In a globalized world, foreign market outreach should always be a consideration. Despite the surge in global interconnectivity, companies today still suffer from archaic approaches to expansion, which do not recognize the potential of international audiences.

In general, a website is a company’s most valuable platform, functioning as a virtual storefront and a doorway to the world’s untapped markets. Therefore, if there is any desire to expand and reach new audiences, one should design and employ an international SEO strategy.

What Is International SEO?

SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization.” It is an online marketing strategy useful for designing one’s website to appear in the top search engine results. Contrary to a Search Engine Advertising (SEA) strategy, where entities pay to have their advertisements prioritized, SEO relies on organic results. This means that, with SEO, companies optimize their website content based on popular keywords that are searched by users.

Local SEO is a website design approach that places advertising focus on a particular  market. If a corporation has French origins, a focus on local SEO will drive the company to gravitate towards keyword searches specific to France. With that said, as one incorporates certain keywords into a website, they might find it difficult to rank well on search results depending on the competitiveness of either the keywords or general market. To account for this, international SEO provides an opportunity to experiment with multiple markets and ultimately boost traffic.

International SEO brings SEO optimization to a new level, opening a company to even wider audiences. In our example, there is an entire world outside of France with various other cultures and markets to reach. Choosing to implement an international SEO strategy could quickly develop a company’s presence on the international web, therefore, generating significantly more traffic and even more conversion. 

With international SEO, there might also be less competition abroad, making it easier to rank well on search engine results for keywords specific to a given market. Therefore, with a site optimized for international SEO, users from different countries will be able to find one’s company through a search in their native language. Optimizing for international audiences is key, and it is exactly how companies can expect to increase their traffic. The broader a target audience, the more likely people are to encounter the website.

What Should I Know About Going Global

SEO optimization is not done in a day, nor is it without cost. Going global needs resources. In addition to this, keep in mind that it is a significant undertaking that can never be finished– it must be continuously maintained.

To launch the internationalization of a website, one will need:

  • Media developers (native speakers) to continuously create new content and have it translated.
  • Web developers in order to optimize the technical aspects that will be discussed below.

International SEO: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Certainly, this is a complicated undertaking that is not necessarily adapted to every company or type of market. So, how does one know if they should expand their market abroad?

Refer to two questions:

  • Is there an interest in expanding to foreign audiences? Do some market research.
  • Are there sufficient resources to accomplish this? Check prices for freelance translators, media creators, and content writers on dedicated platforms, such as Malt.

If the answer for both questions is “yes,” then do not lose out on a great opportunity. Take the plunge!

Choosing The Right Markets

Selecting new target markets is the immediate step forward if deciding to expand globally.

To determine the most promising audience, refer to specialized tools that analyze market data. Using these, companies should be searching for foreign locations where people browse their website. For example, an English-focused website might detect English search queries from Germany. In this instance, Germany then presents itself as an interesting target market. The company in question should consider developing a German version of the website to encourage even more traffic. If this method is too reliant on external factors, companies should perform research on keywords for different countries, creating an overview of the general interests in their markets. As this research is continued, the SEO difficulty will be indicative of the market competitiveness. To develop a broader understanding of market availability, check out some of the world’s most widely used languages on the internet like Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, or Japanese.

Sometimes, companies have to decide between choosing a target country or a target language. This all depends on the type of market being pursued. A corporation producing cups stylized with French captions might find its product marketable to not only French customers, but also Canadian or Belgian ones too. In this case, it can target the French language itself, and not just France. 

As for whether you should target a country or a language: it depends. Some products may be of interest to speakers of a particular language anywhere in the world. Others may only be of interest in certain countries. Just note that the technical method to identify the language of your site will be different in each case (we’ll look at this in the last part of the article).

How To Develop International SEO

Localize Your Website: The International Leap

The first step in internationalizing a site is to localize it for foreign audiences. With that said, if a company decides to target an entire language, culturally adapting it for each dialect could be difficult. In this scenario, proficient translators are recommended to navigate the nuances of each culture’s language.

In moving forward with a localization process, a company should contact a Language Service Provider (LSP) when specific cultural audiences have been selected. After the source website has been completed, it is then time for the globalizing or internationalizing phase. Depending on the languages chosen for translation, the size of characters and words can vary greatly and interfere with the design of a website. Therefore, be open to adapting the interface for multilingualism if necessary. In addition, take into account the usual interface features and differing measurement units of each country. Offer users from each culture a different version of the website, uniquely adapted in layout, colors, design, images, etc.

What About SEO?

Once the content has been translated, the process arrives at the heart of international SEO. It is time for the material to be optimized for search engine results. With this task, determine the most popular search engine for the target country. Even if Google remains the general world leader, it is not always the primary option around the globe. In Russia, Yandex dominates the market, and in China, Baidu is the leader.

Follow the foundational SEO rules, but this time, curated for the target country. This means observing and applying the most popular keywords, creating valuable, relevant content, and offering links to any translated sites. Do not forget to adapt the links after translation too! A company might even benefit by creating new content for unique versions of its website.

If there are multiple dialects, i.e. British-English or American-English, use Google’s Keyword Planner or Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest for keyword research regarding specific countries. More often than not, nations do not share the same search habits and expressions. If targeting a specific language rather than a country, focus keyword research on the country that holds the most speakers.

Once the work is done, maintain the different versions of the website. The effort of globalizing a domain is fruitless without sufficient upkeep. Indeed, if new content is added to the original site, it will have to be translated. Additionally, as mentioned before, it is more effective if you can develop unique content dedicated to each market. So, keep in touch with those essential localizers and translators!

The Right URL

Finally, for a website to be correctly identified by both users and bots, it must be represented by its language. There are several ways to ensure this, but this article will only explain the two most common.

The first method involves assigning a site to each language using different ccTLDs (Country Code Top Level Domain). For example, “mywebsite.fr” would be selected to represent the French site and “mywebsite.it” would be representative of the Italian site. This solution is the most efficient but also the most expensive and strenuous to maintain. It is only recommended for large companies that can afford to host one website per country. Of course, it also only applies if you are targeting specific countries, and not languages.

The second solution is more affordable and allows the company to use a single site for its multilingual versions. This solution is inexpensive and easy to design. In your website code, simply integrate the “hreflang” attribute of the link tag in the <head> section of the html code:

With this method, a “subdirectory” will be added to the website. As the browser identifies the user’s preferred language, the site will automatically redirect them to the appropriate version.

However, web developers should avoid redirecting users needlessly. In some situations, bots become an issue. For example, a Spanish native-speaker located in the US might be redirected due to the server of use being localized in an English-speaking nation. Against the user’s will, bots might force them to view the English site. Don’t forget to mention this potential to the project’s developers.

International SEO is more than having a site translated and waiting for traffic to arrive. In its entirety, it is a much more intentional and detailed process that holds benefits that every company should consider.

If you want to learn more about the nuances of globalization and internationalization, you can do so on TCLoc’s website by clicking here for more great articles.

Edited by Cameron Van.

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