International SEO

International SEO is the process of optimizing your website so that search engines can easily identify which countries you want to target and which languages you use for business.

Do you need to go international?

If you know that a good share of your website visitors come from a different country than where you’re located, speak different languages, or both, then it may be time to make some changes to your website to create a better experience for all of your international visitors.

On the surface, international SEO may seem like a totally foreign concept, but in reality, you may be more familiar with it than you know. Think of international SEO as geotargeting, but instead of optimizing your website to attract traffic from your city or state, you’re optimizing it for different countries and languages.

If you’re looking to create a completely internationalized site (i.e., one that specifically targets a different country and a different language), your high-level to-dos for accomplishing this “international geotargeting” are threefold:

  1. Specify your target country and/or region with an international-friendly URL structure (country targeting).
  2. Establish which language your pages are targeting with the use of language tags (language targeting).
  3. Create and maintain content in your target users’ language(s). These are the raw materials with which you’ll actually rank.

Sometimes, you may be only looking to target a specific language or a specific country. In these cases, you may only want to work towards one or two of those three goals. Say, for example, you have an online clothing company that specializes in T-shirts with slogans in Spanish. Since Mexico is just as relevant to your business as Spain, you’d want to target the Spanish language, but not any specific country.

How is International SEO Different from Regular SEO?

Your global sites should not be the “copied and pasted” version of your home country website in different languages, though I see that happen to many websites.

Yes, translation and localization of website content are one of the first steps. But then, you need to optimize the sites for each country’s local audience from messaging and offerings to the overall user experience of the site.

A site with popular and well-performing content in the U.S. market may not do as well in Asia or in South America and may require additional content edits and optimization work.

While you pay attention to each site, you must keep an eye on the overall performance. Otherwise, your websites may be competing against each other or the worst case, may not be indexed at all.

For example, your website designed for Mexico should not outrank or appear in the search results in Spain, if you have a different site designed for Spain.

If you misuse the canonical tag or hreflang tag, certain sites may not be indexed by the search engines, or create duplicate indexing.

Should I Go Global? and Where Is My Market?

If you are not sure about the opportunities in different countries or have some convincing to do with your bosses, it’s always a good idea to review some market reports, stats, and even your own website data.

Here’s some information that you can use to decide or prioritize the countries/markets to go after.

  • Government and trade organization websites, such as Trade.gov and WTO.org provide the latest international business and trade news and statistics.
  • Many companies provide Internet-related reports and statistics, such as Internet World Stats, Econsultancy, McKinsey & Company, and eMarketer. There are numerous sites providing information about specific countries, too.
  • Your own analytics data. Do you see anyone visiting your site from other countries? Is there any country that sends more traffic to your site than other? It’s worth paying attention, especially if any of them are converting already.

What Kind of Hosting Should I Get?

The location of the website host was one of the important signals for the international SEO related to the geotargeting.

However, it’s not as important now that we have other ways to correctly indicate your website’s target market to the search engines and regionally managed CDNs.

The host location has a large impact on the page speed. Make sure that your site can be accessed in the target countries quickly.

How Should I Go About Alternative Geotargeting?

Perhaps, geotargeting is one of the simplest practices where many websites make mistakes as site owners moved from ccTLDs and local market hosting.

There are several ways to geotarget your websites and pages. Here are some of the popular methods:

  • Geolocation assignment in Google Search Console
  • Hreflang tag for Google
  • Language meta tag information for Bing

Side Note: Recently, Google started to generate the search results based on the searcher’s location no matter which local version of Google a searcher is using.

For example, you used to get different search results from Google.com than Google UK (google.co.uk) or Google Australia (google.com.au) even when searching for the same keyword.

But now, you will get the same results in all three Google searches unless you do that search in three different countries.

Google or Not Google?

While Google is by far the most popularly used of the search engines around the world, in some countries, there are locally grown search engines that are far more popular than Google.

If your target country is one of those below, you’ll need to pay some extra attention to monitor these local sites and for additional optimization work.

  • China (Mainland, Simplified Chinese language)
  • Russia and Eastern European Countries
  • South Korea

What Else Should I Consider Before I Go Global?

One of the biggest challenges that most companies with global websites face, even the multinational Fortune 100 companies, is the local resources.

No one has the luxury of having unlimited resources in each target country, and this can become a major bottleneck especially since SEO is not an “one-off” project but requires continued efforts.

The key is to plan-ahead the task and responsibility allocation between the headquarter and local offices such as:

  • Technical resources: IT and web operation
  • Language resources: Content localization and optimization
  • Website data analysis: Reporting and identifying SEO opportunities

Now, you may not have any offices or representatives in other countries, or no resources available in local offices. In those cases, you need to consider whether you’d want to hire one or multiple outside resources.

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what are the additional elements you need to take into consideration for a successful international SEO process?

It’s important to understand what it takes in order to effectively plan your resources and actions with the required time and scope.

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