So you’re thinking about going international… Congrats! We all know the aim of the game is global domination. Have you thought about how this might affect your SEO (search engine optimisation) though? Look, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that SEO is different all over the world, because realistically, the main concepts and processes are fairly similar. However, I am here to tell you that the way you look at SEO for each region IS different and, well, super important! So it’s not so much the SEO process that changes, more so the SEO strategy for each region.
Now we all know that the number 1 rule in marketing is knowing your audience. This is a crucial part of why SEO varies around the world.
Why do we insist on jumping on planes each year, chasing that ~wanderlust~ feeling through the canals of Venice, catching the “travel bug” in the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh City and returning home only to spend the remainder of the year posting “Take me back!” instagram posts? Because as humans we love experiencing the beautiful landscapes, exotic foods and wild & wacky cultures that each region around the world has to offer. Every country around the world is a unique and diverse market of its own. With this in mind, each country also uses the internet differently. Each region comes with their own values, interests, rules and regulations. This is why your SEO strategy should differ with each region.
There are 3 main things you need to keep in mind when looking at your international SEO strategy.
1. Your search competition is going to be different in each market
All that peddling you've been doing to get your site where it's at in your home country? Well I’m sorry to say, you've got a whole other stage of the Tour de France to get through, with a whole bunch of riders who’ve just joined the race. Put simply, entering a new search market means you're competing with that market’s already optimised sites. It's going to take time to grow awareness amongst competition in a Google or search domain you’re new to.
Each region of the world has their own Google ccTLD (Google.com, Google.fr, Google.es, Google.jpn etc.). And to be honest, they all behave pretty similarly with almost identical algorithms. But it's important to understand that each has its own world of published web pages.
Now don’t freak out too much- it doesn't mean you’re starting at zero domain authority, but it does mean your brand will have less awareness. Less awareness = less website traffic. So basically you have to work a little harder to get this search market’s attention.
A good way of starting at this is looking at what your biggest competitors in this search market are doing. Look for trends and content that is gaining traction. The more organic content you create specifically relevant to this region, the more awareness and traffic you will achieve, ultimately boosting your website’s authority. Another way of gaining authority in a different search region is networking with established sites and developing your backlink profile. This is where your website is linked on other industry-relevant websites. Search engines love quality backlinks. It tells search engines ‘yeah, we know our stuff’ *inserts ultra cool-guy with sunglasses on emoji here*.
2. Speak their language
Obviously this is a bit of an elephant in the room… and it is pretty crucial especially when it comes to keywords, which are you know, like, the Big Kahuna of the SEO world. Keywords are a great way to optimise your content so it ranks on search engines. Consequently, it's important to do some research into the keywords appropriate for your product/service in relation to the target country.
Some keywords that are effective in English, might not be so effective if they're just word for word translated into a different language. This could be for a number of reasons, maybe it might not have the same meaning, or it could have different connotations. There are some words in other languages that simply just don't translate to English… which to be honest is hard for me to comprehend- this sits on par with thinking about the fact that time is just a social construct… don't even get me started with that one.
Anyway, our advice to best mitigate translation issues is to do a fair bit of research and if possible, reach out to someone who is clued in on the target market language. This is another really effective way to optimise your content- getting a local creator to write and produce content for you. To be honest, I would say this is an invaluable way to ensure your content is relevant, helpful, engaging and ultimately- optimised appropriately for that region. Another added bonus to hiring local talent, they really do know their stuff about the region, so you're putting yourself in the best possible position to be authentic and genuine which is another step towards gaining authority.
When setting up your website for an international audience, you have a couple of options depending on whether you have whole pages translated or whether you just want to attract an audience from a certain region. For example you can have a country subdirectory after the gTLD such as: domain.com/french/ which could attract french speaking users or you could have: domain.com/us/ to have the United States as the target country. Similarly, you could implement a subdomain before the gTLD such as: fr.domain.com to attract people who speak french, or eu.domain.com to attract users from Europe as a whole. Another option would be replacing the gTLD (.com) with a country code top level domain (ccTLD) such as: domain.jpn for a Japanese site and domain.nz for a New Zealand site.
Each domain structure comes with its pros and cons as well as their own price tag, so it's good to do some research into exactly what you want to achieve and which structure is best for your site. Hubspot has a great article about setting up your site for international SEO here.
Multilingual SEO meta tags are also pretty important when assigning different languages on your website. These are the tags in the HTML coding of your website. These tags help search engines figure out who the content is for when crawling your site. Ultimately another small step in the quest for global domination *cough* I mean global search engine optimisation...
3. Sometimes Google just ‘aint all that
While we talk about optimising our sites for well known search engines like Google, Yahoo or Bing, in some regions these search engines don’t exist or are banned. If you are looking to expand into these markets, it's important to find out which major search platforms you need to optimise for.
For example, Russia’s main search engine is Yandex and in China, it's Baidu. Unfortunately, unlike the major search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing) that all have similar algorithms and behaviours, these less known search engines, are actually pretty different and therefore you’ll have to do your research into which search engine you’re tackling.
All in all, SEO processes don’t really change from country to country (unless that country likes being a little more difficult like China or Russia), however you will need to invest some energy into creating an SEO strategy for each region. The best way to start to do this is to think back to basics, eg. knowing your target audience, researching local trends and delivering relevant and engaging content.