Ready to cross borders and conquer foreign markets?
Tickets booked, bags ready, business plan polished? Great! But what about the invisible borders on the web?
Your success will be limited if your website doesn’t have the same visibility in foreign markets as it does locally. That’s where international SEO comes into play.
The Concept of Internationalization
As you might have guessed, international SEO takes the concept of SEO and applies it to a global market. It is designed to ensure that all content on your website — including product pages, landing pages, and blog posts — can be served in any target market, regardless of the language, currency, or culture.
International SEO focuses on optimizing and adapting a website to ensure it can be found in search engine results pages (SERPs) of a different country.
Investing abroad, if done right, can be highly rewarding. But it comes with its share of challenges, including global competitiveness and the need to localize content to meet different market demands.
Why Is it Necessary to Go International?
Taking a website global is far from an easy task. Unless you’re prepared for a long and tiring journey, chances are that your effort won’t pay off.
We could talk about the risks, uncertainties, and complexities of internationalization all day, but let’s focus on the positives.
Go international to reap the rewards of increased visibility and higher SERP rankings in foreign markets. Plus, you can tap into new customer segments and forge valuable relationships with customers abroad.
Here are some of the key benefits:
- Increased brand exposure
- Diversification of revenue streams
- Access to new markets and customer segments
- Desire to grow
- Opportunity to expand your market share
International SEO is the backbone of any international expansion strategy. It allows you to reach new customers and boost your bottom line, all while staying a few steps ahead of the competition.
Of course, if it’s done correctly — effective keyword research, optimized content for different regions, and setting up a localized version of your website.
International SEO is all about increasing visibility in foreign markets while ensuring an optimal user experience at the same time.
It goes without mentioning that the skill required to navigate the complex world of international SEO isn’t the same as local SEO. It takes a great deal of research and planning to craft a successful SEO strategy for a global market.
What’s international SEO?
Let’s paint a scenario.
Say you’re from Singapore and want to target customers in the United States. You’ve been receiving visitors from the US, and that’s turned on a lightbulb in your head. There could be some potential here.
So, you decide to invest in international SEO.
International SEO is the process of optimizing your website for different countries, languages, and cultures. It involves creating and optimizing content specifically for a particular market and setting up localized versions of your site.
International SEO involves a lot more than just translations. It requires research, strategy, and an understanding of the cultural aspects of different markets. In other words, it’s a lot more complex than regular SEO.
The Basic Principles of International SEO?
By principles, we mean the basics, the fundamental aspects, or the building blocks of an effective international SEO strategy.
These basics include:
#1. Keywords Between Regions
Here’s a simple exercise we want you to do:
Open two tabs, and in each tab, go to google.com and search for “Buy Shoes.”
In the first tab, click on the wheel icon at the top right corner of the page and go to “Advanced search.” Under region, select “United States.” Do the same exercise in the second tab, but this time select “Singapore.”
For the US:
You’ll notice that you get different results for each country. That’s because keywords vary from region to region, and understanding these differences is key to any successful international SEO strategy.
You can do this for as many countries as you wish, even for non-English speaking countries such as Spain, Japan, etc.
One thing you’ll notice is that even the language changes. There might be a few similar words, but things are usually different in how things are expressed.
So, why is That?
There are many factors at play here. Language, cultural norms, and even Google’s algorithms come into play. Different countries have different search trends, keyword relevance, and user preferences.
Looking at our example above, you’ll notice that Singaporeans aren’t big on shoe stores. Shoes are more of an impulse buy in the US, while Singaporeans would rather shop around for the right price.
So, to be successful with international SEO, you need to understand these differences and tailor your content accordingly.
You should have also noticed that each region has a unique language structure, specific vocabulary, expressions, and cultural nuances. Paying attention to these small details can make all the difference in how well your content performs in different countries.
That’s why one piece of content might be relevant in the US but not Singapore.
If the country speaks a different language, you don’t want to translate your content word for word. You also want to research how people in that region search for solutions to their problems and tailor your content accordingly.
You might also want to look into their slang, colloquialisms, and cultural influences to ensure your content is relevant.
Your goal here is to create content that resonates with the people in that region. It should be written in their language, using their words, and addressing their concerns.
Also, depending on the search engine, the dynamic may change. International SEO involves optimizing for multiple search engines. That includes Google, Bing, Yahoo, Baidu, and more.
Each search engine has its own set of rules that you should keep in mind when optimizing for them.
- Start searching on Google. x for local language results.
- Research the local market – understand their culture, language, and habits.
- Create localized versions of your content for each region, making sure to use the local language if applicable.
- Keep track of keyword changes between regions.
- Optimize for multiple search engines and make sure you follow their specific rules.
- Monitor and measure your results.
#2. Original and Quality Content Across Countries
The same old piece of content won’t do all the magic for you.
You need to create unique, quality content that resonates with people in each region, and your international SEO strategy should be focused on creating such content.
You need to understand what kind of content works in each country and how it differs from other countries.
You can start by looking at Google Trends and seeing what topics are trending in different countries. See what kind of content is getting the most attention, and then start creating content for those topics.
Make sure your content is interesting and informative, with a touch of cultural influence to make it stand out from other pieces of content. Also, use visuals to capture people’s attention — videos are especially effective in this regard, as they can be used to explain concepts easily.
That’s exactly where all the magic of international SEO is — more countries, more content, more points of comparison, more audience, and more success.
#3. International Domains and URLs
When it comes to international SEO, you want to ensure URLs are set up correctly.
That means having separate domains for each region and using localized URLs.
It also means having the appropriate language tags in all URLs, setting up payment options well-suited for each region, and so on.
Before you launch your website in a different region, you need to choose a domain structure that works for that region.
ccTLDs (country-code top-level domains)
These domains work best with internationally recognized brands, as they demonstrate your presence in the region.
What are ccTLDs?
A ccTLD (country code top-level domain) is an internet domain name that corresponds to the country where it’s used. Each country has its own two-letter abbreviation, such as “.us” for the United States or “.uk” for the United Kingdom.
These domains are popular among companies that want to establish trust with their international customers. They also help organizations target local markets and reach more people.
Subdomains differ from ccTLDs because they don’t correspond to a specific country.
With subdomains, you can create separate websites for each region without having to buy a new domain name for each one.
The subdomain approach works best for brands that want to keep the brand name intact but want to customize their services for different regions.
Subdomains allow you to keep the primary domain name while adding a specific region or language extension.
Suitable for well-established companies that don’t have a big budget, global brand recognition, or don’t have a significantly different product to sell.
Say you’re a service company offering services in multiple countries; you can use the following structure:
This approach allows users to easily find your website and understand exactly what’s available in each country or region.
#4. Use of Multilingual URLs
In addition to ccTLDs, subdomains and subdirectories, use HTML signals to help Google understand your international site.
That can be done with the hreflang tag. The hreflang tag allows you to specify the language and region for each page, so Google knows which version to serve users in each country.
For example, the following code tells Google to serve Spanish users the “es” (for Spain) version of the page:
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es” href=”http://example.com/es/” />
Similarly, this tells Google to serve French users in France with an “fr-fr” version of the page:
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr-fr” href=”http://example.com/fr/” />
Using hreflang tags helps ensure that users get the relevant language version of your website and provides Google with helpful context about your website.
According to Google, using a different URL for each language version of your website will send a clear signal to Google, determining the location and relevance of each page.
In other words, adopting a localized URL structure means your brand will rank higher in each region’s SERP than a generic URL structure.
The good news is that the implementation is fairly straightforward — you simply need to ensure all language versions of your website are linked with hreflang tags.
#5. 301 Redirect Strategy
Before migrating from a generic URL structure to a more localized one, you must ensure that the existing URLs still function correctly.
The best way to do this is by setting up 301 redirects from old pages to new ones. A 301 redirect tells Google and other search engines that a page has been permanently moved or removed.
Using the right 301 redirect strategy can help you maintain the SEO value of the old page without having to rebuild it.
For example, suppose you have a generic website with multiple language versions and want to set up a localized URL structure for each. In that case, your 301 redirect strategy should include redirecting all existing URLs from their generic version (example.com/page) to their localized version (example.com/uk/page).
That will ensure all links pointing to old pages are redirected to the new, more relevant ones.
#6. International Keyword Research
That’s the most crucial part of international SEO.
It goes beyond translating your keywords into different languages — you need to research and identify the local trends and vocabulary used in each target country.
Sometimes, you might want to hire a native speaker of your target language. The idea is to have someone who speaks the same language as people in that particular region.
Google translate might help you with the translation, but it doesn’t have the same level of accuracy as a native speaker.
It also doesn’t consider the cultural aspects and the local trends.
For example, if you’re targeting the French market, it’s essential to understand what people in France search for and how they phrase their queries.
You must research the keywords used in France, not just translate your target keywords from English into French.
Take the word car, for example. In Spanish, the word for car is Coche, but in Latin American Spanish, it’s usually “Carro.” In Dominican Spanish, it’s “Concho,” and in Cuban Spanish, it’s “Chivi.”
As you can see, just finding out that a particular region speaks Spanish isn’t enough. You need to research and find the local terms for your target keywords.
You need a native speaker who lives in that particular region, speaks the same language, and is familiar with the local culture to help you identify the right terms to use in that region.
Once you have identified and localized the target keywords, it’s time to update your website content.
#7. Translate Your Store Content
Your website content needs to be localized for each target country. That includes product descriptions, blog posts, and web pages.
You must get it right — not only because it can affect your SERP rankings but also because consumers are more likely to purchase from a store if they can understand the content in their own language.
Csa-Research conducted a study on this across 28 countries and found that 76% of customers prefer to buy products in their own language — and 40% of them never purchase from a website written in a foreign language.
- 65% of consumers also said they prefer to read content in their own language
- 67% say they would tolerate mixed languages on a website
- 73% of customers say they want to read reviews in their own native language
- 66% of marketers use machine learning translations for their website content
- 40% will not buy from a website written in a foreign language
The best way to do this is by hiring a professional translation service specializing in your target language.
#8. Localize Your Store Content
Localization goes beyond just translating the words — it involves ensuring that your store is tailored to meet local customer needs and preferences.
It includes adjusting the images, color palette, design, and layout to create a better user experience for each target market.
You should also consider adding local payment options, shipping methods, and currency – as well as making sure that your customer service is available in the language of each target country.
In China, for example, stores need to have a WeChat store and an Alipay payment option.
In Taiwan, stores should include local payment options such as LINE Pay and ibon.
And in Singapore, stores should include GrabPay.
It goes beyond payment options to even more trivial things like colour schemes and imagery.
For example, in China, a red colour scheme symbolizes good luck, joy, and happiness, while in Africa, red is generally associated with danger, anger, and other negative emotions.
In Europe, blue is considered the most desirable colour for luxury products, whereas, in Japan, it’s black.
Other localization factors you want to consider include:
- Currency Symbols: Your store must display prices in the local currency
- Calendar Formats: Don’t assume everyone uses the Gregorian calendar
- Localized Remarketing: Be sure to use local cultures and languages in your remarketing campaigns.
- Postal Codes: Incorrect postal codes can lead to shipping delays
- Country-Specific Local SEO: Take into account local SEO rules, such as the presence of local directories and search engines
- Delivery Timescales: Unless you offer same-day delivery, make sure your estimated shipping times are accurate
#9. Get Fresh with Your Content
Don’t assume anything. Just because something worked in one country doesn’t mean it will work in another.
You must constantly research each target market and create new content tailored to that region’s specific needs and preferences.
That could involve localizing existing content or creating new content altogether.
Use tools like Feedly, Google Trends, and Google Alerts to stay up to date on the latest trends, news, and topics in your target countries.
And for localized content creation, use tools like TextMaster, Unbabel, and Gengo to hire professional translators.
In International SEO, you’re likely to find success when you think locally.
Always remember that customers in different countries or cultures have different needs, expectations and preferences — so make sure your store is tailored to those needs.
It pays off to have ears on the ground.
Listen to customer feedback, use local influencers and industry experts, and stay up-to-date with the latest news.
You can also leverage data tools like Google Analytics, SEMrush and Ahrefs to research keyword trends in your target countries.
#10. Set Up Geo-tagging in Your Schema Code
Geo-tags are the code snippets in your website that help search engines determine the location of your business.
You can add the codes in your photos, images, and videos to show the geographical coordinates of your business.
It’s also a good idea to add this information to your website’s schema markup.
Adding geo-tags to your website will enable search engines to recognize who you are and where you want your website to be found, allowing you to target users based on their specific location, country, language, and more.
With this type of tagging, you can target specific markets and influence how search engines rank and display your content within those markets.
#11. International Link Building
You want links from websites relevant to your target countries or languages.
To do this, you’ll need to build relationships with local bloggers and influencers.
Reach out to them and see if they’d be interested in featuring your content or website on their platform.
You can also use tools like Ahrefs and Majestic to research international link opportunities in your target countries.
These tools will help you find websites, blogs, and forums related to your website or business topic.
Once you’ve identified these sites, reach out to them and see if they’d be interested in linking to your website.
Finally, focus your content-marketing efforts on topics relevant to the countries you’re targeting.
Creating great content that resonates with local audiences is key to getting organic links and helping build relationships in each country.
#12. Monitor Results and Adjust Strategy
International SEO is a long-term game, so you must keep an eye on your results.
Analyze the performance of your website in each country separately, and use tools like Google Analytics to track keyword rankings, page views, and other metrics.
That will help you identify the areas to improve and adjust your strategy accordingly.
For example, if you find that one language isn’t performing as well as others, you can focus more on optimizing content for that language.
Or, if you see that a certain country or region is driving a lot of traffic to your website, you may want to consider expanding into those markets by setting up a localized store or website.
By monitoring the performance of your website in international markets, you should be able to continually optimize and improve your global SEO strategy.