You’ve made the decision to go global – but how are customers and consumers in those new geographical regions going to find out about you?
Search engines are always trying to deliver results that are relevant to the specific user who’s searching. One way they do this is with region-oriented results – for example, a user in the UK will see different results for “buy a computer” than a user in the US would.
If you’re not optimised for international searches, you don’t get any of these region-specific SEO boosts. If you are, you do, and you’ll see more traffic and business as a result.
Luckily, search engines make it relatively easy to optimise for a certain region. After all, if they made it difficult, webmasters wouldn’t do it, and the result would be the search engines having to deliver broad content to specific audiences. This is the opposite of what they want to do – each and every search user wants results that are specific to them… not the world.
Below are three actionable tips to make your website friendly to international search engine users. As a starting point, check out your analytics – if you’re getting international traffic of any kind. Then optimise your site for each country where you’re either proactively looking to get sales or already getting some traffic – it is absolutely vital to your bottom line.
Tip #1 – Structure your site appropriately
Search engines are smart, but they’re not that smart. If your website is a chaotic mess of pages in an assortment of different languages, search engines are going to have trouble figuring out which pages are relevant to which regions.
The name of the game in international search is site structure. In essence, you’re telling search engines that certain parts of your site are relevant to certain countries or regions.
Take Amazon as an example – if you search “Amazon” in the UK, the first result is Amazon.co.uk. But if you search “Amazon” in Brazil, the first result is Amazon.com.br.
You have to mimic this country-specific organisation with your own site. There are four main ways to do it:
- Different domain extensions – for example, you register yourbrand.co.uk for for UK audience and yourbrand.com for your US audience
- Different subdomains – for example, uk.yourbrand.com for UK visitors and us.yourbrand.com for US visitors
- Different subdirectories – for example, yourbrand.com asks the user to pick a region, and then you have yourbrand.com/uk, yourbrand.com/us, etc.
- Different domains entirely – for example, yourbranduk.com, yourbrandus.com, etc.
You can choose any organisational method that you’d like. We personally recommend anything but #4 – it’s always best to have your SEO efforts all under one roof, it looks more professional, and you save heavily on registration fees. (ccTLDs often cost much more than regular gTLDs.)
Tip #2 – Modify the content itself
No web page is going to be universal. Everyone around the world uses different currencies, speaks different languages, and finds different phrases, colours, and images appealing.
Build each part of your website to appeal to that particular region. For example, if you were targeting the UK specifically, you’d use British-English as your language and pounds as your currency. But if you were targeting Japan, you’d use Japanese and Japanese yen.
Your exact phrasing would differ, too. Different cultures relate to different things. If you were to say one of your products “is a homerun” on your US page, you’d have to modify that on all of your other pages or no one would have any idea what you were talking about!
Running your content through an online translator is not enough. Have you ever arrived at a site that used exclusively Chinese characters, and had no option to change the language? Sure, you can run the translate feature on your web browser, and you’ll get the general idea of the webpage… but it’s not a professional appearance by any means.
If you just run your content through an online machine translator, your pages will look unprofessional. Work with a translation agency (can we drop a hint here?) to make sure that every page for every region is perfect. The last thing you want is for a particular country to feel alienated because the users from there feel that you didn’t put enough work into appealing to them.
You also want to have an option to change the language, even if a particular language is dominant in the country a certain page is targeting. Not everyone in that country will speak that language, and if you don’t have the option to change it, you’ll force the user to translate the content, which again will give you that unprofessional look.
Tip #3 – Give search engines the info that they need
You can further guide search engines by getting technical. There are a few things you should do so that crawlers can quickly garner which sections of your site are for which countries.
Host each section locally
If one section of your site is for Spain, try to find a webhost that has servers in Spain and use them to host that particular section of your site.
Not only does this send a signal to search engines, but it also allows your site to load faster for users in that country.
Links, links, links
If you’re trying to rank a page for Spanish users, you don’t want to be getting backlinks from English, French, and Russian users. You want to be getting links in the language that your page is in – in this case, you’d be getting links from Spanish websites, and your backlink anchor text would be mostly in Spanish.
You can also link out to local resources. In this example, if you were linking to a Wikipedia page, you’d like to a page on es.wikipedia.org, not en.wikipedia.org.
Hreflang meta tags
Google introduced these special tags in 2011. Basically, you have the opportunity to tell Google that certain parts of your site are specific to certain regions. It’s not 100% bulletproof (as it’s a signal, not a directive), but usually, using these tags correctly can expedite the process of ranking your local pages.
The tags can go on-page, in the sitemap, or in the HTTP header. It’s important to only use the tags in only one of these locations, or else Google might potentially penalise you (or just get confused with what you’re trying to do).
Here’s an example of what a French hreflang tag would look like:
<link rel=”alternate” href=”yourbrand.com/fr/” hreflang=”fr-fr” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”fr.yourbrand.com/” hreflang=”fr-fr” />
Then, you’d place tags for each of the localised pages that you have. Some bigger brands that have localised pages for every country in the world will often have 100+ of these hreflang tags in their sitemaps.
More International Traffic = More International Sales
Any established brand will have its web presence tightly implemented for each country, but when you’re just trying to go global, you have to take steps to ensure that you have specific sites/pages for all of the specific countries that you’re marketing to.
The first step is modifying the structure of your site and working with a translation agency to make sure your content makes sense on all fronts. You need the language and currency to match, but you also need the tone of the content to resonate with that particular country’s citizens. Every culture has different views on wording, phrases, and humour and it takes a professional translation service to ensure this level of brand consistency.
After you have your actual content locked down for each and every country, you move onto optimising your site for search engines via hosting, backlinks, and meta tags.
The end result is your brand ranking for local searches all around the world, and providing as much value to every single user as possible – no matter what country they’re in or what language they speak. You’ll get more international traffic and your international traffic will be more valuable to you.