Normally, when we think about international SEO, we would think about having different sites, translated content to our desired markets and a correct hreflang implementation.
However, international SEO goes further than that and in this guide we will explain why international SEO is so important, what you need to do to get the edge over your competitors and what are the best practices for your international SEO strategy.
What is International SEO?
International SEO is the process of optimizing your website(s) for driving organic traffic for multiple languages and/or regions. For example, when you target English and French speaking users on your US site, this is called multilingual SEO. If you target English speaking users from UK, US and AU you are doing multiregional SEO.
In most cases, you will need to target multilinguistic users from multiple locations. From our experience at Erudite, clients and marketers often forget the basic principal of SEO when comes to optimizing their sites and content for their international SEO – driving quality organic traffic with a high probability of conversion.
If you want to get the best from your international SEO strategy, please follow this guide up to the end.
Why is International SEO Valuable for your Business?
For most businesses, targeting multiple markets is a great way to grow their audience and revenue. In most cases, the competitors will focus on international SEO only as a last resort which means that you will get the edge if you have a strong and well executed international SEO strategy.
So, in order to be successful when comes to international SEO, you need to localize rather than just translate your content. A perfect example is sports footwear – if you want to sell your goods across multiple countries you will need than to consider the number of different measurement systems, the local currencies and any cultural context.
International SEO is about offering your target audience the best experience, making them feel at home effortlessly. Therefore, you need more than just translating your content, you need to understand and reflect any differences within your site. In short, you need to really know your target audience.
How will Google/Bing Understand your Intended Audience?
We frequently find websites where search engines have not ranked them for the intended content for the intended market. The reason for this is that the search engine did not understand our intended audience properly, due to our inability to setup/maintain the correct hints for it.
The most important hints we should go through are:
- Domain hints – if you are using a ccTLD, such as .co.uk, the search engine will assume that you target the British audience;
- Backlink profile – if you most backlink are coming from domains with co.uk and you have English content, then your website will be most likely be shown to the UK market;
- Content language – if you have been using the British English, which is slightly different from American English, is most likely that Google will understand your site is localized to UK;
- Hreflang hints – the presence of hreflang attributes will communicate what audience you are targeting;
- Webmaster tools – you can setup your audience within your GSC by choosing language and/or geo target;
- Business listings – choosing location for your Google My Business listings and/or Bing’s Places for Business;
- Content–language HTML attribute – the presence of content-language HTML attribute for hints about the intended target audience can be used within your site code.
International SEO Best Practices
Here are some of the best practices for your international SEO strategy and we use them to address and avoid most common mistakes whenever we work with a client on their international focus.
#1. No cloaking – When you serve different versions of content to users and search engine is considered that you are cloaking. This tactic used to be a popular practice among black-hat SEOs back in the day, when the user was shown a totally different page then the search engine crawler.
#2. No auto-redirecting – Do not force a redirection for your user and/or search engine based on their IP address or browser location. It’s a bad experience for a user to be auto-redirect to a different page and in some cases, search engine crawlers (especially Google) can have difficulties to find your entire content.
Good practice would be to actively let visitors and search engines know about an alternative version of a page by showing a banner at the top/bottom of the page; also, adding links to different localized versions of the content could improve your user experience.
#3. Use dedicated URLs – We strongly recommend using dedicated URLs for serving each localized content variant instead of localization parameters in URLs. The reason why we avoid using localization parameters in URLs is that you wouldn’t be able to use the hreflang attribute and also, your webmaster tools wouldn’t support this option when comes to defining your intended audience.
#4. Avoid automatic translation tools – When localizing websites, don’t use automatic translation tools (machine translation) because most of these tools would translate word by word from one language to another, making the translation unnatural and non-human-readable.
#5. Use the hreflang attribute – The hreflang attribute is used to indicate what language your content is in and what geographical region is targeted. You can implement the hreflang attribute by sitemap markup, HTTP headers or having it into your site <head> section of your HTML.
Here are some of the best practices you should use when comes to hreflang attribute:
- Always have bidirectional hreflang attribute references;
- Correctly define language and region combinations (use only ISO names);
- Ensure that the hreflang attribute and canonical URL match;
- Reference the page itself and its translated variants;
- Use absolute URLs when defining your hreflang attributes;
- Use only one method mentioned above;
Getting International SEO Right
To ensure your website is successful internationally, you need to optimize your content for regional intent, to properly setup your hreflang attributes and to really understand your audience.
Just remember that users in your targeted countries would benefit from a better experience within your site by making them “feel at home” – you need more than just translating your content, you need to understand and reflect any differences within your site. In short, you need to serve them high quality translated content and to have your international SEO tactics executed flawless.