International search engine optimization is critical if you want to successfully reach out to a truly global audience. However, there are few who know what it is. Fewer understand how to do international search engine optimization correctly, much less profit from it. In this article, we’ll explain exactly what international SEO is and how to ensure that you do it right. We’ll also touch on the mistakes you desperately want to avoid.
What Is International Search Engine Optimization?
International search engine optimization, or international SEO, is simply search engine optimization for an international audience. International SEO is not taking your main website and translating it into another language, though that is useful to international visitors. International SEO would require localization of these foreign language pages to rank well for searches in that language.
Why You Want to Implement International Search Engine Optimization
International SEO is a relatively straightforward process for attracting a larger international crowd. Done right, it can yield a major return on the investment. Your foreign language website will then be seen by those you want to see it. If you simply translate your existing content into another language, it may be seen by the small local population that speaks the language or seen in the wrong country. For example, your Portuguese content could be found by people in both Brazil and Portugal. If you don’t apply SEO to that international content, your marketing content for Brazilian customers is seen and skipped by those in Portugal, which will eventually reflect itself in your conversions and bounce rates.
How to Do International SEO Right
You have to do your research for each potential international market. You should look for the countries and languages already generating organic search traffic; capitalizing on this requires little effort while looking good to search engines. Determine the organic click through rates and conversion rates for each one, because any search terms that already do well should be enhanced unless somewhere else would yield a higher return on the investment. Also look at the trends and volume. It would be better to invest effort in moderately high-volume channels you can boost or convert at higher rates than low volume search terms that indicate casual curiosity.
You can start this process by analyzing your own data. Which country already sends more traffic than any other to your website? Which countries are already buying your product or service? If you don’t have much of an international audience, then the question is, which markets do you want to go after?
Determine the keywords and pages that attract the top identified international markets. Target key search terms and audiences that are naturally growing over time, while those that are declining might be ignored unless they’re bringing in good prospects or a high-volume channel you want to keep.
Directly validate each potential search term for international SEO purposes. International SEO should take regional dialects into account. What terms do the locals use? These are the terms you’ll want to integrate in page titles as well as the content.
You may either create new content that fits the target audience and their intentions written in their language and optimized for them, or you can modify your existing content to rank higher in their searches. The ideal situation is having a dedicated website for each targeted country, though that may not be feasible at first.
You may want to set up sites with local ccTLD; that’s especially true if your audience uses search engines like Baidu that favor this format. In general, the international market tends to choose websites with a local TLD over those with a generic web address like “.com”.
The location of the web host doesn’t matter as much to international SEO as many may think, since there are other ways to tell search engines your website’s target market, regardless of where the page is hosted. Methods to do this include but are not limited to the hreflang tag and language meta tag. Nor do you have to host web pages in their country, since you can improve performance for end users with regionally managed content delivery networks or CDNs. The key issue is that the international users see pages that load quickly and are relevant to the searcher’s intent.
Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs
One mistake you cannot afford to make is ignoring messaging your local audience or offering content to them they are interested in. For example, content that works well for the American market may fall flat in Asia.
You cannot think of international SEO as a one-time effort. The first step is making sure that your updated pages are properly indexed. This can happen if you misuse tags or duplicate indexing. The next step is monitoring the site to make sure they’re performing as expected.
For example, a page designed for a Mexican audience shouldn’t come up at the top of searches in Madrid, Spain. If that traffic is high or converting well, the solution is to set up another site optimized for them. If traffic or conversions start to fall, the SEO of each page may need to be adjusted. Know that your initial starting point may be low, and you will need both repeated adjustments and the passage of time to rank higher in search.
International SEO is not ‘One-Size-Fits-All’
Know that there is no one “international” SEO solution. International search engine optimization needs to be focused on a specific country, region or market. Look at the competition of keywords per country, not just your own. Create new content or modify your own based on what will rank well in the market you’re trying to win over.
Don’t forget the local matters that matter to your audience. For example, if you have local offices or representatives in those countries, make certain that information is on the foreign language websites, not your U.S. office. Direct people to local phone numbers for support if they are available. Show prices in their currency.