Jul 5, 2024

International SEO: How To Optimize Your Website Globally

International SEO: How To Optimize Your Website Globally
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For businesses wishing to expand across borders, international SEO is the cornerstone of all digital marketing efforts.

Whether a business owner or an SEO pro, read on for some of my best tips on how to optimize your website for foreign markets.

What Is International SEO?

International SEO is the process of optimizing your website for cross-border audiences. It actually helps search engines determine which countries and languages to display your pages in SERPs.

Thus, you gain more visibility and higher rankings for searches in your target counties and regions.

If you are considering opening up to foreign markets, international SEO can substantially help you grow your business.

How To Develop A Successful International SEO Strategy

Every business venture starts with market research.

International SEO is no different. In fact, it's a process that requires considerable time and investment.

So, as a business owner, you must first ensure that there is good market potential for your products or services in your chosen countries. Then, you should consider if organic marketing can help you build credibility, promote your brand, and grow your clientele.

As an SEO professional, before developing a growth plan, you need to investigate how your competitors abroad approach SEO via competitor analysis, keyword usage, backlink profiles, etc.

Once you have all this data, you can implement a solid SEO strategy targeting specific locations abroad in the appropriate language(s) and/or dialect(s).

Is English Not Enough To Go Global?

English is the most popular language for web content. That’s why many businesses create an English version of their website right from the start, along with their local language.

Indeed, 59% of websites globally are in English. So, even non-native speakers use English for convenience.

But when you want to rank across the globe, you must have a more meticulous approach.

The best international SEO strategy combines a multi-regional and multilingual approach.

International SEO Best Practices

International search engine optimization follows many SEO fundamentals like any other SEO project. But, there are additional factors to consider.

So, here’s my pick of the most effective international SEO tips.

Localize Content

You’ve probably heard this term before.

Localizing your website means modifying your content and even your layout so it seems natural and resonates with your target audience.

Global SEO content is much more than translation.

You must consider all the cultural nuances of a foreign market. You must also integrate on-page SEO with UI/UX - a winning combination for International SEO.

Here’s what you need to consider when you localize your website:

Localize Keywords

Once you have completed SEO keyword research for your target countries, you then need to localize your keywords.

At this stage, it is best to collaborate with a native speaker. They will help you pinpoint the most popular search terms related to your offerings and the intent behind them.

Then, you can start planning your blog content calendar for every country.

Create Country-Specific Content

When blogging for users in different countries, compile texts that combine your chosen keywords with local news, events, or other popular topics in each country.

You can also translate the evergreen posts from your home language and adapt the tone of voice to the culture of your target market.

But remember: even if different countries speak the same language, you still need to localize your content.

For example, if you create a Spanish version of your pages for users living in Spain, you would need to localize your content for audiences in Argentina.

Adapt Images To Local Culture

Ensure your existing visuals resonate with your audience and are not offensive or out of context. Create new visuals wherever necessary.

For the file names of your (localized) images, always use Latin characters and properly transliterate non-Latin words. Use 3-5 words, or even less if the file name is too lengthy.

Translate the alt tags and captions of image files retained across all pages. Don’t replicate the same images for every language version of your site.

Fix URLs For International SEO

URLs help users and search engines understand a page’s content better and give bots and humans an extra sign of trust.

Choosing A Business Domain Name For Worldwide SEO

When choosing a domain name for your business website, think ahead.

If your business only has local potential, choose a ccTLD, i.e., a country code Top-Level-Domain.

For example, a hotel in Paris would choose hotel.fr, while a grocery store in Bangkok would have: groceries.in.

Country URL extensions also get some extra boost in country-based searches.

However, if you are thinking of expanding abroad at any time in the future, choose URLs ending in .com.

.com is a generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD), ideal when doing business outside your country. Other gTLDs include .gov, .net, .org, etc.

No matter what, it’s always best to purchase your country-based domain name plus its equivalent .com to be on the safe side.

What’s The Best SEO URL Structure For International Websites?

The short answer is subdirectories. Particularly for SMBs.

But let’s look into all 4 options for multi-regional and multilingual URL structures:

1. Subdirectories

Today, this is the most efficient option for international websites with generic top-level domains (with the exception of exact match domains or EMDs).

This URL structure includes subfolders that indicate the country-specific version of the website.

Apple Inc., for instance, has apple.com/gn/ for Guinea, apple.com/no/ for Norway and about 140 more subdirectories for different countries.

With such URL structure, domain authority is inherited from one subfolder to the other and link juice is spread across the entire website.

But remember: each language version also needs language-specific backlinks.

In any case, when dealing with country subdirectories, you create a single SEO plan for all localized versions of your website. That’s a huge advantage compared to other options, considering the time and investment needed to maintain and promote your pages.

Subdirectory URLs make an efficient and cost-effective solution for any business looking to optimize its website for international markets.

2. Separate ccTLDs

Large firms with worldwide branches may choose separate ccTLDs (country-code Top-Level Domains).

Take Trip Advisor, for example. They have a different country code domain for about 50 different countries around the globe. So, there’s tripadvisor.tw for Taiwan, tripadvisor.com for Canada, tripadvisor.ir for Ireland... and the list goes on.

This is a high-maintenance and high-cost solution. In essence, you’d need to build and optimize each regional website nearly from scratch. Or set up a streamlined programmatic SEO procedure.

On the other hand, separate ccTLDs give search engines extra local ranking signals and also save on crawl budgets.

Further benefits include more content control and more options for effective CRO marketing.

Plus, local domain extensions usually inspire more trust in local audiences.

3. International Subdomains

This is the least preferred SEO option. It involves creating subdomains on your generic domain to indicate a specific country and language.

So you have URLs like: de.mybusiness.com for Germany, jp.mybusiness.com for Japan, etc.

This URL structure has half of the advantages of the previous 2 solutions and half the disadvantages.

On the cons side, subdomains is like having a different website for every country version (just like separate ccTLDs), but in reality, you don’t. You have extra maintenance and running costs without the advantages of country-specific endings.

Also, in SEO, international subdomains are treated as separate entities while taking just a small percentage of the main site’s domain authority.

On the other hand, each subdomain can have a unique UX design tailored to each country. But you can also do so with different ccTLDs!

So, unless there’s a good reason for it, language subdomains is not an efficient solution.

4. URLs With Language Parameters

This is a multilingual website option that’s often the default for some CMSs like WordPress. (So make sure you set it up right from the beginning.)

Language parameters in URLs look like this: mybusiness.com/?lang=fr for French or mybusiness.com/?lang=ru for Russian.

It’s not an SEO-friendly approach, especially for overseas targeting. Today, it’s sometimes used by local businesses that want a website in multiple languages.

Implement Language Signals: Hreflang & Canonicals

Both hreflang attributes and canonical tags signal the exact page version search engines should index and rank in different country-based searches.

What’s An Hreflang?

Hreflang is an HTML attribute that specifies every different language version of a webpage.

It helps search engines identify each page's language and its equivalent variations so as to serve the right language to the right users in every region of the world.

Hreflang In International SEO

Implementing a hreflang markup looks like this:

<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.mybusiness.com/services/" hreflang="it" />

This snippet is usually placed in the <head> of a page.

It allows search engines to serve, for example, the Italian version of your webpage to users searching from Italy.

You can also specify dialects in hreflang.

For example, hreflang="de" would refer to German spoken in Germany, while hreflang="de-ch" refers to Swiss German.

But to fully optimize language versions and avoid duplicate content, you need to wrap everything up using canonical tags.

What’s A Canonical Tag?

A canonical tag is an HTML snippet that defines the main (or primary) version of a page for a specific country. The canonical page version for every country will be indexed in local searches. You need to specify the canonical version for every page.

Canonicals In International SEO

If you want a different page version to get indexed and rank in every different country, you need to define the main (i.e., canonical) version among its translated counterparts.

And you must do so on every single page (not by hand, thankfully; this is an automated task!)

How To Implement Hreflang And Canonical Tags Correctly?

Implementing hreflang and canonicals ensures that the right language/page version is served to the right market abroad. It also helps you avoid duplicate content and inaccuracies.

Here’s what you must keep in mind:

  1. Use absolute URLs.
  2. List all alternate language versions on every single page (in any order).
  3. Self-canonicalize each page.
  4. Indicate an “x-default page’ to control which page is shown for any country and/or language combinations not defined in your hreflangs.
  5. Audit your hreflang markups regularly.

Here’s an example of hreflang and canonical tags implementation for best international SEO results.

Let’s say your default language is US English, and your website has a second version in Mexican Spanish.

Here’s what you’d see in the English version.

<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.mybusiness.com/services/" hreflang="en-us" />
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.mybusiness.com/es/services/" hreflang="es-mx" />
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.mybusiness.com/services/" hreflang="x-default" />
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.mybusiness.com/services/” />

And here’s what you’d see in the Spanish version:

<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.mybusiness.com/services/" hreflang="en-us" />
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.mybusiness.com/es/services/" hreflang="es-mx" />
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.mybusiness.com/services/" hreflang="x-default" />
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.mybusiness.com/es/services/” />

Acquiring SERP visibility in different countries is a demanding and time-consuming task. It requires continuous monitoring, fixes, and updates in languages you may not know a word of!

Plus, you must be on the lookout for what’s going on in countries far away from yours.

Indeed, International SEO is a multi-challenging job.

So, to do it right, you need professional SEO services. This will allow you to expand your business crossborder and go big.

Our multicultural team at Atropos Digital offers top international SEO services that help organizations grow worldwide. Book a strategy call.

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