International SEO

I’ve been working with an existing UK-based client to better engage their international web visitors, who make up almost 50% of their total visits. This international audience is a diverse bunch from English-speaking New Zealand, Australia and the United States to India, Indonesia and beyond.

So what is the best strategy for both designing and marketing a website to better convert international visitors without alienating UK visitors who, in the case of my client, are still an important target audience?

The first point to note is that as far as the human visitor is concerned it should be a seamless experience and they should easily reach the pages and content appropriate to them without jumping through hoops. Fortunately, it is pretty straight-forward to automatically detect a visitor’s location – either by country or region – and also their language.

Designing a website for an international audience

Simple considerations like currency and time zone are important to visitors even when they speak the same language as the primary language used on your website. So if a UK-based company has a significant number of customers in other English-speaking countries like Australia, New Zealand or the USA it makes good business sense to show the relevant currency for your products are services to a geographically targeted audience. You may even want to use, for example, American-English spellings and terminology to better connect with specific visitors.

When it comes to different languages and cultures it is even more important to consider how your company connects with those visitors from relevant topics to relevant images and professionally translated text content and videos with accurate subtitles or professional voice-overs in the focus languages.

Creating a better experience for all visitors will help increase conversions and grow your business. So carefully define your target countries and/or languages then create a website structure that is clearly segmented for different audiences with content tailored to different audiences. If the top-level domain (TLD) is not an international one then consider changing it and redirect the original URL to the new one. For instance domainname.com might be a preferred URL for an international audience than domainname.co.uk but, on the other hand, if your domain does not suggest any particular country then it could be left as is.

Once the target countries are established you will need to structure the website in a way that easily accommodates each distinct country. The two most common options for doing this are:

  1. Use sub-domains for each country e.g. us.domainname.com, nz.domainname.com etc

OR

  • Use sub-directories for each country e.g.domainname.com/us, domainname.com/nz

If the website also needs to contain content in languages other than the primary language this can additionally be achieved with the use of language tags on pages containing content in each target language.

Whatever approach is used it’s important to ensure that the URL structure has a logical and intuitive structure so that visitors can navigate it easily to find what they are looking for. The most successful type of international online marketing present visitors with content, products and services relevant to their location and in their language.

Once these essential elements are in place the next step to targeting an international audience is the digital marketing. So let’s have a brief look at the most important aspects of international search engine optimisation.

international seo

International SEO

All search engine optimisation involves fundamentally the same process with on-site content being a major factor in organic search success as are external signals such as backlinks. The difference with international SEO is that on-site content is designed for different audiences (either via language, currency, terminology etc) and external signals to each audience segment should preferably be localised. Because backlinks to a page designed for Spanish or Spanish-speaking audiences, for example, will carry more SEO value if they come from a Spanish website than from, say, a UK website – all other authority factors being equal.

Aside from the URL structure for an international website, as we’ve already discussed, what are the other important factors for optimising a website so that Google, and other search engines, can determine the countries and/or languages being targeted and, therefore, show your web pages to your ideal audience?

International SEO best practices

  • For each target language provide content in that language.
  • Ensure page titles and meta description are in the same language as the page content – these appear in the organic search listings.
  • Use professional translators for the content to ensure appropriate terminology is used.
  • Consider cultural differences in terms of layout and style eg not all languages are read from left to right.
  • Consider cultural differences in terms of the images used on the site – visitors want to see familiar types of images.
  • Ensure common parts of the website including menus and contact details are available in all target languages.
  • Provide a clear option to switch to the primary language of the site or to an alternative language.
  • Show opening hours in the appropriate time zone.
  • Place external links on your country/language-specific pages linking out to content in the same country/language.
  • Build backlinks to your country/language-specific pages from sites in the same country/language.
  • Use language meta tags (hreflang) on all primary and foreign language pages to clearly show which languages your site caters for and to indicate that alternative pages are available in different languages.
  • Remember Google isn’t the only search engine so monitor rankings on other search engines where they are dominant for your target country or language.

Following these simple best practices ensures a good user experience for all visitors comprising your international target audience and has the added benefit of informing search engines that your website and business cater for an international audience. Making it more likely that pages will rank highly in organic search listings.

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