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Understanding International SEO

The rise of the search engine

If you were born after the mid-1990s, have you ever considered what we used to do before we had Google? Where did we get our information from? How did we find out the sports results or which films were on at the cinema or what time the supermarket closed? How on earth did we manage!?

You may well ask. Oldies like me remember encyclopedias, atlases and dictionaries located in city libraries and news delivered in paper format. And trips around lots of shops to find what you were looking for and weekly magazines delivered to your door with the television schedule.

Of course, we still use those things to some extent but for quick, up-to-date, relevant information, Googling has become the norm. I haven’t actually counted how many times a day I type a word or phrase into the Google search bar but I know it’s a lot. And I’m guessing you’re the same.

Search engines have an enormous influence. Google is by far the most frequently used across the globe with over 80% of the market share. However, Bing and Yahoo see considerable traffic and in Russia and China other engines are the preference. (In the former Yandex has more than a 59% share and in the People’s Republic Baidu has nearly 86% of users).

Billions of online searches are carried out every day and we depend on them giving us the answers to countless queries. They have the power to direct us to an infinite number of online destinations and we trust them to do just that. If you want your products and services to be seen online, ensuring your website is visible to search engines is important.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization is, according to the website MOZ, ‘a set of practices designed to improve the appearance and positioning of web pages in organic search results’. In other words, it is a strategy for enhancing your website so that it can appear as high as possible in the list of results that are shown after the search engine has crawled the internet. The higher up your website appears in these results the more traffic will be driven there and the more conversions will be made.

SEO typically includes using carefully considered keywords, creating pertinent and interesting content in a variety of formats and using quality backlinks often by engaging with industry influencers. Good SEO practice leads to a website that provides value to your users and a good visitor experience.

There are also important technical considerations for SEO and developers work to optimize software so that websites perform in the best way possible. Page speed and optimization for mobile devices are two examples of how improved usability is achieved through technical SEO and contributes to a site’s ranking.

It’s no easy task, however, getting your website to make an appearance at the top of the search rankings. Google’s algorithm is constantly changing and making sure you keep abreast of these changes is essential if you want to rank in the best possible position. Google now prioritizes quality over quantity and whereas once it favored websites with more content, now that content has to bring value and relevance. It’s no use just stuffing your content with appropriate keywords either. Google is wise to that tactic and now looks for keywords used in the right place and with a natural frequency.

SEO is an essential element in your marketing armory and requires careful planning and investment. When you decide to take your products and services into new countries, international SEO should be given as much, if not more, thought and attention.

Going global

The attractions of expanding into new markets in different counties are many. Moving away from a saturated domestic market, exposing your brand internationally and finding new revenue streams are a few of the enticing reasons. The push to e-commerce driven by the Covid-19 pandemic means many companies are now in a healthier position from a digital viewpoint than previously and have the tools at the ready to start selling online in new regions.

But it’s vital that all the work that is done on SEO in the home market shouldn’t be squandered during expansion into new markets. The post-pandemic move to online means that SEO has even greater importance than before and ensuring that your SEO is optimized for all your markets isn’t an option, it’s crucial.

Translation is not enough

Studies have proved that online shoppers have a strong preference for making a purchase in their native language. The oft-quoted but all important research done by CSA Research ‘Can’t read Won’t Buy’ clearly demonstrates that the vast majority of online consumers prefer to buy in their own language. Converting your website into the language of your target market then, is pretty much non-negotiable.

Unfortunately, simple translation won’t cut it. Offering your website in the new audience’s language is of course, vital, but all your content and website navigation should fit their cultural expectations. The user should feel completely at home on your website. In other words, these elements should be localized. The type of content you publish in the new language, the keywords and user experience all require localization and are all important for international SEO. When you localize them well, your website’s performance in the search engine rankings in your new market will be boosted.

New markets, new SEO plan

Localization happens when your products and services are adapted to the cultural preferences of a new region or new audience. This process can encompass many areas of your business but our focus here is website SEO. What we need to remember for international SEO purposes is that elements of your website like content, backlinks and keywords will need to be tailored to the target market. The aim is to ensure that search engines easily identify which region and language your webpages are aimed at and that the nature of the content corresponds to local searches.

Let’s look at an example.
A quick comparison of the British and French websites for the French sports retailer Decathlon shows immediately the impact of localization. As expected, language, currency, payment options, images and so on are adapted to the consumers of each nation, but more interestingly the actual content is subtly different.

The leading promotion on the British site is for wet weather clothes headlined ‘Take on the Rain’ which suggests a nod to the autumnal climate across the Channel (it was October when we checked the webpage). The French site runs with clothes that keep in the heat of the summer and its

homepage has a different layout and focus to the British site, whilst still having the same company branding and feel.

A blog piece on Decathlon’s secondary British site (dedicated to information around sport and exercise), featured an interview with a well-known British skier and television personality who would certainly not be household name in France. The French site didn’t have an equivalent for this piece but its extensive second site based around sport and fitness was bigger than the British version and had more health-related information.

In short, what British consumers are searching for in the context of Decathlon’s offering, isn’t the same as those in France.

Know your audience

Decathlon understands that to achieve a high rank in the search results for each of its region-specific websites, it must adjust its content accordingly. The team at Decathlon will also have thought carefully about which keywords and backlinks to use, as well as addressing elements of code and user experience optimization. They know that their company’s websites must answer the queries users are looking to answer in a particular area and offer value and trustworthiness to search engines.

Of course, each company will have very different needs and how international SEO is approached will vary enormously depending on business aims and the products and services in question.

Many companies may only adapt parts of their website for a new audience and won’t have to create a separate site for every region. Sometimes they might have to offer a new language in the same country to penetrate new markets (Spanish in the US for example) and sometimes they might need different content in the same language (think UK and US English, or the differences between Latin America and Spain). Sometimes there might be a case for keeping a keyword in the original language and sometimes a keyword might need to undergo transcreation to reproduce user intent.

The perks of international SEO

International SEO can be a complex process but it is one that can bring many advantages for companies prepared to take the time and make the investment. Neil Patel puts it very clearly, ‘international SEO helps bring your content, products and services to global search results and it’s the perfect way to grow your business.’

International SEO establishes your brand globally and can set you apart from your competitors. It ensures you reach your global audience and helps them access your products in a way that suits them.

If you get it right, international SEO could be a launch pad for your successful foray into fresh markets.

In our next blog we’ll take a close look at the more technical aspects of international SEO and suggest some easy-to-follow best practices. Stay tuned.

Get to the top of the rankings with t’works

t’works offers end-to-end website localization and can advise on all aspects of your international SEO strategy.

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