In our last blog about international search engine optimization (SEO for short) we talked about how moving your products or services into new markets means upping your SEO game. High positions on search rankings require planning and investment and don’t happen by accident. You might have cracked it at home but a new country and a new language is a whole different story.
International SEO strategy can involve adding languages, adapting content, nurturing new backlinks, redesigning your website’s user interface and more. And of course, a few technical adjustments are also very helpful, more of which later.
SEO practices make sure Google and other search engines can easily recognize which countries and therefore which customers your company’s website is trying to reach. Done properly, SEO will make the search engine’s job straightforward and give your online presence a nice push up the rankings.
To put it simply, international SEO radically helps increase your visibility in your target markets, helps establish your brand in different countries and as a consequence will win you more customers. Heck, it’s pretty darn crucial!
Let’s look at what you can do to make your life easier when you’re planning and implementing an international SEO strategy. And yes, there might be some references to the mystical world of website structures but only briefly because it’s a bit of another dimension to us too!
5 Best Practices
While it can be a complex process, international SEO is highly achievable and following some basic good practices should lead to successful outcomes. Here are the ones we think are the most useful.
- Research, research, research.
It’s vitally important to know exactly which markets will work best for your company and why. Before taking the plunge into new waters, doing your homework will mean less chance of a wasted effort or squandered opportunity. Always use data to back up your decisions.
No two markets are the same and doing specific research for each one is unavoidable. Consider who your competitors might be in that market, what sort of content marketing and paid advertising they’re doing and look at which relevant keywords they rank for. Think about the keywords that apply to your products and look at their volumes in the new region. And don’t forget to check other search engines as well as Google.
- Language matters
Think carefully about which languages you should use. Although the English language dominates the internet, people usually engage better with onscreen content when it appears in their native tongue, especially when they’re making a purchase. Creating a seamless user experience for your website visitor is a must . Adapting to their preferred language and cultural expectations is key and will assist your SEO too.
Don’t forget that country and language don’t always correspond. There are some straightforward examples obviously: Germans speak predominantly German, the French, French and so on. But countries like Canada have two official languages, English and French and all websites usually cater for both. Belgium has three and Switzerland has four official languages so if you’re targeting customers in these countries you might have to think about providing them all, depending on who you’re aiming your content at. And those examples look uncomplicated compared to somewhere like India which has twenty-two official languages!
What’s more, even if the language is the same, there will be variations and cultural differences that need to be addressed. An American living in the US might search for ‘biscuits’ but would expect a very different result from someone living in the UK. Localizing content for both audiences would therefore be advisable. Although Google suggests that variants of the same language shouldn’t hurt rankings there is evidence that localization boosts search results.
Big companies like Apple let you select your language and your region and Apple’s main website supports over 100 languages. But Apple isn’t the norm and your company will in all likelihood, make a well researched language and localization choice.
Knowing your audience will give you a head start.
- Let’s get technical
Although unconfirmed by the tech giant itself, it’s likely that language has an influence on Google’s search rankings. The website Search Engine Land lists a site’s language as an ‘unconfirmed but suspected ranking factor’.
Making sure Google knows exactly what language your webpages are in and where your audience lives will help it display your website in the most appropriate search results .
There are several ways of doing this.
Your choice of domain name and website structure is important. Country coded top level domains (ccTLDs) are a favorite with Google and according to Moz are ‘the single strongest way to show search engines and users that site content is specifically targeted to a certain country or region.’ These are website addresses that end, for example, .fr or .uk or .au and are easily recognizable. ccTLDs are effective because they specifically target a single country but do require more infrastructure and can be expensive.
Another option is using a subdomain which takes the .com or .net type of web address and adds a country specific domain. This method is relatively simple and not as expensive but has less authority. Subdirectories are another possibility and are essentially like a different section of the existing website. The advantage of using a subdirectory is that it is flexible and easy to scale. However there is little geotargeting and using Google Search Console to add geographic precision is advisable.
In order to send clear signals about your language identity and location, Google encourages adding Hreflang tag attributes. This is HTML code that you add to your website to be sure that the Google algorithm knows which language you’re targeting and in which country. Hreflang tags enable Google to show the right version of your website to the right users.
- Good to know
Although it might seem like a helpful addition, automatic redirection according to a user’s IP address should be given a wide berth. Don’t make assumptions about language preferences based on location. Give the user the option to switch languages easily but don’t do it for them. Redirecting them automatically could mean poor user experience or, at worst, the loss of a potential customer.
Google also advises against providing content in different languages on the same webpage. It might be tempting to provide a translated version of your text on the same page as the original but search engines don’t like it. They much prefer a clear and distinct language which they can identify effortlessly.
Which brings us nicely to…
- Machine Translation
Again, although tempting, machine translation for website localization is still best avoided, especially if you don’t plan to employ an expert linguist to review it thoroughly. When it comes to understanding cultural nuance and language context, machines can’t match a human translator and errors are commonplace. The risk is that user experience could be significantly damaged by poor machine translation and the ensuing lack of quality content could harm search engine rankings.
Using native or localized content and carefully researched keywords is a much safer bet.
Of course AI-driven technology is making progress almost daily and marketers are increasingly looking for ways to use it as a tool to augment creativity and productivity. For now though, a human touch remains the better option.
A great opportunity
International SEO is undoubtedly complex and will vary according to each individual company’s characteristics and objectives, but when it’s done well it can give your company a real competitive advantage. It drives more traffic to your site and will help a new audience in new markets discover your products and services. In short, when you expand your company globally, effective international SEO can bring significant rewards.
t’works offers optimized website and SEO localization for companies in all sectors. Our decades’ long experience in assisting our clients with their globalization projects means we are experts in all components of this process, integration, automation, linguistic quality, multilingual content optimization and cost efficiency.
Chat to us today about any aspect of international SEO and website localization.