In the world of online visibility and marketing, SEO on an international level is a growing and increasingly important topic. Most SEOs worth their weight in salt understand what should be done to create an effective inbound marketing and SEO campaign for a standard, United States based website. But what needs to be done differently to succeed internationally? Let’s start off with why international search is so important.
Over 85% of internet users live outside the United States. Over the past 10 years, as the global technology has grown and advanced, Google has reported a 25% increase in non-English search queries. With higher search comes higher demand, so what can you do to make sure your website is reaching its international target audience?
1. Use Content in Correct Language – This may seem elementary, but a common mistake is to simply assume that your customers will speak English. False. Use the proper language for your users. And PLEASE don’t rely on automated translation software, use human translation, with local vernacular, preferably translated by a native speaker.
2. Don’t Mix Languages on Same Page – Many webmasters assume that including content in 2 languages will help their visitors understand that the website is based out of another country. While this is true, having information on a webpage/website that your users can’t read will NOT help with conversion rates, time on site, and user interaction.
3. Learn the Cultural Aspects, Habits, & Preferences of the Country/Region – Understand who your target audience is, how they are likely to interact with your website, and don’t be afraid to A/B test some design and content variables to determine what works best! An advertisement that works well in the U.S. may not perform well at all in Spain. Take time to research who your audience is and test to find out what works for them.
4. Use Either Subfolders or Country Specific TLDs Over Subdomains – Subfolders or identical domains with individual country domains are usually the best option for targeting internationally. Nike.com does a great job of segmenting their users by language and region, all using subfolders. If a visitor goes to nike.com and selects Spanish as their language, and Mexico as their country, they will be redirected to http://www.nike.com/nikeos/p/nike/es_MX/, displaying all information in Spanish, using Mexico vernacular.
This folder structure also helps to maintain trust with the user, because although they may not understand the subfolders they are seeing, they do see that the domain has not changed, it is still www.nike.com. Alternatively, subdomains can be somewhat confusing to visitors, because they appear to some users to be completely different websites.
5. Host in The Same Country if Possible – In the past, Google has stated that the country that a website is hosted in is a very small factor to their international ranking algorithms. In addition, local hosting will also typically help reduce page load speeds, which is another factor in Google’s algorithm. For a website that is going to target many different countries on the same domain, just make sure to choose a very reliable hosting company, preferably close to your primarily targeted country/region.
6. Build Links From Same Country – Because Google puts so much emphasis on inbound links; it makes sense that local links (from authoritative websites within the same country) will hold the most value on an international SERP. Try to build your inbound links primarily from the country you are targeting, and if possible make sure to point those links to the respective subfolder, subdomain, or TLD for each country.
7. Multilingual Campaigns On Social Media Platforms – If you are targeting a country that speaks a different language from your own, then you’ll need to cater to that country’s social media as well. There are a few options for this:
- Some organizations will translate all their posts into several languages. FC Barcelona’s Facebook page is a prime example of this tactic.
- Other companies have taken another route and created individual Social Media pages to target different countries. This tactic works, but can cause confusion from people who follow your company, as they may not know which is the official profile.
We recommend keeping it simple, and using a single official social media page/profile. Post in several languages, or offer different language versions via alternate methods like Facebook tabs.
8. Create & Submit Sitemaps for Each Country in Webmaster Tools – This is only necessary if you’re using the subfolder approach, but it is very important that Google indexes and understands all the pages on your site. The best way to do this is to submit a sitemap for each country or region you are targeting. Many webmasters will simply keep one single sitemap for the entire website, which is not nearly as efficient to maintain and update.
9. Set Proper Geotargeting In Webmaster Tools – Google allows webmasters to geographically target certain websites, or sections or websites to certain locations and regions via Google Webmaster Tools. To access these settings, simply log into your Webmaster Tools account, look under Site Configuration, and change your geographic targeting in the Settings tab.
10. Use Country/IP/Browser Language Auto Detections with an Automatic Redirect to Get Users to Proper Page Content – Some SEOers recommend leaving the country and language options up to the visitor, as www.nike.com does. However, the general online consensus is automatically redirecting visitors to the correct page on your site, using country, IP, or browser language auto detections. In general, this will create a better user experience, because your visitors will find the information they are seeking faster, and without having to choose their regional or language settings.
The above recommendations are some of the best practices when optimizing a website for an international or out-of-country audience. But don’t forget, all traditional SEO concepts still apply, so make sure your content is noteworthy, website design is functional and attractive, and user experience is great!
Questions or comments? Please share your thoughts below!