International SEO is critical to any business that wants to expand its demographics or diversify its customer base or clientele. International SEO can lead to long-term stability in a global market. It can also provide a foundation for scalability, which means your marketing strategy can easily be adjusted to meet evolving demands as your business grows.
1. Specify Your Target Audience
Start by Identifying Your Strongest Current Languages and Countries
Begin your initial research by zeroing in on your own current conversions, visibility, and traffic when it comes to the international market. Analyze your existing website using Google Analytics' Geo Reports, which can be found in the "Audience" section.
You're going to need to identify the languages and countries that are already producing traffic and organic search visibility, as well as the volume and trend of that traffic and visibility coming from each country and language. Identify the hot keywords and pages that drew the most traffic in the top global markets, and then identify the click-through rate and conversion rate coming from those countries. Finally, identify the conversion trend and volume.
To supplement Geo Reports, go to "Search Queries" in Google Webmaster Tools data and filter geographic locations.
So, now you should have isolated the international countries and languages that are currently your top markets, as well as the behavior of the visitors from those countries who speak those languages. Now it's time to size up the potential for each target market you've identified.
Use Keyword Research to Identify the Countries and Languages With the Most Potential
In order to determine which regions and languages have the most demand and highest sales for your product or service — as well as which regions and languages are already being targeted by your industry — you're going to need some tools to conduct thorough keyword research.
- SEMRush: This tool provides insight into as many as 25 countries by enabling users to search by keyword or website.
- Google Keyword Planner: Although Yandex and Bing also have useful keyword tools, Keyword Planner is the most helpful to find relevant keywords. Accomplish this by selecting the appropriate country and the appropriate languages in the options.
- SuggestMrx: Users can glean information from both Google and YouTube Suggest by choosing from 11 countries and six languages.
In your search to find which international audiences are the most appropriate to target in a global SEO campaign, it is crucial to remember that multilingual SEO can only work when you provide products or services in those same languages. Therefore, determining which languages reach the largest international audience, as well as which languages are the most relevant, has to be based on native language support. It is important to remember that, because of localization, this holds true even if your campaign targets another English-speaking country
So now you've checked your site for current traffic and organic search visibility from other countries and languages, and you've conducted keyword research for those countries and languages. Now it's time to develop your marketing strategy and figure out how to internationalize your website.
2. Develop Your Marketing Strategy
It is usually better to target by country, but constraints on business, technology, or resources mean that is not always possible. In that case, businesses may target by language. In some cases, where there are sufficient resources available, they may target by both country and language.
A good way to make the determination is to ask if location is a factor in your Web operation. If not, target by language. If the answer is yes, ask yourself if there are enough conversions and traffic from the countries you analyzed. If so, target by country. If not, target by language.
Creating an Internationally Targeted Site
When selecting the domain structure that is most appropriate for your site, you will choose from either country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), subdirectories, or subdomains.
Because they are reserved for countries, states, or territories, ccTLDs are used to designate full sites for a foreign market. .au, .us, .uk, and .jp are all examples of ccTLDs. The benefit of using ccTLDs is that they help convince Google that you are a legitimate business that is targeting consumers in that specific country, and that your site is credible and authoritative.
When designating pages within your site to different foreign markets, it is appropriate to use subdirectories. Subdirectories are a good option for businesses that have a generic top-level domain (gTLD), which is a ccTLD that doesn't correlate to a specific country, such as .com. In this case, subdirectories will enable you to go without an unnecessary level of depth to your Web structure. This method may require more effort, but it will make it easier to isolate your different web versions if you're indexing a lot of content. Sub-directories add complexity, but they may be necessary with gTLDs.
Here is how they should be set up:
Targeting by Country
- ccTLDs: MyAwesomeBusiness.es > MyAwesomeBusiness.es/categoria-a/
- Subdirectories: MyAwesomeBusiness.com/es > MyAwesomeBusiness.com/es-es/categoria-a/
- Subdomains: es-es.MyAwesomeBusiness.com > es-es.MyAwesomeBusiness.com/categoria-a/
Targeting by Language
- ccTLD’s: MyAwesomeBusiness.es/categoria-a/
- Subdirectories: MyAwesomeBusiness.com/es > MyAwesomeBusiness.com/es/categoria-a/
- Subdomains: es.MyAwesomeBusiness.com > es.MyAwesomeBusiness.com/categoria-a/
At Gryffin Media, we chose to target by language using a gTLD:
This way we are leveraging the authority of the domain by using subdirectories while reaching both an English and Spanish language audience around the world.
Geo-Locating Your International Sites
Be consistent and don't mix different kinds of targeting and structures. If you do, they may end up making things more complicated and you could create pages that compete with each other. Also, don't use URL parameters as markers of language or country because it makes tracking more difficult. Each language and country should have its own Web structure. This way they can each be crawled, indexed, and ranked. Avoid cookies or scripts to show the language version in the same URL.
In order to make sure that they display the right content to the right user, Google uses hreflang annotations — which use numerical codes to specify language — to identify the language and country targeting of a page. Google thinks the simplest way to implement hreflang is to include an HTML link in every page header. For non-HTML files, it can be placed in the HTTP header. If there are too many international Web versions, it can go in the XML Sitemaps.
Canonicals can also be used, as long as they are used to fix issues with content duplication inside of the same international Web version. In cases like these, hreflang tags can be used in conjunction with the rel=canonical annotations.
Make sure you set up all of your domains/subdirectories/subdomains on Google Webmaster Tools. Through GWT you can tell Google who each version of the site is targeted to, plus you can upload the specific site map for each target market.
Other webmaster tools you can use are:
- Flang Hreflang: Use this validator after implementing hreflang.
- DeepCrawl: Check multiple pages with less effort.
- ScreamingFrog: Like DeepCrawl, this SEO crawler should be used for page management.
3. Executing an International SEO Campaign
Search Keywords in the Local Language and Analyze Local Customs
Multilingual keyword research is essential, but it's not as simple as taking the English keywords and translating them into the language of the target market. Translation does not take into account local dialects, adopted terms, colloquialisms, and other nuances that can't be translated through software, even in when it's an English-speaking country ("holiday," for example, is often used as a verb in Great Britain). Enlist a professional translator who lives or has lived in the target country.
When researching the keywords, analyze the data regarding search trends. This includes which keywords are working and not working for your direct competitors. Make sure to check data for all the keyword variants.
But it is important to dig deeper than language. It is imperative to gain a deep understanding of local and regional etiquette, aesthetic and social norms. This has to be localized past the national level (images of the Confederate flag, which fly over some statehouses in capitals of the American South, for example, may be deeply offensive to some people who live in Northern states).
Social media sites, and the habits of the people who use them, vary wildly from region to region.
On-Page Optimization and Global Social Media
Once local Web addresses have been established and local language and customs are out of the way, it's time to think about other on-page optimization for the audience in your target market. This includes local link-building. Acquiring links from local websites in the local language bolsters credibility and looks good to Google. Strive for as many links on your international site as you have on your site at home, and adhere to traditional link-building best practices. Also, be sure to get your contact information listed in local directories, and involve yourself with local networks.
It is of obvious importance to establish a social media presence in your target country. This means learning about the various social media networks and habits of the people who use them, and how they differ from region to region.
- South America has the highest percentage of Twitter users and bloggers.
- In India, social media revolves around online gaming and music sharing.
- Qzone is the Facebook of China, dominating the country's social media landscape.
- Orkut is owned by Google, and dominates Brazil and much of India.
- Facebook reigns supreme in Western Europe and North America.
- VKontakte resembles LinkedIn and is the overwhelming force in Russia.
Google Analytics is a powerful tool for analyzing the success of your new international site.
4. Analytics and ROI
It's important to get the right tools to start the job of analyzing progress and calculating return on investment.
- Google Analytics will help you generate detailed statistics about traffic, the origin of that traffic, conversions, and other key indicators.
- International SEO ROI Calculator is a tool that measures ROI in relation to your SEO campaign.
- Moz Rank Tracker: Measures rankings from relevant countries, in relation to visits and conversions.
When attempting to measure ROI, resist the urge to look at it purely as money invested vs. money gained, and take into consideration exposure and visibility. Take into account the economic and cultural variables when analyzing the success of your efforts. Now is the time to determine whether or not the added revenue is worth the extra expense for international marketing.
International SEO is worth the investment in time, money, and intellectual resources if it improves a business's global reach, expands their customer base, and offers them long-term stability in a global market. Specify your target market, develop your marketing strategy, execute your campaign, and follow through with analysis of ROI.
Have you started an International SEO campaign?