Did you know that 40% of consumers won’t buy products if they’re not listed in their native languages? This is just one of the many reasons why international SEO is becoming increasingly important, particularly for businesses with an eye on expansion.
But just what is international SEO? Why is it so essential in today’s digital world? And how do you implement an effective international SEO strategy that considers the needs of your overseas audience?
In this post, we’ll answer all of these questions, highlighting the 5 steps needed to create a successful international SEO strategy.
What is international SEO?
International SEO is a set of techniques used to optimize websites for users in foreign countries or with foreign languages. It focuses on tailoring website content, keywords, and other elements to match the language and culture of a given target market. This allows businesses to reach a wider international audience and potentially increase their revenue. Be that you need a big SEO agency for SaaS or you are a small business looking for help with international SEO, it is important to ensure that your website and content are optimized for the target markets.
This includes researching local languages and cultures, developing relevant keywords, writing localized website copy and blog posts, creating multilingual versions of websites, monitoring competitor activity in foreign countries, and tracking performance data.
In order to ensure successful international SEO, businesses must first identify the market(s) and language(s) they wish to target. They should then analyze the language and culture of the target market, and use this to tailor content, keywords, and other elements. Content should be localized as much as possible to ensure it is relevant to the target market, and keywords should be tailored to match the language and culture.
Why is international SEO important?
International SEO is a powerful tool for businesses looking to expand into foreign markets. By using various techniques to tailor content and keywords to each overseas market, businesses can increase their reach and their revenue. However, it is important to remember that international SEO takes time and effort to implement properly — so businesses should plan carefully and make sure to use the best approach for each of their target markets.
So, how can businesses implement an effective international SEO strategy? Here are our five top tips:
1. Identify which markets to target
Naturally, when designing an international SEO strategy, the first step is to identify the overseas markets you want to go after. Rather than taking a blanket approach or leaning mainly on guesswork, this requires extensive research and planning — identifying where the most lucrative opportunities might be hiding will enable you to tailor your strategy accordingly, considering aspects such as market stability, consumer trends, and the technologies that are prevalent in each of your chosen markets.
The following techniques may help you in determining which overseas markets represent the best opportunities for international expansion:
- Carry out competitor research on brands within your niche that are already selling in overseas markets. Who are the biggest players in each market? Is there a gap you can exploit? How are these brands marketing to international consumers?
- Use a tool such as Clicky to identify which countries your existing traffic is coming from. This will enable you to determine whether there’s already an interest in your product or service in those markets.
- Use a tool such as SEMrush to carry out keyword research — this may enable you to see whether you’re already ranking for any country-specific keywords, which will give you an idea of search volume within specific markets.
Using this research, you can create a step-by-step plan, mapping out which markets you want to target, in what order, and what you need to do to optimize your site for each market. If you notice that your website is already getting a substantial amount of traffic from South America, for example (possibly indicating an existing demand for your product or service in that region), you may determine that it makes sense to target this location first. Alternatively, you might decide to begin your expansion with other English-speaking countries, since this may represent a more straightforward task.
2. Know your audiences
Once you’ve identified the markets you want to target, the next step is building up a solid understanding of the audiences within them. Only by knowing your audience can you truly create an effective SEO strategy for each region, since there are several factors to consider beyond language differentiation: these include cultural nuances, differing consumer tastes and expectations, varying technology and device usage, as well as factors such as the financial stability of each region (if you’re a seller of luxury goods, for example, you may struggle to attract audiences in poorer countries).
Here are a few tips for carrying out effective international consumer research:
- Carry out online surveys to collect data and insights from consumers. These can be conducted online, over the phone, or in person, and are an effective way to capture a sample of your target market’s opinions, preferences, and gripes.
- Create one or more focus groups, which are a great way to get an in-depth understanding of a target market’s thoughts and feelings. They involve a group of consumers discussing a given topic in an open and free-flowing way.
- Lean on local knowledge by employing freelancers or contractors within the region you’re targeting. Remote’s Contractor Management service enables businesses to hire international contractors remotely without any legal or compliance hassles.
3. Consider the technical factors
An important part of international SEO is considering the more technical elements, such as determining your URL and domain structure. Far from being merely formalities, these send clear signals to search engines such as Google about which country (or countries) your website serves, and enable them to display relevant results to users within those locations. Having a clear URL and domain structure will also reassure your international users that they’re in the right place, giving them the confidence to continue browsing.
When structuring your website’s domains for other countries, you have three main options:
- A country code top-level domain (ccTLD) is a two-letter domain assigned to a specific country (e.g. website.ca for Canada or website.mx for Mexico)
- A subdomain combines a a global top-level domain (gTLD) such as .com with a country-specific subdomain (e.g. mx.website.com)
- A subdirectory uses a country-specific directory or folder alongside a global top-level domain (gTLD) (e.g. example.com/mx).
In most cases it’s recommended to use a ccTLD, as this is the clearest indicator to Google of the countries your website is serving. This also makes it easier for your users to see that the domain they’re visiting matches the country they’re in. However, ccTLDs are generally more expensive and time-consuming to set up, while a subdomain or subdirectory might be more straightforward. These are typically more suited to websites where language is the only real differentiator.
4. Carry out keyword research
While keyword research may form an integral part of your initial research phase, at this point it’s time to get far more granular so you can really hone in on the most valuable keywords to target in each overseas market. Even where there’s no difference in language, it’s still essential that you apply a different keyword strategy for each region — think about the US and the UK, for example: they speak the same language, but with subtle differences. A flashlight is known as a torch in the UK, while when UK audiences search ‘trainers’ they’re looking for what an American would call sneakers.
It’s also important to consider that while Google is the world’s most widely-used search engine, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the most popular in every country — Google represents a very small percentage of the market in China, for example, where Baidu is the most popular search engine. So, while Google’s Keyword Planner will be a useful tool for carrying out keyword research in most countries, you might want to opt for a different option for markets such as China: Yiva Digital’s Baidu Keyword Planner will enable you to identify Chinese keywords and search volume data.
5. Optimize your content for each market
The way you approach international content optimization will depend on whether your SEO strategy is simply language-specific or explicitly tailored to each overseas audience. The key question is whether your product or service proposition is broadly the same in other countries, or whether it needs to be altered for that market. If the former is true, your main priority will be ensuring your content is available in multiple languages using a hreflang tag (for example, a SaaS platform such as Basecamp is not specifically location-dependent).
For something like a clothing brand selling physical products, however, a simple language switch might not be enough. Trends differ between countries, and factors such as sustainability might be more important to some audiences than others, so your content will need to reflect that. It will take more time and effort, of course (a freelance copywriter might come in handy here), but ensuring your content is keyword-optimized and written specifically with an international audience in mind will help it resonate with users and improve your website’s ranking potential.
Implementing an effective SEO strategy is no walk in the park, but it’s essential if your business is operating in more than one global market or has plans to expand into new territories. It starts with identifying the key markets to target, and requires extensive consumer research, an understanding of technical SEO factors, a solid keyword research strategy, and the ability to tailor your content to each unique market.