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International SEO: Expanding Your Reach Across Borders

International SEO is the process of optimizing your website so that search engines can easily identify which countries you want to target and which languages you are using. This will allow your website to appear in search results pages for people using search queries in those languages or those located in the countries you are targeting. This is usually done by using elements such as hreflang tags, ccTLD’s or through the use of Google Webmaster Tools. International SEO service is not suited to every website, generally for small business and informational websites this is not required. This is due to the fact that the website owner would not see a sufficient return to justify the time and money it would take to correctly implement international SEO. Often, implementing international SEO can be extremely complex, and if not done correctly or if the below elements are not considered it could lead to a loss in traffic and rankings which you may have previously had.

What is International SEO?

The above two examples both fall into a category of search engine marketing often referred to as “In-Country” SEO and is seen as the most cost-effective way of increasing traffic and a website’s ROI from a global audience using search engines. The term “In-Country” SEO is slightly misleading to some as it’s not necessary to be physically located in the country you are targeting, nor does it require a team of native speakers from the said country. The main and basic concept here is that the strategy and implementation of the campaign are specifically targeting the audience of a certain country. This may involve language changes to the site, the products and services on offer, and also the types of link building and online PR used to gain search engine ranking results.

International SEO is seen as geographically focusing on the leisure and money-making commerce companies. An example of this is an Australian company who decides to create a website specifically targeting the US market, as well as the keywords that are used by US searchers. This would be defined as the company entering the USA regional market through a .com domain. What search engines will see as a result is a website hosted on a US IP address using US English. Similarly, a UK website targeting the Indian market place using an Indian subdomain such as .in would be recognized as an EMEA regional search marketing campaign.

Importance of International SEO

Structure of the economy has changed and it is increasing as the time passes. People all over the world are trading more, and one of the after effects is that business is no more restricted to geographical boundaries. A client sitting in one corner of the world can have a look at the products of a company situated at the other corner. This is the era in which one can witness a transition of conventional method of business to e-business. With the increase in the application of internet in all spheres of business, there has been a fast rise in the e-commerce industry. E-commerce is not the next big thing, it is the current big thing. An action plan for the company in e-commerce starts with creating websites and it is just a beginning. No company would want their website to remain isolated from the rest of the world and they tend to make best possible efforts for successful marketing of the site. Marketing is a strategic step for any business to trigger more sales. In the case of e-business, it entails web-marketing. A lot has been written about various web-marketing strategies: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Article Marketing, Blogging, Link Exchange etc. The regular need for SEO services has lead to a huge power struggle as companies compete to have their site displayed within the first page or two of the search engine results. This is so because a surfer is not patient enough to scroll the pages to find the desired site and the real action in terms of getting more visitors is at improved ranking of site, preferably within the top ten search results. The SEO industry is ever evolving and the most recent development is the international SEO. SEO is an activity which is done to improve the ranking of a site. When the same activity is done by keeping an international audience in mind, it becomes international SEO. International SEO advances the efforts to optimise the website for increased web traffic and search results from a global audience. With the explosion of outsourcing there has been a rapid increase in the number of MNCs and the need to reach a global audience. All these MNCs are backed with strong financial reserves and their action plan for promotion of their website is the top-notch. They have an assumption that the extra investment on their website is likely to provide them more revenue. On the other hand there is fierce competition among the students for higher education in international universities. Be it academic or commercial, everyone wants to have a cutting edge advantage over others. This same psychology is applicable for companies carrying business in their niche market. They are aware of the product line of their competitors and always have a thought that they could have done the same thing better. This brings us to a conclusion that everyone is looking for the best. In the previously quoted examples of MNCs and niche market companies, international SEO is the best solution for their website to have a global reach, better than their current web traffic. Unfortunately the one thing in common for all types of companies, big or small, is the lack of awareness about the concept of international SEO and how to go about it.

Benefits of Expanding Your Reach Across Borders

First and foremost, this experience will provide a vast amount of information and experience for a company. In a very short time, a new understanding will be reached in consumer demand across different regions. It will also highlight areas of the world where the company’s products or services might be in higher demand. This is crucial information that can take a lot of time and money to achieve through any other marketing channel. This hands-on data is essential to the development of the company’s global marketing strategy. Having a clear understanding of where in the world their market is, and where the demand is highest can prevent wasted resources on regions that are unlikely to bring a high ROI.

One of the biggest benefits of implementing an international SEO strategy is the ability to extend the company’s reach into new regions. This is generally the purpose of any SEO campaign. In turn, it is also the best way of accomplishing it. While businesses may see this as a way to increase global sales, there are several positive outcomes that can benefit the company overall.

Key Considerations for International SEO

Country-code top-level domains are specific to a particular country and are easier to manage in terms of informing search engines about the location of a site. For Baidu SEO, this would mean that to benefit the promotion of a site in, say, France or Germany, it would be best to use a .fr or .de domain to specify the location of the site. From experiences of clients, this can often lead to a situation where a company would forego using a ccTLD and instead use a Chinese domain for all web content in an attempt to unify domains and not require further domain registration and management. An extreme example would be Google, who now use a .cn domain for its main search site in China, despite having had significant issues with the Chinese government and compromising the company’s global image.

An international domain is not specific to any one country and it is also called a generic top-level domain. This is often used by companies to ensure that all their web content, even that aimed at foreign countries, is displayed under the same domain. The drawback here is that in order to get international domains, companies may have to, in some cases, register a domain for each country as well as meeting various criteria for each country, which can often be a complex and unrealistic process.

When it comes to SEO and the best way to promote visibility of a site on search engines, it is generally accepted that having a clear keyword-rich domain name is beneficial. This is because a URL with keywords highlighted is often more likely to attract click-throughs when it appears in search engine results. In terms of international SEO, this can often cause a conflict between using a TLD and using the more effective strategy for SEO.

There are some key considerations that differ when carrying out SEO to a foreign market. When it comes to international search engine marketing, firms may often be confused about whether they should use an international domain or a specific country code top-level domain. We will use examples from China and Baidu to explain some of these considerations.

Language and Localization

Different search engines have different requirements for URL structure, and it’s important to understand these requirements when deciding what languages to translate your sites into. Tim Webber, Marketing Manager at WebCertain says, “If you’re looking to do international SEO, do not copy your English site to a.com/whateverlanguage – make an effort to achieve the best possible URL for your target market.” This is especially true in the case of Baidu. When targeting users in different countries, it’s also advisable to use country-specific domains to increase local awareness and trust in your brand. Linguistic issues also pose some interesting challenges for international SEO. Those fluent in English can often assume that translation is all that’s required in turning a website into a foreign language site. However, not only can language differ between countries, so too can an understanding of just what is meant by ‘English’. This was illustrated in a humorous campaign by Coors, in which the maxim ‘turn it loose’ was used as an English slogan around the world. Unfortunately, in Spanish, this translates as ‘suffer from diarrhea’. The company has listed the slogan as one of the biggest blunders in its history. This shows that transcreation is probably a better strategy than straight translation in transferring meanings and concepts into different languages. URL structure aside, use the hreflang attribute to match the URL with the right location and language in the search console. This is especially important if each piece of content does not have exact translations.

Country-Specific Search Engines

SEO practitioners should establish the market share of major search engines across target countries. Knowing which search engines are most popular provides insight into optimization strategies and allows targeting of efforts. For example, the search engine market in Germany is largely divided between google.de and t-online.de, while in France it is a variety of French portals and Free, the French ISP. Understanding how search engines are accessed may also help identify consumer preferences; for example, there is a marked preference for using portal sites to reach search functionality in Japan. Finally, it is important to consider factors such as political or legal issues which may affect the status of certain search engines in specific countries. Case in point, the recent decision by Google to censor results in China comes to mind.

Country-specific search engines are one of the primary considerations in developing an international search strategy. While the majority of search activity on the web may be conducted via a handful of major search engines, individual countries often possess their own popular resources, sometimes to the virtual exclusion of all others. For example, Baidu is the lead search engine in China, Yandex is the leader in Russia, and Seznam in the Czech Republic. While the effect is often an extension of the language – Google is primarily an English language resource in the UK – in other cases, such as South Korea, it may be the result of conscious marketing decisions.

Cultural Differences and User Behavior

Cultural differences can also affect users’ attitude to a website. In some cultures, it is taboo to be ‘sold to’ in an online environment. One of the most important steps when planning international SEO is to draw up a list of your target keywords in the foreign language. This is where direct translation of your English keywords can be a big pitfall. An English word may have several meanings, and it is likely that different words are used to describe a product or service in another. Using colloquialisms and industry-specific jargon is also ill-advised. A keyword glossary can save a lot of headaches down the line and is a useful reference for any website content written in the target language.

Probably the most challenging aspect of successful international SEO is the understanding and implementation of cultural differences on user search behavior. Cultural differences can affect the meaning of words, and thus the keywords that users will input into a search engine query when looking for your product or service. For example, it has been noted that American users will search for “vacation” while UK users will search for “holiday”. At first glance this might not seem like an issue, however think about a British company wanting to attract American visitors to their site for ‘cheap Florida holidays’. If they have optimized for the keyword ‘holiday’ they may be missing a large chunk of US traffic that searches for ‘vacation’.

Strategies for International SEO

An amount of money customers are willing to pay for a product from different cultures varies greatly. Ford Motor Company ran into trouble when they priced the Ford Focus too high in the US market compared to their UK prices because they didn’t take into account that a Focus is seen as a more luxurious car in the UK than in the US. An adapted pricing strategy involves a different approach and price for each market. High profile products such as luxury and status items are affected greatly by price and this affects a global pricing strategy, as in Eastern countries; these products would be priced higher than in the west to give the same perceived status. Heavily regulated industries such as insurance and utilities have to have a standard cost, so pricing becomes more simple.

The process of choosing a good price and availability of product or service which can attract user interest to purchase from website. The most common two methods for international pricing strategy in e-marketing. There are two types: extension and adaptation. An extension pricing takes the company’s domestic price and simply converts it to local currency. This is a rather risky strategy because it does not take into account the different standard of livings in different countries.

Keyword Research and Localization

Creating a really efficient global keyword list can be a challenging task because many times the best keywords within one country are not the same as those in another. Though paid tools such as Google’s AdWords keyword tool or WordTracker aren’t free, they are invaluable for any marketer trying to develop a global keyword list. In addition to giving search volume and competition, each provides the ability to target a specific country and language. This is important as it will allow you to find out how many people are searching for your keyword within a specific country. For example, just because a keyword has a high search volume globally, does not necessarily mean there is a demand for it within your target country. Going through the keyword sets for each country and language one by one can also be a good way to compare true search volume and trends globally. It may be beneficial to create a single international keyword spreadsheet or individual spreadsheets for each country. In creating the spreadsheet compare and contrast the keyword sets, keep a record of each keyword’s search volume, and determine the competitiveness and click value of each keyword in the target market.

Website Structure and Navigation

From an SEO perspective, a different country site is usually most effectively served on a separate domain. But if you are going to use a subdomain or subdirectory to keep everything on the same domain, then it’s still possible to implement the tag and still effective in conserving link equity between pages. It’s recommended to avoid using cookies or scripts to show translated content, as it can cause indexing issues. If you must use them and the content is inaccessible to users without JavaScript, then there are also specific recommendations for mitigating hidden content. This guide thoroughly explains the differences between methods and the attributes for any site structure.

This is not a widely known tag and it’s quite beyond the scope of this article, but it’s the most effective way to serve the correct language pages in Google SERPs. Using this tag is also in line with Google best practices, who also state that when the language or content differs by location, it is also a good idea to either explicitly target users or use auto-redirect with hreflang attributes. Using the tag means that it’s not necessary to auto-redirect users to the page that is most relevant to them as search results will just serve a link to the most relevant page. This means that it’s easier for both users and bots to implement and understand. Auto redirects will steer bots away from the best practice of serving the page in search results.

We have already established that the best approach to take when targeting a different country is to use a ccTLD. But with SEO, the choices on how you set up your site do not stop there. There are three main ways you can set up an international site, by using ccTLD, subdomains or subdirectories. If you are using a ccTLD, then you also have a separate website, so you must make sure that from every international page there are links between each different language. If you are using subdomains or subdirectories, you will probably be using the same site, or a site with just a few differences between each. In this case, it is best to use the ‘rel=”alternate”‘ hreflang link element – an HTML tag that helps Google serve the correct language or regional URL in search results. This tag takes 2 forms, one for linking pages that have the same content in a different language and one for linking similar or identical content for the same language.

Content Creation and Translation

This is important because the only way your site will come up in the search results when a person is using Google search is if the content indexed by Google is what it deems the most relevant to this person based on their location.

If you decide to go with this strategy, you will still need to create country-specific content for the search engines. This is a way to inform the search engines which site is intended for which country. When search engines see duplicate content on different pages, they will censor the content they see as less important. This means only the content on the site that the search engines associate as intended for a specific country will appear in the results when a user in that country is searching.

The first step is to make a firm decision as to whether you want to create the same site for multiple countries or create a different site for every country you want to target. There are pros and cons to both strategies. If you create the same site for multiple countries, you will only have to do the SEO and design work one time, and it will be much easier to manage. This strategy can also be effective in building a brand that is recognizable worldwide.

Content on your site is the most important factor in determining the ranking of your pages because it carries the majority of the weight in on-page optimization. When you decide to expand your website into other countries or create an international one, there are a few steps you must follow to make sure you get the most out of the content on your site.

Link Building and Backlink Profile

Create an interesting, attractive, well-presented, and resourceful site. Website visitors are more likely to link to your website if you are offering help, assistance, tips, free resources, instructions, or similar. This is especially true if the visitors who wish to link to you have sites based upon the same nature of topics provided.

Set your website/blog clearly. A clear purpose is a must, especially if you are engaged in internet marketing or attempting to advertise an MLM opportunity. The clearer your website/blog, the more likely you’ll attract potential for reciprocal linking or one-way links.

Link building strategies should be a priority if you are attempting to increase your website’s visibility, rankings, and traffic. The following are steps of successful link building strategies.

Link building is a process of acquiring backlinks to your site. It is a crucial aspect of a search engine optimization campaign. Acquiring backlinks to your website increases link popularity, another crucial aspect of search engine optimization. This helps search engines in determining the importance of your website. A site which has a great deal more backlinks than others in its category, or backlinks from a great many other websites in the same category, tend to rank better with the major search engines.

Measuring Success in International SEO

Successful search engine optimization requires continual monitoring to maintain rank and respond to new opportunities or threats. International SEO adds a layer of complexity to the basic SEO tasks with the additional need to track and respond to changes in the international market. This includes managing the implementation of the various languages of your site and the addition or removal of targeted country-specific content. Here we’ll take a look at the essential practices and tools that will help you manage and monitor your search engine ranking and traffic on a country-specific level in an international SEO context. Although it is possible to gather some of the required data using non-specific tools, the ability to easily and precisely gather data specific to a country or language is a great advantage.

Tracking Rankings and Organic Traffic

Rankings and organic traffic are still the most tracked metrics in international SEO success. Despite serving personalized results, most search engines still provide a ranking order that fluctuates and is not too different from one user to the next. It is still a good indicator of your SEO efforts. Due to Google’s “not provided” showings in analytics, organic traffic tracking has taken a hit. You used to be able to segment traffic and with a little manipulation be able to see what search query was used to get to that page. Google would provide you with the keyword as a way to monitor and improve your SEO efforts. Now almost all traffic is showing up as the “not provided” query, however it is still possible to see which landing page the visitor has come to and deduce what keyword a page was optimized for based on the content of the landing page. Although it is no longer as accurate as before, it is still a good method for determining which keywords are still worth investing in.

Analyzing Conversion Rates and ROI

The page that acts as the bridge between your website and the visitor in question, in most cases the homepage, should be optimized so that it presents the most relevant information and reflects local values and trends to create an immediate mutual understanding between visitor and website. The more deeply your homepage is linked with the values and trends of the foreign culture, the higher the probability of the meeting of the visitor objectives and visitor return rate, hence raising the conversion rate of these visitors. With this, more complex and specific methods come into play with a broad aim to enhance page relevance.

In order to accurately evaluate the conversion rate of your visitors from the search engine for a specific country, an effective evaluation of the number of search visitors is required. This can be achieved by comparing your data to other online data sources, such as an online national research sample, by taking the percentage of search visitors from the search engine and multiplying it by the internet usage population framed by the particular demographics for the specific search term.

It is essential to understand your international organic traffic performance, wherein an understanding of the sources of your web visitors and paying visitors vs. non-paying visitors is a great starting point. Suppose you have objectives, each type of visitor is akin to each type of organic traffic, so knowing the value and volume of each of these is also crucial in evaluating whether or not your SEO campaign is matching up to your expectations for the specific country or language search engine. This valuable data can be retrieved using filters to emphasize various parameters in the advanced segments tab in Google Analytics, which effectively allows you to compare and contrast the different values in a clearer, more simplified two-dataset format.

Monitoring Competitors and Market Trends

To monitor your competitors and market trends, you will need to set aside a great deal of time and resources. First, analyze the types of keywords and phrases that your potential customers are using, and then collect the URLs of the competitors who are ranking well with those terms. The next step is to find out who is linking to your competitors and what anchor text they are using. This is an important third step to the link building process, as it shows the types of sites that you need to approach for links and, at the end of your campaigns, it enables you to report to your clients the types of links and ROI that were achieved. Step four is to aggregate all of the data from the first three steps and use it to glean a rough pattern of the online market within your industry. Whether it is to inform clients or stakeholders, or just to understand the landscape of your industry, market analysis is an important step to take. The final step is the continuous process of tracking and reporting, as this will enable you to see the effects of your SEO efforts in correlation to the online market and provide actionable data for future campaigns.

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