June 23, 2022

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Getting Started In International SEO: A Quick Reference Guide

For many companies, having a global website is one of the best ways to reach a wider audience to grow their business.

As more quick and easy website design services become available, even an individual can start a business by targeting foreign countries via a global website.

The thing is though, having a global website does not make you successful in other countries.

Also, following the standard SEO best practices does not make your global website competitive in all target countries. While there seems to be boundless information about international SEO available, it is a fact that many of them are either outdated or incorrect.

In this post, I’ll cover some of the key areas of international SEO.

What Are The Differences Between International & Regular SEO?

The standard SEO best practices certainly are the foundation of international SEO as the search engine algorithms are very similar, if not the same, from country to country.

I’d say that international SEO is built on standard SEO knowledge and skills.

So, what makes international SEO different? The main reasons are:

  • Languages.
  • Multiple websites.
  • Popular search engines.
  • Local audience.
  • Local competitors.

While you pay attention to each site, you must keep an eye on the overall performance when you have global websites. Otherwise, your local market websites may be competing against each other or the worst case, may not be indexed at all.

For example, your website designed for Mexico should not outrank or appear in the search results in Spain, if you have a different site designed for Spain.

If you misuse the canonical tag or hreflang tag, certain sites may not be indexed by the search engines or create duplicate indexing.

Should I Go Global? And Where Is My Market?

Before you get into international SEO, it’s always a good idea to review some market reports, stats, and even your own website data to help make the decision.

This is particularly important if you are not sure about the opportunities in different countries or have some convincing to do with your bosses.

Here are some informational sources you can use to decide or prioritize the countries/markets to go after:

  • Government and trade organization websites, such as Trade.gov and WTO.org provide the latest international business and trade news and statistics.
  • Many companies provide Internet-related reports and statistics, such as Internet World Stats, Econsultancy, and McKinsey & Company. There are numerous sites providing information about specific countries, too.
  • Your own analytics data. Do you see anyone visiting your site from other countries? Is there any country that sends more traffic to your site than another? It’s worth paying attention to these markets, especially if any of them are converting already.

One Global Site Or Multiple Website?

If the market is big enough for you to invest in, definitely go with a separate site for each target country.

Not just for SEO reasons, but also to provide a better user experience to the local visitors, it’s always better to have a dedicated site for each of your target countries. It also allows you to use different designs and content on each site, if needed.

However, this may not be a feasible option for you, at least not at the beginning. In that case, you’ll have a site for each language that is spoken in your target countries.

It is okay to do this as you may want to test the waters first before you dive in too deep.

Luckily, we can use hreflang tags to tell Google which language and country each site is created for.

Which Domain To Have: ccTLD or gTLD?

If you asked me this question in 2008, my answer was always to go with a ccTLD. The reality is that not everyone can have this option for different reasons.

Luckily, it doesn’t have as much of an impact on your SEO as the search engines have come a long way. We now have other options to geotarget the sites, especially with Google.

Note that some of the search engines such as Baidu still favor websites with local ccTLD.

Also, people outside the U.S. tend to click websites with local TLD over sites with .com or other generic TLDs.

Does Hosting Location Matter?

The location of the website host was one of the important signals for the international SEO related to geotargeting.

However, it’s not as important now that we have other ways to correctly indicate your website’s target market to the search engines and regionally managed CDNs.

Still, the host location has a large impact on the page speed. Make sure that your site can be accessed in the target countries quickly.

How Should I Go About Alternative Geotargeting?

Perhaps, geotargeting is one of the simplest practices where many websites make mistakes as site owners moved from ccTLDs and local market hosting.

There are several ways to geotarget your websites and pages. Here are some of the popular methods:

  • Geolocation assignment in Google Search Console.
  • Hreflang tag for Google.
  • Language meta tag information for Bing.

Side Note: Google now generates the search results based on the searcher’s location no matter which local version of Google a searcher is using.

For example, you used to get different search results from Google.com than Google U.K. (google.co.uk) or Google Australia (google.com.au) even when searching for the same keyword.

But now, you will get the same results in all three Google searches unless you do that search in three different countries.

Google Or Not Google?

While Google is by far the most popularly used of the search engines around the world, in some countries, there are locally grown search engines that are far more popular than Google.

If your target country is one of those below, you’ll need to pay some extra attention to monitor these local sites and for additional optimization work.

  • China (Mainland, Simplified Chinese language).
  • Russia and Eastern European countries.
  • South Korea.

Do I Need to Care About Other Search Engines?

While Google is by far the most popularly used search engine around the world, in some countries, there are locally grown search engines that are very popular.

By ignoring these search engines, you are ignoring huge business opportunities in those countries.

If your target country is one of those below, you’ll need to pay some extra attention to monitor these local sites and for additional optimization work.

  • China (Mainland, Simplified Chinese language) – Baidu.
  • Russia and Eastern European Countries – Yandex.
  • South Korea – Naver.

Of course, even in the countries where Google is most popular, ignoring other popular search engines including Bing limits your business potential.

Translation And Localization

Your global sites should not be the copied and pasted version of your home country website in different languages, though I see that happen to many websites.

Yes, translation and localization of website content are one of the first steps. But then, you need to optimize the sites for each country’s local audience from messaging and offerings to the overall user experience of the site.

A site with popular and well-performing content in the U.S. market may not do as well in Asia or in South America and may require additional content edits and optimization work.

For these reasons, it is important to conduct the keyword research in each targeting country from the standpoint of understanding the local interests and the words they use.

Keep in mind that although the translators or the translation agencies provide a correctly translated document, they may not use the same words that people use to search the information.

Do I Need To Build Links For Each Website?

It’s a hard, “Yes.”

Even when you have one global site with all country or language sites under the same domain, you still want to build links to each site even when you already have tons of links pointing to your domain.

It is because your home country website is likely to have links coming from external sites that are in the same home country.

In order for your global websites to be competitive in each country, you need links from country-specific to the website.

For example, you want to gain links from websites in India or targeting India to your Indian website. Having links from local websites is a good indication to the search engines that your website is designed and suited for that country.

What Else Should I Consider Before I Go Global?

One of the biggest challenges that most companies with global websites face, even the multinational Fortune 100 companies, is the local resources.

No one has the luxury of having unlimited resources in each target country, and this can become a major bottleneck especially since SEO is not a one-off project but requires continued efforts.

The key is to plan task and responsibility allocation between the headquarter and local offices such as:

Now, you may not have any offices or representatives in other countries, or no resources available in local offices.

In those cases, you need to consider whether you’d want to hire one or multiple outside resources.

Conclusion and Takeaway

International SEO is built on top of the standard SEO best practices.

The optimized website doesn’t always produce an optimized global website even after it is translated, and there are several key points in both technical and content optimization efforts that need to be considered.

In fact, adding more languages and content creates more work due to the duplicate content and geotargeting issues as well as the link building.

A global website is a great way to expand your market reach, but it also requires extra resources and budget to do international SEO right.

You do not need to target many languages and countries.

Research your business opportunities using your own data as well as market reports from trusted authorities to decide where you want to be visible in the search results.

More resources:


Featured Image: Sozina Kseniia/Shutterstock


https://www.searchenginejournal.com/quick-guide-international-seo/428849/