You must know the fundamental elements of the international SEO process. They help you prepare your plan of action.
There are three primary phases to begin your international SEO process: research, targeting, and optimization. Let’s get started.
The international SEO process requires extensive research in the beginning. This research helps you identify areas you need to work on for complete optimization.
Before we begin, ask yourself: What is the status of your current international organic search?
To answer the above question, you need the answers from our Research Section – Check Your International SEO Potential.
To learn more about your website traffic, search visibility, and keyword results in your chosen countries and/or languages, you can use the Google Analytics Tool. Refer to Geo reports which is below the Audience section.
Finding the answers to these questions helps you formulate your strategy for international SEO optimization. If you know what countries and languages provide you traffic, you can customize your site to give international visitors from the same country or who speak the same language content based on their local behaviors, preferences, and culture.
When you perform this research, you might find out that your website already receives a reasonable amount of organic traffic. You can then focus on the existing traffic you have based on country or language for the optimization process.
If, however, your organic search traffic is low, you must find other international markets for your SEO process. This will entail more resources from you as you begin your international SEO efforts.
The next question you must ask yourself is: How much potential does your international organic search entail?
It is assessment time! Evaluate the potential of your targeted countries and languages of your website to answer the above question.
You require keyword research to fulfill this step.
- Find out what the relevant keywords and phrases are from your international visitors. These queries should be related to your business, products, or services you provide.
- What is the organic search volume for these keywords and phrases per country?
- How competitive are the keywords per country?
- What current rank do you hold for these keywords in the targeted markets?
The keywords that are already bringing organic traffic to your website can help you find other relevant keywords. How? By using tools like Ubersuggest, an SEO and keyword discovery tool. We recommend this tool because of how simple it is to use. You only have to enter your keyword in the search bar to receive a list of keyword ideas.
In addition to providing you with related keywords, Ubersuggest also gives you relevant information surrounding the existing competition for the keywords you are considering. It gives you information about keyword difficulty (how hard it is to rank in Google), cost per click (CPC), and paid difficulty (the level of difficulty you’ll have to face if you were to run a campaign with that keyword).
Once you have all this information, you must find out how your web pages rank by country.
For the optimization, you need native language support. It is necessary for keyword research.
When you use Google Translate, it is not always accurate. Words and sentences can have different contexts, and the literal translation may change their meaning. Similarly, if you want to use Google’s Market Finder for easy translation, it may mislead you. Occasional usage is not entirely wrong, but it should be relevant.
Once you complete the steps of finding the relevant keywords and finding out their organic search volume, it is time for you to establish the ranking difficulty for each keyword.
By now, your research is complete. Let’s proceed to the next step: targeting.
Your priority should be targeting countries based on their ability to generate organic search traffic for your website using relevant keywords.
If targeting a country is not yielding results, you can always target a specific language.
You must ask yourself: What would yield better results, targeting countries or certain languages? Only you can determine the answer as it depends on your company’s core nature. For example, companies like Walmart need to target the United States because of where their physical stores are. On the other hand, software companies like Atlassian, the developer behind an English project management software, needs to target all English language users.
This process maximizes your chances of receiving organic traffic and desired conversion rate. Once you achieve that, you can gain relevant visitors to your website based on your targeted audience.
There are different types of structures depending on the characteristics and restraints of your website.
Below is an overview of the different ways you might decide to target specific countries or languages.
Chances are, you’ve probably already experienced (and can probably already guess) how specific countries are targeted by different websites. You may have noticed that websites in your country have a common two-letter code. This is how webmasters use URLs to target different countries. There are, however, a few different ways to integrate them into URLs. They each affect how your website is structured and comes its own drawbacks and benefits:
- Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLDs)
This structure for country targeting is beneficial as it provides a specific country extension, but it requires more effort to increase the domain’s popularity as it starts out as new and independent. This is ideal for large multinational companies who have the resources to acquire a domain and build it up from scratch.
Google treats some ccTLDs as generic top-level domains (gTLDs) which are not associated with any country code. A generic top-level domain refers to the kind of website. For example, websites with “.org” in their URLs generally refer to nonprofit organizations, website URLs with “.info” are generally used for information-driven websites, etc.
ccTLD is a desirable web structure, and companies like Tripadvisor and Amazon use it.
Subdomains are a great option if you have gTLD, but do not want a complicated structure. When you need to index a large amount of content, you must separate different web versions into sub-directories.
On the down side, Google recognizes each URL as a different domain and you will need to build up SEO for each. Though it is much less complicated in structure, this option entails a lot of effort in increasing every individual subdomains’ popularity.
Companies like Shop and Beats by Dre use this structure for country targeting.
You can get profitable results if you use this structure along with gTLD. In terms of implementation, this is the easiest as it is just another folder on your site. You also have the advantage of inheriting all the ranking from your root domain
Companies like Spotify and Electronic Arts use this structure for country targeting.
Language targeting relies on Google’s machine learning algorithm to detect the language/s a user knows. Similar to country targeting, it makes use of the URL structure to integrate language codes that determine the language in which a web page should be displayed.
The structure you choose to implement for language targeting is, in principle, the same as the one we just covered for country targeting. Different language websites separated by subdomains are interpreted by Google as individual domains for which you will need to build up optimization from scratch. Subdirectories, in contrast, will share the same SEO equity as your root site.
- Language targeting by subdirectories are used by companies like Skype and Atlassian. URLs that employ this structure typically look like this: https://www.comprehensiveseoguide.com/en
- Language targeting by subdomains are used by companies like Wix and WordPress. Sites that employ this method have URLs like this: https://www.en.comprehensiveseoguide.com
When you select one of the alternatives as your website structure, make sure you are consistent in the structure you choose. Overlapping these alternatives will result in complications.
Once you finish research and choose your targeting structure, it is time to optimize.
Optimization is fundamental as it makes your website crawlable, indexable, and relevant. It also helps in sending out properly targeted signals to avoid any issues with search results.
Let us look at some general international web optimization elements:
- Crawlable and Indexable
Different web versions need to be crawlable and indexable. It requires independent URLs following the relevant web structure you choose. It is not wise to use scripts or cookies as they make indexing difficult for search engines. If you are using different web versions, make sure that they are linked together.
If you have many web versions, you can only link the main page to the most popular one and you should feature all the web versions on one internal page.
Translation or localization (by language or country respectively) of different components is crucial for every international web version. You can do it using the keywords and phrases you acquired in the research. The elements you can work on are:
URLs, Title and Meta Descriptions, Menu and Navigations, Headings, Images and Alt Descriptions, Core Content, Reviews, among others.
Some websites have titles and URLs in English, but other elements of the page are in another language. This inconsistency confuses users and makes your page irrelevant to search engines.
Your international visitors might have questions about your content. It is a good practice to answer them when translating other components. This practice increases the credibility of your website.
- Automatic Detection of Language or Country:
If you want to know the country from where your international user is visiting your website, you can check their IP address. If you want to know their language, there are options available on the browser. You can conduct this research to redirect the users to the correct web version.
When looking to introduce language or geographic customizations:
- Make sure not to use pop-ups to learn more about your audience as they can be too obtrusive.
- Be careful when asking for information from visitors or making suggestions in your site. Visitors may not always understand the context of your questions or may feel intruded upon by sudden and unwarranted suggestions.
- Ensure that all your web versions are crawlable.
- Specify Language:
You need to display the character encoding of your page, specifically when you handle non-ASCII characters. ASCII characters stand for the American Standard Code for Information Interchange. It refers to the characters you can find on a traditional English keyboard (Alphabets A-Z, Numbers 0-9, and punctuations). Non-ASCII characters are characters that are not in the English language.
You can specify the language in which your web page should be displayed in several ways:
- HTML Lang, Content-Language Meta Tags, and HTTP Headers
HTML language attributes and meta-tags are ways to identify language by search engines like Bing. You must set the right annotation within the html tag and add the correct language code.
Google does not utilize these attributes as it depends on its own algorithm in matching different target audiences with different versions of a website.
- Language Specification by Hreflang
Hreflang annotations are essential for search engines like Google. They identify the language used in your webpages and enable Google to serve that language version to users who are performing a search in that same language. Here are some things to remember about the hreflang attribute:
- The simplest way to use hreflang is by including it as an HTML link in each page header.
- Specify it as an HTTP header for non-HTML files.
- If there are many web versions, you can add them in the XML sitemaps. (An XML Sitemap refers to a file that contains the list of URLs for a website)
You can use Hreflang with canonical tags. Canonical tags tell search engines which URL is the official version of a page.
If your plan includes targeting countries, you need to geo target your international web versions apart from specifying the language. To do this, you can use:
- Country Specification by Hreflang
Hreflang is not only useful for specifying the language version that search engines should serve to specific users, but is also useful in targeting specific countries. Hreflang gives you the ability to target people speaking a certain language in certain countries.
For example, the English language is used the world over, but by using the hreflang tag, you can target English speakers in the United States and the UK. There are also instances when you may be targeting English speakers, but would like to serve English speakers in the United States a different version of your web page than English speakers in the UK. Tweaking your hreflang attribute allows you to do either of these things.
In writing out your hreflang instructions, remember to include language codes as adding only country codes will not work.
- Geolocation through Webmaster Tools
Webmaster tools are particularly useful for websites that utilize sub-directories or subdomains in their website structure.
However, this is not the case for websites utilizing a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) structure. For ccTLDs, use instead the Google Webmaster Tools, Bing Webmaster Tools, or Yandex Webmaster Tools.
- Your hosting location
Maintaining a static IP location for your website used to be important for reasons of stability and simplicity. Websites with a static location were easier to find and more compatible with different operating systems. Times have changed, however, as search engines can now get more accurate geolocation signals by using ccTLDs or webmaster tools.
Now that you have a clear idea of the fundamentals of international SEO, let’s take a deeper look at how international SEO is different from regular SEO.