What is International SEO? [Part 1 of 5 Article Series]

What is International SEO

According to Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft,“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”

The Internet plays a very immense and vital role in businesses that make use of digital marketing to reach out to the public. Right from a local shop setting up a website to increase its sales locally and global sites are targeting users in different countries speaking different languages. SEO strategy varies to a great extent in the above two examples. The Internet has transformed the way businesses transact, with websites in India now engaging with customers in different countries.

 

For this to happen, One needs to formulate an effective SEO strategy, and that would include solid keyword research, create outstanding content, sound site architecture which would then help the site in increasing its visibility. This would be a standard SEO strategy, but when you are expanding to countries where the local population altogether speaks a very different language, you need to optimize your site for that language. These audiences are probably similar, but there are always differences. International SEO deals with offering optimized content for multiple languages or multiple locations. By targeting your audiences specifically, it is easier to address their needs.

 

Back in the day, when businesses wanted to expand overseas, they would first proceed with analyzing the foreign markets. Similarly, in today’s scenario, a company that is heavily dependent online, needs to conduct something similar to various tools and resources. We need to keep in mind; the search results change for every country. You can experiment by using a VPN to check the different SERPs in different countries. You’ll be shocked at how certain words have different meanings in different countries.

 

Google ❤️ localized SERPS! Every time a user performs a search, Google results default to the user’s town or zip code (unless the user specifically tells Google not to). Google’s algorithm will then take keyword phrases and decipher if there are any correlations to local businesses or content and display those results”

 

One needs to understand that Google works on a country level, i.e. for India we have Google.co.in and for France we have Google.fr and so on. There are a lot of things that come into play from an International SEO Point of View; no particular method would be accurate. It is best to understand the various ways of targeting users in different countries before implementing, and it’s incredibly crucial to consider the resources available to be deployed for the overseas market. If you’ve come across the term “International SEO” for the first time, you will most likely be confused, so let’s keep it simple for now. You need to keep in mind; we can target users via languages and countries.

 

When done right, international SEO will help you to have the right content listed by the right search engines across countries, languages, and localizations, which will allow you to reach the right visitors with the right messages.

Let’s take an example; example.com is an Indian based site, serving audiences in India. Let’s consider this company is in the business of providing software solutions. Now there is a possibility that the site already gets a good amount of traffic from the US and UK (both English speaking countries)

💡 – 87% of the global population does not speak English, now that number may not be accurate, but one needs to agree a good chunk of the audience is left out. To Tackle this, many businesses started expanding their business overseas with the help of International SEO Consultants.

Coming back to the example, i.e. example.com wants to target audiences in countries like Germany, France, Spain, and South Korea. These countries do not have English as their first language, and all have a different version of Google, and the local audience in South Korea does not even use Google as their first choice of Search Engine.

To emphasize, let’s assume the main keyword for the business is “software development company.”

Keeping the basics of SEO in mind, the company’s in-house SEO Specialist needs to optimize the page for a German variant of the word development. This how the main keyword would be for the two languages

  • Software development company
  • Softwareentwicklungsunternehmen

You might have this question – Am I suggesting a different page with the exact content in different languages?
Yes, Exactly!

But wouldn’t that cause duplicate content issue

Yes, it would.

Then how does that help?

Here comes hreflang into the picture; it was introduced by Google in the year 2011 to help the Search Engine identify the relationship between 2 sets of pages in different languages.

So you would ideally want the German audience to head over to the right page of your website, and the English speaking audience to the English version. It isn’t that easy as the German Language is a bit different in a few countries. We would have an Austrian version of the language and a Swiss Version. The hreflang tags can help us with Country-wise targeting as well.

For this, one needs to identify the business goals and which countries would be a priority before executing an International SEO Strategy.

 

Key Aspects of an International SEO strategy

 

Content

Content is a very important aspect of your multilingual SEO strategy.If you want to write content in different languages, you’ll need to adapt your content or create original content. Adapting your content while maintaining good SEO can be a challenge. 

Translating content via Google Translate is a Big No. It certainly will not appeal to the readers, even though Google Translate does a good job, but there is a possibility of the translation not being accurate.

 

Keyword Research

Your content strategy should always start with keyword research, a bit of help from a native speaker will definitely go a long way. An in-depth KW research will help you in making the decision of expanding to another country. Just like we wouldn’t neglect KW research for our own site, similarly we need to find out the market potential country wise.

 

Domain Structure

Choosing a structure would be the most crucial part, as mentioned earlier there are two ways of targeting and when it comes to domain structure there are 3 ways one can go about it.

  • CCTLDs
  • Sub Directories
  • Sub Domains

Each structure has its own set of pros and cons. This will be explained in-depth in articles to come.

 

Hreflang

After the domain structure is selected and finalized, next comes the implementation part. Here hreflang is the final piece of the puzzle. Extremely confusing at times, in fact according to a survey around 90% of people get it wrong. 

Here a few tools that would help you out to a great extent.

 

International SEO Tools

 

There are quite a few tools available to help us navigate tackling International SEO with ease. I can’t possibly imagine how I would execute an International SEO plan without them.

  1. The hreflang Tags Generator Tool – helps you generate the hreflang annotations 
  2. hreflang Testing Tool – enables you to check if the tags are implemented correctly
  3. hreflang Tag Checker (Chrome extension) – allows you to check if the pages back reference to other pages. 

There are other tools available on the world wide web, but these are more than enough to help us plan, execute and rectify if need be.

 

In conclusion, even after everything is executed, it would still take a considerable amount of time to witness the beneficial aspects of International SEO, like some said – “SEO is a marathon, not a sprint”. 

With the above in mind, you must keep the needs of the users in mind right from scratch. This does sound easy, but when you tackle it bit by bit, you’ll be surprised at the insights you can garner when you deep dive. 

There are numerous case studies available on the internet (I will be publishing Domain Structures in Detail ) many times, things have gone drastically wrong for businesses. It ends up hurting their rankings, so please proceed with caution and consult a few before taking the call.

So in one line – International SEO is all about optimizing our site for an audience in a different country or for a different speaking language audience.

Shivaharsh Murugan
Shivaharsh Murugan

A company secretary and lawyer-turned SEO geek and also someone who thinks he is deeply passionate about startups.

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