April 2022, there were 5 billion unique users online worldwide – over 60% of the world’s population. As more of the world goes online, how your company appears in search results has a greater impact on your company’s growth, reputation, and overall success. If your business doesn’t have a strong online presence or, worse, doesn’t show in search results at all, you may be losing opportunities to competitors in your industry.
To ensure that your business is putting its best foot forward online, you need to have a comprehensive strategy – and if your company serves or operates in more than one country, or is hoping to in the future, a key focus of your SEO strategy should be international.
SEO can be complicated enough. What does it mean to have an international SEO strategy? How do international SEO strategies differ from domestic strategies? When should you
start implementing an international strategy, and what makes an international SEO strategy effective?
We sat down with Zach Schell, International Strategy Manager at Status Labs, to help you determine when an international SEO strategy is right for your company or brand, and how to get the most out of your international SEO with answers to your international SEO FAQs.
What is international SEO, and how does it differ from domestic or local SEO?
International SEO as a term is pretty self-explanatory. Like any SEO, it is the process of improving your website’s ranking in search results for target keywords. What differentiates international SEO is that it’s a strategy that takes into account different countries, and all that entails.
The primary feature that sets international SEO apart is the fact that you are targeting specific locations that may have a different language, culture, or needs than the country you are based in. You will even need to take into account which search engine you want to target depending on which country you are looking to gain the most traffic from. For example, Yandex is Russia’s preferred search engine, and Baidu is China’s.
To succeed in ranking your website internationally, you will need to have your content offered in your desired countries’ languages, do careful keyword research, and make sure to capture the different locations’ regional tones and cultures in your content.
Your site will need to be optimized for the particular audiences you are targeting. This includes the site’s navigation, translation, formatting, imagery, and overall structure.
Just remember, as with anything with Google, you want to offer the best content for your audience. Making your site’s visitors feel like the page was created for them will help your visitors feel welcome and improve your SEO presence.
How do you know if you need international SEO?
If you’re considering implementing an international aspect to your SEO strategy, but are not sure if you need international SEO, there are questions you can ask yourself:
- Who is visiting your site?
- Where is traffic coming from?
- Are you based internationally, or do you serve international audiences?
- Do you operate in or serve one other country or several?
Before making any dramatic changes to your website, you should do your research about where your audience is and what your company can offer to that location. You can use Google Analytics to check where your visitors are searching from and the language they are searching in to gain more insight.
If you have determined that international SEO should be part of your strategy, there are things you can do to maximize your efforts and improve your rankings both domestically and abroad.
Why does international SEO matter?
Ecommerce research and analysis across the globe all show the same trend: it is growing quickly. The global e-commerce market is expected to expand by 18.7% a year for the next five years, and that number is even higher in less developed markets. For example:
- Philippines: 25.9%
- India: 25.5%
- Indonesia: 23%
- Brazil: 22.2%
- Vietnam: 19%
With these numbers rising as quickly as they are, you don’t want to be the last to form a global SEO strategy, particularly if you know your business does or will do international business. If your company is looking to expand into more regions or is currently looking to increase your SEO offering around the globe, the time to act is now!
How does keyword research change internationally?
When you search for something from a different location, either domestically or internationally, you will likely find very different results for even your most common keywords and brands.
As an example, if you were to search “how to cook a biscuit” in English while in London, you would get results on how to make what we call cookies here in the United States.
Regional searcher intent is very important (more on search intent here), and making a practice of exploring similar or comparable keywords to your target keywords is a great way to make sure your site and content are optimized correctly, particularly for different regions and countries.
Even looking up what languages you should publish your content in is important. For example, in Switzerland, you will find results for one keyword in German, Italian, and French.
Do I need to change my site to rank internationally? How do I go about doing that?
If you have determined your business is ready to begin implementing steps to reach a larger international audience, you will want to make a few choices on how to implement your international strategy for your site.
There are pros and cons depending on the strategy. Below we have a few examples of international domain structure:
#1 – Country- Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD)
This is one of the more common domain examples when people think about international website structures. For example, the .UK indicates to search engines what country this website is in (in this example, the country isEngland.)
http://www.yoursite.co.uk (United Kingdom)
http://yoursite.com.eu (European Union)
http://yoursite.中国 or http://yoursite.cn (China)
ccTLD websites are great to send geo-targeting signals to search engines; however, one important consideration when deciding if this strategy is for you is if you plan on reaching multiple countries and regions, you will need to purchase and create each of those domains, for example:
#2 – SubDomains
As you can see in our subdomain option, the country code comes before the domain name. These types of domains are much easier to create, as they can be done without creating a brand series of new websites; however, they send a weaker signal to search engines.
#3 – Subdirectories / SubFolders
In this instance, the country code comes after the domain name. Subdirectories allow you to host all versions of your site under one domain. They can be easier to maintain, and will have some of the SEO benefits of the host site; however, you will have to be intentional about targeting regions over languages to cut down on ambiguity for users and search engines.
What is the difference between a multilingual and multiregional website?
Two primary factors to consider when formulating and implementing an international SEO campaign are multilingual SEO and multiregional SEO. Google describes these two factors as:
- Multilingual: a multilingual website is any website that offers content in more than one language. For example, an athletic apparel company is selling clothes around the world. When searchers find the company online in Germany the content will be displayed in German and, in Australia, the site will be in English.
- Multiregional: a multiregional website is one that explicitly targets users in different countries. For example, the same athletic company will still translate to the searchers’ regional language, but the clothing options will differ based on region. The German company will offer ski and snowboarding equipment and, in Australia, the same company will offer surfboard and swimming equipment.
Both terms are very similar; however, you can have a domestic site be multilingual. For example, in the USA, it’s very common for sites to offer Spanish translations for their site due to the large Spanish-speaking domestic population.
Will my content in another language be penalized as duplicate content?
No… mostly no.
If you aren’t familiar, duplicate content can receive a penalty from Google. When it comes to international SEO and reusing content, there are certain things to take into consideration:
- AI-translated content is duplicate content. Automated translations will come off as spam to your reader as well as to Google. Using a native writer or a translator may be another task, but will help your site in the long run.
- Remember your audiences, especially their differences. For example, a post that is ranking well in the USA about rising home prices may not rank well internationally, but comparing USA home prices vs Europe home prices would have a much better chance to rank domestically and internationally.
- Reusing Content for International SEO. If you do have English blog content and several of the topics and themes would work internationally, my suggestion would be to create a slight rewrite of the content to match the regional tone a little closer and then translate it. You save on drafting completely different topics and blog posts, as well as sharing your overall brand to a new regional audience.
How should I run my website’s blog to take into account international audiences?
Content is one of the greatest tools in SEO, and this is true for international SEO strategies as well. While most (human translated) content will not be penalized as duplicate content, there are other considerations to take into account when running a blog in multiple different languages:
- As stated earlier, you want to avoid using AI translations to do any heavy lifting. These tools have come a long way, and will someday be capable of handling full-page translations; however, currently asking a translation tool to translate your 500-word blog post will leave your reader confused and feeling less valued, as it will come off as generic and potentially contain misinterpreted or confusing language.
- Employing a native speaker for particular countries and languages is always going to be the best option. While these writers can be difficult to find, your readers will notice and respond to the difference. If a native writer is not a current option, consider paying a native translator to translate blog content into your desired language.
- Don’t just recycle content. Take culture, current events, and any other industry-relevant factors into account when publishing international content. Conversations that are prevalent and active in one country may not be relevant or talked about in the same way in another. One of the worst things you can do to impact your online reputation is to appear tone-deaf, which is easy to do if you simply reuse content.
Does link-building matter for international SEO? How does it look different from domestic link-building strategies?
Looking to build international links can be very difficult, though many of the same domestic link-building practices apply. Reaching out to publications and bloggers with prompts and ideas can be time-consuming (as with any link-building strategy), but very effective for gaining regional backlinks.
Regularly monitoring where your competitors are building backlinks is another great option to see what you need to do to outrank their content or how to take advantage of those sites as well.
Another opportunity for building your international backlink profile is publishing a press release. Don’t be afraid to publish in multiple languages and desired regions, as this will land well in your desired country while also providing dozens of syndications that will expose your brand to new audiences and regions you have not reached before.
Platforms like Medium can also provide great opportunities to publish content in other languages.
If you are looking to gain access to several international sites, or are looking to create and implement an international strategy, you may want to look into partnering with an international SEO brand such as Status Labs. The difficulty of building an international strategy from scratch can be mitigated when you work with a firm like Status Labs that has experience with implementing successful international SEO strategies. To get a free consultation and determine if we are the right partner for you, click the button below.