Take a closer look at your Google Analytics dashboard (Audience -> Location). You will probably notice that your audience isn’t coming only from your own country. A certain portion of visitors are accessing your platform from another location.
According to a recent report, 73.2% of internet users speak other languages other than English. Optimizing your website for country-specific search engines is, therefore, imperative.
Despite the fact that Google has provided excellent resources for multilingual & multi-regional websites, we have a lot of customers that come to us and ask how it works.
Through this guide we would like to clear up some of the myths regarding international SEO and help you expand your international presence.
Here’s what you’ll learn from our International SEO guide:
- 1. Do I Actually Need International SEO?
- 2. Identifying International SEO Opportunities
- 3. How to Set-up International Targeting
- 4. Planning your International Growth
- 5. Monitoring your Performance
1. Do I Actually Need International SEO?
Like all things SEO-related, international SEO is difficult, time-consuming, and costly.
Obviously, geo-targeting can help you compete on the global market and reach out to countries that are driving ecommerce sales growth, but are you prepared to translate your entire site in different languages, and then optimize these versions for specific SERPs, traffic and conversions?
You should consider international SEO if:
· You are no longer satisfied with your local operations and want to take your business to the next level.
· Your business has a large worldwide customer base or you are operating in different countries.
· Developing a new web presence for specific countries & languages will result in more traffic & better conversions.
· You have the time and financial means to develop an International SEO plan.
If your business model doesn’t meet any of these conditions it is too early to think about international SEO. Securing ccTLDs for countries with high potential and creating alerts in your Google Analytics dashboard for international visitors should be enough, for now.
On the other hand, if developing international SEO seems like the best solution for your online presence, based on the aforementioned conditions, it is time to identify & assess opportunities.
2. Identifying International SEO Opportunities
2.1. Assess your Online Business Model
First and foremost, you have to consider your business model. Here are a few questions that you need to answer:
· How does your business work online?
· What are your online goals?
· How are you delivering your services/products?
· Are your services completely site-based or do you also offer local services?
· Do you have the capacity to deliver products/services globally?
· What are your business constraints?
Understanding the implications of going international from the beginning will save you a lot of time and resources. Failing to correctly evaluate your business’s strengths and weaknesses may lead to the inability of compensating international SEO expenses.
2.2. Audit the International SEO Potential of your Site
The next step is to discover if your website has a (potential) global audience by viewing your Google Analytics Data. Navigate to Audience -> Location to identify which countries your visitors are coming from.
If you want to see visibility for organic search listings simply add “organic traffic” as a second dimension (for multi-regional SEO).
Next you should check out language information from the Audience -> Overview -> Location report. This will give you a better idea of how you should approach multi-lingual SEO.
You can dig deeper and check organic traffic sources per language and country by navigating to the Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Channels tab. Click on “Organic Search”, then choose “Source” as your primary dimension.
As you can see, Google Analytics provides a wealth of information that will help you determine whether or not you should invest in international SEO.
I also recommend checking the Acquisition -> Search Engine Optimization -> Landing Pages tab and adding the “Country” as a secondary dimension to see how many international visitors are landing on your pages.
This information will help you ascertain whether or not your website is ready to take on the international stage.
Don’t Focus Only on Google
Google may be the most popular search engine in the Western World, but studies reveal that certain countries prefer their own search engines:
· Russia’s Yandex has 60% market share.
· South Korea’s Naver has 70% market share
· China’s Baidu has a market share of 75-80%
It is extremely important to find out what the most popular search engine is in the country that you are targeting with international SEO.
2.2. Research Potential International Search Markets
The final step to identifying international SEO opportunities is conducting research for potential international search markets. Keywords vary from one country to another, even for English-speaking ones.
Therefore, I recommend researching potential organic traffic, search phrases, competitors, and behaviour using tools such as SemRush.
Start by evaluating the keywords that you are already ranking for in targeted markets with SemRush.
Click on the “Top Organic Keywords” tab to pull-out the full list of keywords. Evaluate search volumes, CPCs, keyword difficulty, and competition.
If you are not ranking for any keywords, which is probably the case, you can conduct competitive analysis for similar websites. To do this you can check Alexa’s top 500 sites for each country or territory.
Copy-paste the domain link to SemRush, select your desired country, and export a list of relevant keywords.
You can also find keyword opportunities using Google’s Keywords tool. Simply select the appropriate location and language to begin your keyword research.
If you are not familiar with the language you will require language support from a native speaker. Here’s how a targeted search will look on Google Keyword Planner:
Other Keyword Research Tools:
· Ubersuggest (support for multiple languages)
· Google Trends (for top & rising related terms)
· Google’s Global Market Finder (for international opportunities)
3. How to Set-up International Targeting
Now that you have an idea about who your visitors/customer are and what key phrases are working for specific countries, it’s time to identify how you will target them. You have to make your site relevant, not only for non-english speakers, but also for English speakers from different countries.
For example, the US and UK may speak the same language, but they behave in fundamentally different ways, they expect customer support at different times of day, they use different currencies, and are interested in different topics, etc.
This is why your ultimate goal should be to create content that is appropriate to each region & language group.
3.1. Domain Structure
Depending on whether your targeting countries or languages, your website structure will vary. Let’s dive into the details of domain structure options.
There are three choices that you can opt for when setting up your domain architecture, each with its pros and cons.
Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD)
– ensures better ranking in SERPs for targeted countries.
– emits a strong geo-localization signal.
– Easy to market.
– Algorithmic updates on other ccTLDs will not affect it.
– Reliable method for S.E. to identify the origin of your site.
– Separate technical support & hosting costs.
– Requires a separate SEO strategy (content, links, etc.)
– Requires new links to rank.
– May be subjected to censorship.
– Crawled separately.
– Can use a local IP address.
– Easier to track in Google Analytics.
– Easy to manage.
– Suitable for small businesses and new entities.
– Can have a separate host.
– Requires a separate SEO strategy.
– Domain value is passed to the sub-domain.
– Difficult to set-up country sub-domains for different versions.
– Localization optimization is more complicated.
– one technical support domain
– easy to execute
– inexpensive compared to other solutions
– consolidates domain authority
– weak geo-localization signals
– difficult to maintain country directory for different versions
– affected by google penalties on the domain
– does not use a specific IP address for different sub-directories
3.2. Language Targeting
You should go for a language targeted approach when the location of your audience does not represent a factor that can influence services/products, content, and website goals. Websites can start with a language targeted approach and move towards a country targeted approach as they identify enough activity from a specific country.
· Sub-directory: Enable your main language on your root domain and set additional languages as sub-directories. This is one of the easiest and most effective solutions for language targeting. Because it inherits the properties of the root domain, your SEO efforts won’t have to be doubled on the sub-directory.
· Sub-domains: Set the main language as the www domain, and additional languages as sub-domains. This strategy is effective for a large number of pages. Although this solution is better for indexing a large number of pages it also requires separate link-building & SEO efforts.
3.3. Country Targeting
Your goal with country-targeting is to reach out to the right audience by creating specific versions of your site for different countries.
· Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD): Google has made it clear that they use ccTLD to determine geo-targeting. If you have the technical & financial resources to set up this type of domain structure it will be worth the investment.
· Sub-Domain: Enable your primary country in the domain root, then add additional country as sub-domains. Each sub-domain must be optimized & promoted separately.
· Sub-Directory: The main country appears as the sub-domain and additional countries are created as sub-directories. This solution requires additional geo-localization efforts.
4. Planning your International Growth
Needless to say, you will have to populate your website with multi-lingual content. Properly translating a page can be extremely difficult.
“Do not put your website’s text into Google Translate and then slap that up on your foreign language website. The results will be bad for your visitors, not to mention your SEO efforts.” – Source: Forbes
Most translation tools are inaccurate and confusing. If you’ve ever read translated spam comments you probably understand what I’m talking about.
Professional translators aren’t only masters of words. They understand the country’s local culture and the language’s nuances. This is extremely important for customer-centric businesses.
4.2. Hreflang Mark-up
The hreflang tag (rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x”) is used to tell search engines like Google or Yandex, which language/location you are using on a specific page. The use of hreflang helps you avoid country or language misalignment issues in SERPs.
These tags should always be included in the header area of your site’s HTML code (in the HTTP header), or specified in the XML sitemap (more info here).
Here’s how a hreflang annotation looks like:
<link rel=”alternate” href=http://yoursite.com hreflang=”en-us”/>
Suggested Tool: hreflang tags generator
Hreflang tags must be added to all your pages, within the page grouping.
4.3. On-page SEO
Your goal with international on-site SEO is to optimize your pages so that it is easier for search engines to geo-locate them and identify their relevance.
Assuming that you are already familiar with the basics of on-site SEO (if you aren’t, read this guide), I will only mention the need to use relevant keywords in your URLs, titles, headings, ALT descriptions, page content, meta-descriptions, menu, and navigation elements.
Pro-tip: Use html “content-language” and “lang” meta-tags to help search engines like Bing determine what countries or languages your pages are targeting.
Easy navigation is also an important SEO ranking factor. You should suggest relevant international versions of your site to visitors. By tracking IP addresses and browser language you can automatically suggest a relevant version of your site in a non-intrusive way.
Lastly, you should ensure that all your sub-domains and sub-directories are targeting the right geo-location if you aren’t using ccTLDs. You can do this from your Webmaster Tools under Search Traffic -> International Targeting (for Google).
Link-building strategies for regular SEO also apply to international SEO. The only difference is that you will have to focus on a different geographical area. In other words, your goal is to obtain links from relevant ccTLDs as well as relevant languages.
Let’s say you have a German page on your site. What better way to prove relevancy than by obtaining links from other German domains? Nevertheless, you should never reject links from other gTLDs or ccTLDs in favour of 100% relevant domain extension links.
Great links will always be great links. As long as you build a healthy mix of .de’s and normal links, and vary your anchor texts, your link profile will benefit your off-site SEO efforts.
Another important thing that you need to do is to acquire links from pages that are written in the same language as your page. This will significantly boost your off-page relevance and improve geo-location for your page.
5. Monitoring your Performance
After you have optimized all your pages and launched the international version of your website you have to monitor performance for each language and country. You should also keep an eye on the performance of your keywords using SemRush or Authority Labs. Constantly check your Google Analytics to ensure that international visitors are converting according to your company’s goals.
Clayton Johnson is the CMO of The HOTH SEO company. He has over 8+ years experience in the SEO industry and has spoken at events like SEJ Summit. The HOTH has been featured in Inc 5000, Forbes, SMX, Pubcon, Content Marketing World, Affiliate Summit, Brighton and more.