International SEO Best Practices

Digital media continues to create global interconnections, and in response many brands want to expand beyond their borders and engage with new prospective customers in foreign countries. We put together this list of international SEO best practices to equip you with what you need to know about driving global traffic to your domains.

Know the search engines used in your target countries

Google is the largest search engine globally, and in many countries optimizing for Google alone will allow you to reach your prospective clients. That said there are several large countries that mostly rely on local search engines. Here are some examples of international search engines:

  • China – Baidu
  • Russia – Yandex
  • South Korea – Naver

Look at the search statistics for the areas you want to target and figure out which search engines to target. Although some of the basics for optimization will remain consistent across search engines, like a focus on quality content, other factors will be different. For example, sites wanting to have visibility in Baidu should ideally be created with a Chinese domain and hosted on a Chinese server.

You can learn more about the various major international search engines in our post here, as well as through our post that specifically covers Baidu.

Baidu in international SEO best practices

Work with native speakers for keyword research

When it comes to expanding internationally into non-English speaking markets, you should work with native speakers. As you always should when doing SEO, think about user experience — no one prefers to read content that was generated by an automated translator. Many ideas can easily can become lost in translation, being clunky language at best or misleading and incorrect at worst, opening up a whole new world of unpleasant liabilities.

Working with a native speaker who lives in the area will also help you capitalize on local colloquialisms, culture, and other aspects that might not be readily obvious to someone who speaks a language fluently but doesn’t live there.

Have you native speaker contributors help you perform keyword research specifically for the targeted country. Don’t just rely on translating your existing content — you’ll also want to create content campaigns that are tailored to address issues the local audience cares about.

Translation and international SEO best practices

Site structure for international visitors

Setting up your website for international visitors will be one of the most important steps you take in international SEO. There are few ways to do it. For example, some brands, such as Amazon, create unique top-level domains (TLDs) for each country, such as Amazon.com in the United States vs. Amazon.co.uk in the United Kingdom. Generally, this method works best when you have a very large business with offers and services that differ from country to country.

Success with this type of setup also requires brands to carry a considerable amount of recognition because of the lack of integration between the domains. When you create a new domain for a new country, you more or less have to start from zero from an SEO perspective. This new domain is new, has little to no reputation, no backlinks, and so on. Unless your brand is recognizable enough to overcome this challenge, like Amazon, separate domains will likely not be the way to go.

For most moderately sized companies, creating subdirectories or sub folders branched from their primary TLD tends to work best. This allows you to channel all the power of the domain together. It also becomes simple to add an additional country later if you ever expand again.

When using the subdirectory system, you will need to use hreflang tags to provide Google with the strongest signal for language and country. Although Google can generally detect language pretty reliably, many languages are spoken in more than one country and you may want to tailor content towards people in that country. Hreflang tags also makes it crystal clear to Google how the pages are related and when they should be presented.

There are 3 main options to setting up hreflang tags. You can add them to the HTML for your site, include them in your sitemap, or add them to the HTTP header. Regardless of which one you choose, make sure that all of the pages point to each other. For example, the US English version of a page — hreflang=en-us — should provide access to the UK version — hreflang=en-uk — for UK users and the UK should point back to the US for US visitors. If you fail to connect the pages from both sides, you may find yourself running into errors. Google offers good information regarding hreflang tags here.

Look for international competitors and strategies on local markets

As you move into new markets, you’ll also need to identify your local competitors. Just because you compete with other international brands in the United States does not mean that those companies will also be your primary competitors overseas. You also have to consider local companies.

Examine the SERPs related to your industry and see what kind of content local search engines are rewarding for your most valuable keyword groups. As you begin to identify your top competitors, you also want to look at their digital strategy. Research into the local search engines can provide helpful information about what the SERPs generally value, but for any search engine, that can vary by industry. Looking at the content strategies employed by others in your sector can help you improve your ability to compete.

Adjust content and products to account for changes in local opinions

For many businesses, their product offerings will remain largely consistent across different countries. This makes it tempting to simply translate the product names and pages to the new language, but doing so will overlook potential areas of optimization.

Taking the time to tailor content and product lines to local sensibilities will make it easier to gain footing within the region’s market and begin to secure more leads and customers.

Work with native speakers to create product names, pages, and content that fits the needs and interests of local audiences. Consider what’s most important to them and how your product can fill local needs as you progress. Marketing in general is about personalization and speaking to the needs for specific personas. Customers in your new country want to feel as though you are just as committed to serving them as you are your native audience which can also help bounce rate. You can demonstrate this by producing content tailored to their needs.

Expanding overseas can present you with incredible opportunities to grow your business. Taking these international SEO best practices into account can help you see success.

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