International SEO

How does SEO differ in international markets compared to domestic markets, and what strategies should businesses use to optimise their website for different regions and languages?

This isn’t solely due to cultural differences and what type of content “works” in international markets, but also due to the varying keywords that may be used for a product or service that aren’t immediately obvious in initial translations. The differences in some words when looking at US and UK English alone is a great example of this, and this will of course be reflected in keyword opportunity and commercial user behaviour.

Aside from this, geotargeting of your website, using methods such as hreflang code markup (to tell search engines which target market and language your content is intended for) are vital to ensuring visibility in domestic markets.

There are also a handful of countries that don’t use Google as a main search engine. China predominantly uses Baidu, while Naver is the dominant force in South Korea. If you’re launching into these markets, make sure your team familiarises itself with the nuances of these search engines as there are some algorithmical differences. 

How can businesses conduct topic research for international markets, and what tools and resources are available for identifying high-traffic, relevant keywords in different languages?

Many contemporary third-party SEO tools available on the market today offer the potential to harvest keyword and topic data in a large amount of international markets, allowing your team to conduct keyword research in Spanish for Mexico as they would English for the US. Free tools such as Google Search Console will also give you data on any important search terms that are generating impressions or traffic from international markets for you to target. 

International keyword research can be done in the same way as it would in your domestic market, via the means of analysing keywords you may already be ranking for, undertaking keyword research around a product term from scratch, or performing international competitor analysis.

A key thing to consider to make sure all your bases are covered when it comes to international keyword research is hiring a content marketing specialist or SEO consultant with native language skills in your target expansion markets. While an English only speaking SEO consultant will be able to extract an initial list of keyword opportunities in say French using a tool, a native French speaking SEO consultant will be able to accurately disseminate these and identify opportunities you may be missing.

What are some best practices for creating multilingual content, and how can businesses ensure that their content is accurately translated and culturally appropriate?

It’s often not a case of simply translating your content verbatim into a target language. This will likely miss out on hidden keyword opportunities or cultural sensitivities relevant to your target market, and may come across odd in terms of tone. 

This is where the term “localisation” becomes so important to your business and international SEO efforts. If you have a high performing blog page that is driving leads in English and, considering your potential customer base in Spain, want to make a version of the page in Spanish and tap into some of the demand, a careful localisation approach will need to be considered. 

Consider drafting help from a native Spanish SEO specialist – what are the keyword variants we need to deploy to get this page ranking well in Spain and delivering a steady flow of leads? Is it culturally appropriate, given the industry, business and legal nuances in Spain? Have you done enough research into your potential customer base for your product in Spain and taken into account their consumer behaviour? 

On-page and technical SEO best practices aside, these are the questions you will need to know the answers to as a business  as part of any multilingual content campaign.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when optimising a website for international SEO, and how can they impact search rankings?

Aside from making sure your content is informed by proper localised keyword research and solid understanding of the cultural nuances of your target consumer base, there are also some crucial mistakes to avoid which can really hinder your international visibility and revenue potential, no matter how good your content is.

Google have documented a thorough set of guidelines in terms of how to handle multi-regional versions of your site. 

A key consideration to make sure your SEO and dev teams get right is to pay proper heed to hreflang markup, that being a practice of injecting lines of code on localised versions of your content which gives signals to Google in terms of which variants are intended for which users in certain countries. 

Getting this wrong, and sending mixed messages to search engines in terms of your content’s target audience can lead to wrong versions of the content ranking in the wrong market. The conversion potential of an English product page showing up in Spain or Germany will be reduced heavily as users will be disinclined to click through if what they’re seeing isn’t in their native language. This is where geotargeting practices like hreflang come in.

How does website localisation impact SEO, and what strategies should businesses use to optimise their website for different languages and regions?

If there is clear and obvious keyword and user demand for your product or services in international markets, then careful and consideration of website localisation can diversify your revenue streams and bring in huge amounts of potential global traffic. 

With a population of 60 million, the UK has a large potential consumer base alone, though this can be readily complemented by tapping into France’s population (65 million) or Germany’s (80 million) via the means of international SEO.

Ensuring that your content is properly localised and taps into the needs of international audiences, that the localised version of your website is user friendly in a way to match the nuances of international search behaviour and that these efforts are reflected in your other global marketing channels (such as social media) are all sound approaches. 

How can businesses use country-specific domain names, subdomains, or subdirectories to improve their website’s visibility and relevance in international markets?

There are pros and cons to using either a country specific domain name, subdomains and subdirectories for your international SEO efforts, and this is something Google has summarised too. Country specific domain names (such as those ending in .de for Germany) can help to send very clear signals as to which market and user base you’re targeting, though as separate sites in their own right can become high maintenance and expensive to manage.

Subdomains and subfolders allow you to consolidate all your assets on one master domain, which is usually cheaper and easier to manage, though you will have to spend a lot of time ensuring your geotargeting within your content variants is on point. 

Ultimately, it depends on your long-term business goals. Are you a medium-sized retailer looking to expand solely into one or two European markets? Then perhaps a country-specific domain targeting users here is the way forward. If you’re an enterprise level business with a global footprint, then having everything tied into your main domain (for branding purposes as well as international SEO purposes) is likely a more scalable route forward.

How can businesses use backlinks and social media to improve their international SEO, and what strategies are most effective?

While a domain with a strong backlink profile within one market may perform well in terms of its search rankings and visibility due to its backlinks being from publications in that market, this may not be the case for its multilingual content.

Much like a localised content strategy, backlinks originating from publications in a specific target market matter. If a piece of content on Spanish is being linked to from relevant Spain-based publications, this sends strong signals to Google about its regional importance and will perform better than if it is receiving links solely from the UK or elsewhere. 

Get your content marketing and digital PR teams to follow your usual link prospecting steps, though again consider utilising a local specialist who may have knowledge and contacts of the key local publications to reach out to in order to get those relevant links. 

Tapping into the right publication with the right audience in one of your target markets can do wonders in bringing in high quality traffic and subsequent revenue from that region.  

How can businesses measure the effectiveness of their international SEO efforts, and what metrics should they use to evaluate success?

Like their international keyword research capabilities, many modern day third-party tools will also allow your SEO and content teams to monitor keyword rankings and traffic performance associated with your target regions. 

Metrics include target keyword ranking positions in global versions of search engines such as Google, as well as any shifts in traffic share from certain countries. Launching a big content localisation piece targeting France? Make sure your team are astute in keeping an eye on origin traffic location from tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics.

Ultimately, everything leads back to conversions and revenue. International SEO is a big investment both in terms of resource and spend, and even if your content has been well localised, ranks well abroad and is drawing in a fair share of traffic, users need to have the desire to purchase from you based on what they are experiencing in their respective markets.

How does international SEO fit into a broader digital marketing strategy, and what other tactics should businesses consider when expanding into new markets?

If you’re undertaking international SEO, whether as an established global brand auditing its existing international SEO credentials or looking to expand from your base market offering anew, then tying it in with other marketing efforts on a cross channel basis is crucial.

SEO is of course one channel, though if you truly want to establish yourself into new markets, consider operating multilingual social media profiles and launching paid search in international regions among other things. This will enhance your footprint in the region and will again multiply acquisition streams by connecting you with new audiences across the digital ecosystem. 

For example, having the localised infrastructure in place in the event a new customer discovers a piece of content via your international SEO efforts, such as a region-specific Facebook accounts to follow or language-specific customer services and CRM channels, will help in building customer loyalty overseas.

What are some resources and tools available for businesses to stay up-to-date on international SEO best practices and trends?

Google’s Webmaster Blog documentation will always publish up to date information on trends and tips within the international SEO space. 

In addition, popular publications such as Search Engine Land and Search Engine Roundtable will have dedicated sections on international SEO for your teams to explore.

There are also plenty of respected names on social media platforms – have your SEO team run a simple search on “international SEO” on platforms like Twitter/X or Threads and there will be plenty of experts to get tips from.

International SEO Case Study

Luxury fashion brand increase global revenue by 50% with a smart China-focused international SEO strategy.

Problem: A well-known luxury brand that knew it had a following among wealthy web users in China was struggling to cut through in terms of visibility on China’s leading search engine, Baidu, despite having a decent amount of localised content in Chinese.

Solution: As well as a retrospective review of the keywords used in the content with help of a native Chinese SEO specialist, the brand’s SEO teams got to grips with some of the ranking factor and algorithmical differences of Baidu compared to Google, and crucially, supplemented their efforts with a social media presence on Chinese social platforms WeChat and Weibo. This helped heighten their brand awareness, drive more traffic to their Chinese product pages and increase revenue from Mainland Chinese users.

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