First, ask ourself the following questions:
What Is International SEO?
International SEO simply means optimising your website to attain better search presence for people who are in different countries and may speak different languages.
Help Google help you: Google tries matching search results to the language and location of the searcher. Special signals that you add to your website would help Google determine the content suitability of your website for a searcher who is in a particular country or whose search is in a specific language.
Steps to International SEO implementation on your website
Determine Your International Content
Are you optimizing to engender search results based on language only or are you geo-targeting as well? Having a language option in your website allowing searchers to choose their preferred language would be an immediate first step. Your can also customize your target content by country and language choice. This can be done by having separate websites for your customers in your target countries.
Once you have made a determination of your international content, your will next have to work on the structure of your website for international SEO. The idea is not to be over ambitious and target every country imagine. Instead identify the countries that are generations a lot of links or traffic to your site. There are tools available that you can use to check what countries are driving traffic to your site. Google Analytics also provide a feature to show you what languages your users speak.
Get an International SEO- friendly URL
In a geo-targeting (location specific) strategy, you have to help Google figure out which of your pages to show searchers in different countries by using the appropriate URL structure. There are a couple of ways to this strategy. You can either set up a whole new website for each target country, which can be a costly and high maintenance exercise, or you can implement a sub-directory structure to your existing website. There are pros and cons to either approach for international SEO.
Use a sub-directory
Adding a sub-directory for each country to your main website: Create a folder for each target country labeled with that country’s two letter ISO code. For example, to signal content targeted at people in Singapore, your sub-directory would look like this: website.com/sg.
A sub-directory approach is a simpler and cost effective approach. It is easy to set up and maintain. Only one website domain is required and the hard earned authority you earned for that domain applies site wide. Yes, a sub-directory approach for international SEO is second best than if you were to develop a website dedicated only to that country. This approach is however less feasible if you are looking at international SEO for multiple countries. A good example of a website using sub-directories is apple.com/uk for their users in the Unite Kingdom.
Use a Separate Website For Each Country
Usually companies with huge resources, aka deep pockets, choose to set up a separate website for visitors from each targeted country. This is called a local country code top-level domain (ccTLD). A ccTLD for your users in Singapore would look like this: website.com.sg. By using a local country top level domain (ccTLD), you are essentially offering the most powerful country signals to search engines for international SEO. Just as importantly, you are signalling your dedication to that country’s audience. But you have to bear in mind that maintaining separate websites for different countries is an expensive and resource demanding exercise.
Note: China is a different kettle of fish altogether. It is extremely challenging to rank in Baidu if you do not use a .cn top level domain.
Use A Subdomain For International SEO
Using a subdomain on your website is another alternative you can employ for international SEO. However, there are some disadvantages. The international SEO signal would be weaker compared to a dedicated country domain. This is because it would be more difficult to take advantage of the authority of the main domain for sub domains than for subdirectories. Debate is ongoing, with most veering toward the belief that pages on a subdomain. There is also the belief that a subdomain would possibly dilute the authority of the root domain.
A way to see which countries your competitors are getting traffic from is to use Alexa to run a Site Comparison to determine your top ten competitors. When you come across a competitor getting a lot of traffic from one of your target countries, you can then check their international SEO tactics for that country.
Language Targeting Using Hreflang Tags
Hreflang tags are small snippets of code embedded on websites with contents displayed in multiple languages. This is to aid search engines like Google to marry the correct language with the searcher. For example, German speakers would see your German content and so on and so forth. Search engines like Google would intuitively rely on clues like the user’s search history, location, the originating Google domain used to render most matching search results.
The hreflang tag is most useful when providing translations of your content in either subdirectories or subdomains. This is especially critical to prevent miscues where different page versions complete against each other in the search results. If you are deploying separate domains (ccTLDs) to your websites, then a Hreflang tag is unnecessary.
How to use Hreflang Tags
It would be safe to assume that international content is usually a translation of English language pages. Different language versions, using similar URL, of the same page would therefore be created. Without using Hreflang tags, these versions could compete with each other in the search results. Thus to avoid this, a Hreflang tag should accompany each version of a URL throughout your website. Each Hreflang tag should specify the country and language of users and is placed after the URL. For example, “ar-AE”denotes Arabic language for Arabic speakers in the United Arab Emirates and so on and so forth. In a situation where your main page either automatically redirects users based on their locations or where a language option is available, you may then need an x-default hreflang tag. This is done to “signal” to Google that this page does not intend to target any specific language or location and is thus the default page because no other page is more suitable to answer the search query.
Where to insert Hreflang tags
Hreflang tags can be inserted in:
- In the source code header of each page
- In the HTTP header of each page
- In your sitemap
Note: Choose one of the above options and be sure to insert your Hreflang tags only in your chosen pages throughout your website.
The More Signals For Your International SEO The Better
The more you know of your users in your target country or target language would serve the interest of your international SEO better. It would help in localising your content in support of your international SEO. While Google has the lion share of the search market, you would be well served in your international SEO initiatives to understand nuances of the other prominent ( in their markets) search engines like Baidu (China) or Yandex (Eastern Europe) if your presence is to be felt there.
Device Preferences of Your Target Audiences
Always make sure that your contents can be seamlessly consumed via the most popular devices used by people out there. This promotes usability and better user experience which in turn would have a positive impact on your international SEO.
Localise, Localise, Localise
You have to relate to your audience wherever they are. Hence, in geo-targeting, it makes sense to relate to your market of choice with the right local signals such as:
- use the preferred language of your audience
- insert yourself in their popular social media platforms
- have your prices in local currencies
- if you have local offices, provide relevant contact info
- use contents, and whatever cultural touches that speaks to your audience
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