and analyze your competitors overseas.
First, it’s important to analyze their domains. Keep track of those that outperform you and those with a positioning similar to yours. Once you’ve got your competitors mapped out, do some benchmarking.
- What keywords your competitors are ranking for
- What strengths and weaknesses they have, SEO-wise
- What domains are linking to them
- How competitive is their backlink profile
We also recommend you research the differences between the keywords your competitors rank for. These differences are called “content gaps”. You can find content gaps with tools such as Ahrefs.
Conduct International Keyword Research
Your content must contain keywords that are relevant to the country and language you are targeting. But, while focusing on keywords may help you get some organic traffic, the best SEO strategies have a broader focus. Keep your users’ search intent and market trends in mind.
When conducting international keyword research, consider:
- What are the most promising search trends in your target location at the moment
- Which keywords your main competitors rank well for
- Search terms that you can rank for, based on volume and difficulty
- Average CTR
- Rich results and answer boxes
If you’re working with one of the leading keyword research tools, (such as Ahrefs, Semrush or Moz), you’ll probably be able to use it for international keyword research.
Keep Cultural Nuances in Mind
It’s important to be aware of how small cultural nuances can affect your message – even if your target audience speaks your language.
For example, the word “football” has a different meaning in the USA and the UK, it refers to different sports in each country. The same applies to Spanish content that’s written for Spanish users – it may not work for users in Latin America.
Cultural nuances may affect your perspective on users’ search behavior. For example, if you think that Mexican users refer to their computers by the Spanish term “ordenador”, you may end up believing that computers aren’t so popular in Mexico. At the end of the day, the search volume for “ordenador” in Mexico is quite low. Without the right cultural insight, you may search for the wrong things and come to the wrong conclusions.
Invest in UX Localization
Oftentimes, brands fail at international SEO because they think that writing content in the target language is enough to reach a foreign audience. But, they forget a fundamental part of SEO: The user experience.
When you’re targeting international visitors, Google should be able to evaluate the website’s performance for your target location, and determine how intuitive and user-friendly your website is.
On the other hand, great UX:
- Increases dwell time
- Reduces bounce rate
Good UX standards may vary from country to country. But meeting each target country’s best practices will help you rank in the SERPs, while making users feel comfortable on your site.
Check out a recent episode of Google’s podcast for more information on SEO & UX:
Avoid Google Translate
It’s easy to think that using Google Translate is a low-cost and quick way to publish content in a different language. However, it should be noted that automated translations won’t be 100% accurate. In fact, they may significantly hurt users’ perception of your content. And it’s well-known that poor content doesn’t get backlinks, traffic or business results.
In contrast, you should create original content in your target language, or have it professionally translated. Depending on your budget and your existing content, you may want to hire a translation agency or a local content writing team.
Design a Solid Link Building Strategy
The importance of link-building for global websites is often overlooked. However, building a solid backlink profile in your target market is key.
Take a local approach to link building. Partner with platforms and content creators that your new audience likes and trusts, and get them to link to relevant content on your local site.
Be Intentional About Your International Site Structure
ccTLDs, or country-code top-level domains, are also important for establishing relevance abroad. Using a country’s ccTLD lets Google know you serve customers in that country. Let’s take a closer look at the available options:
- ccTLDs (website.es). ccTLDs are geo-targeted, therefore they’re e authoritative for search engines. Also, local users are more likely to trust them, and they load faster (if hosted locally). However, implementing ccTLDs requires dedicated technical resources and a separate SEO strategy for each domain. In short, every ccTLD will be its own website.
- Subdirectories (website.com/es). Hosting localized versions in subdirectories entails less maintenance and hosting expenses. You’ll also be able to rank faster because you’ll be building on your website’s existing authority. However, you’ll need to be extra careful so your languages don’t get mixed up.
- Subdomains (es.website.com). Subdomains are easier to build and maintain than ccTLDs, and they can be hosted in different locations. However, it’s more difficult to build authority for them and users may find them confusing.
Create Separate Pages For Your Target Language (Using Hreflangs)
Mixing languages on the same website is not a good idea; Google will not be able to understand what your platforms’ are about or who it’s for. Hence, we recommend properly dividing your localized websites and using hreflang annotations.
hreflang tags tell Google exactly which language and country you are targeting per page. Basically, hreflang annotations help you to:
- Prevent duplicate content
- Get localized versions properly indexed
You can use hreflang tags on:
- Page headers
- HTTP headers
- XML sitemaps
Last but not least, make sure that hreflangs annotations haven’t been removed by a code change. That way, you will never stop delivering the right content to the right people. This can be done with the help of a technical SEO monitoring tool.
A Sustainable International SEO Strategy Begins with Clean Code
Often, international SEO problems are caused by a website’s code, not it’s content or interface. However, keeping your code clean and detecting potentially harmful changes can be a time-consuming and inefficient process. This is how SEORadar enters the picture.
SEORadar is a powerful SEO monitoring tool. It inspects your website’s codebase to identify potentially harmful technical changes. SEORadar picks up anything, from a change to an “hreflang” tag to the removal of a focus keyword. As soon as we find any threats to your rankings, we’ll automatically notify you, so you can take action.