If you are a business selling products internationally, you need to invest careful thought about how to establish your brand on a global scale. It is here that some businesses fall short as SEO done internationally can be quite complicated and can cause frustration if not executed well. The concept of International SEO, therefore, needs to be demystified and it needs to be spelled out so that your site is open for new markets to enter. This will surely prevent making a few expensive and fatal mistakes.
Here are a couple of points to remember for brands that want to go global in terms of International SEO:
Failing to plan is planning to fail! Planning is the first step that you need to take. This includes selecting the particular URL structure, for example, the gTLD, ccTLD, subdirectories, subdomains etc. There are innumerable decisions to be taken on the URL structure itself. You also need to plan ahead and decide upon the hreflang tags that aid local searches, the canonical tags that will help you to track plagiarized content etc. In the case of international markets, it’s important to understand both the how and what users are searching for. Research to find out the buying culture, expectations from brands, shopping habits as these vary from country to country. These require thorough planning and research and even the smallest of aspects cannot overlooked.
Selecting a ccTLD – A ccTLD stands for country-code top level domain. It is a domain name to show that a particular content is related to a certain country. A ccTLD, flag choice and Hreflang should be cohesive. In case, someone from France logs in and finds the flag to be “.esp”, he/she would leave thinking the site to be irrelevant. If your site is geo-located somewhere other than the target zone, it will never rank in another country. To solve this issue, correct signals need to be given to Google so that it understands that the ccTLD belongs to your core business website. This is done by verifying both the sites with the Google Search Console account. Once each site is verified in one account and the unique country location is set for each domain, Google will know how to identify the ccTLDs for the correct location and give strong geo-targeting signals to the search engines. But this is applicable only if you are targeting countries and not languages.
Should you just rely on Hreflang? A Hreflang tag, basis a visitor’s IP address, puts a version of your web page in the local language. It can be placed in the sitemap, in the HTTP header or within the on-page markup. You need to choose one because listing in multiple locations ensures that input errors are minimized and crawlers are not confused. With the expansion of your business to foreign lands, it is easy to update the hreflang inputs. But you cannot totally rely on Hreflang alone. Google at times can serve the wrong website, resulting in poor UX and bad SEO. This can be mitigated by ensuring that the copy is unique. Also implement a geo-redirect for retaining the user.
Keyword research – All businesses that have international expansion plans on their agenda will conduct market research. For the research to be fruitful, do not use literal translations. These might either be inaccurate or irrelevant to the target group. Local keyword research becomes important when you get to see a rise in organic traffic from a foreign market. Study the keywords that your competitors are using in the same area. This can help in fine-tuning your own. Once you are done with the first step, do not stop the improvement process. Try and find more and more new keywords that suit your product. This list of keywords will build up and cater to highly specific search queries. These are the ones that the audience type in the search boxes to come to your website. Then you need to track the progress of these keywords.
Yandex, Google or Baidu – which one to choose? The next step for companies that want to go global is to select a search engine. You need not completely rely on Google and pick the engine according to the target country.
Google (Global Leader)
Yahoo (Japan and Hong Kong)
Seznam (Czech Republic)
Naver (South Korea)
Each search engine has its unique algorithm and analytics tools for keyword tracking in multiple locations. Correct tools need to be used while optimizing content for Yandex, Baidu, or Naver. SEO as an industry has grown to be sophisticated to the extent that insights have become critical to any organic search strategy- irrespective of whether it is international or domestic. If we take China, we can clearly see that Baidu is by far, the most popular search engine. It has approximately 75% of the market having recently faced a few challenges from nascent platforms.
Culturally customized content – Ensure that the optimized keywords make sense to the target audience. It is a wise decision to find a native speaker who will do a detailed keyword analysis and test them in the target country. Understand the language and culture so that your website is able to communicate with your target audience. Apply a compatible methodology across countries for developing smart content that speaks above the clutter. Most conventional SEO agencies often fail to provide this level of comfort as they lack the skills of language and culture. And this is where an International SEO agency can help you cross the roadblocks.
Preparing a unique international SEO strategy per market is a complex process with a solid keyword research per market being of utmost importance. You can start with keyword research, content planning and then get onto the implementation of a long-term plan for URL structure. If this is done, you can enter into the new markets with a sound international SEO strategy to promote your brand’s reach.
Author Profile – Udo Leinhäuser – translator, author and pilot with 20 years’ experience in the language services industry. As the founder of i-seo.works, he has extensive experience in the field of International SEO and has shown in numerous large-scale projects that successful International SEO is derived to a large extent from linguistic and intercultural competence.