What is international SEO?
International SEO is a strategy to optimize your website for search engines. The purpose: driving organic traffic for multiple countries and strengthening the global impact of your brand by showing search engines which countries and languages you’d like to target. As a matter of fact, focusing on international SEO will unlock your company’s full growth potential, by optimizing your webpage for specific international target markets. When analyzing your global competition, you can find out which markets have the most potential to be entered next.
International SEO gives you endless possibilities in terms of boosting conversion and brand awareness. This guide will take you through an international SEO roadmap, with everything you need to know to start your international journey. We will explain how you can build a strong strategy and what you need to avoid. Furthermore, we will show you what’s important and how your website can reach its potential to the fullest. Excited yet? Yes? Alright then, let’s get started!
Benefits of International SEO
Imagine, for a moment, how flourishing your brand could be when going global is your next step. With the implementation of International SEO, your business will evolve, into a business with explosive international growth.
As a result of an increasing number of competitors, it becomes ever more challenging to get a foothold in certain markets. Therefore, international expansion also poses a brilliant opportunity to benefit from a new target market, by finding unsaturated markets, full of untapped potential. Expanding your global impact offers countless possibilities to your business, leveraging the ever-growing digital markets. But as with most innovative developments, this not only affects business in a positive sense; if your company lacks the innovative drive to go with the flow and optimize for future potential, you’ll inevitably start falling behind.
By diversifying your portfolio and focusing on different markets at a time, you will be able to spread the risk of local market fluctuations. This will influence your company’s cash flow and overall financial state. International SEO has great benefits, but one thing to keep in mind is that every country with a unique audience needs a different strategy. Which needs time, effort, focus, and a well-thought-out strategy. The first step that needs to be analyzed is your business’s potential to go global. Let’s see how we’d go about that.
Explore your business’s potential for international growth
Does your product or service have the potential to grow globally? Start by doing some research!
- Observe your international competitors and make sure you know what keywords they use and how your business will ultimately beat them to the punch.
- Test your product/service carefully, to know if it’s “global ready” or ready to enter a new target market.
- You need to check how your rankings are doing and how you can work on optimizing your national SEO strategy, while working on international strategies, to retain what you’ve already accomplished.
- Check out your site’s total and organic traffic from other countries.
- You also want to know more about your international organic search visibility and discover the extent of your visibility in other countries, to get a good perspective on how your business is doing at the moment (without you even focusing on optimization yet).
- When entering a new market, you must remember that your content and website must be updated to other languages, which needs to be done by native writers to make a flawless localized impression. It’s essential to consider cultural aspects and thoroughly research your target audience.
Keep in mind that finding and working on the right target market for your product or service takes time and needs a dedicated team of experts to help you out. For the purpose of quality and saving time, working with an international agency may help you to work with authoritative specialists around the world and deliver the full package of international service.
Identify the best target country
International SEO is all about getting to know which new country could be a perfect match for your product/service. When you’ve made a list of possible target markets, the next step is to get more detailed information about these markets.
In your research, you will look at questions like: is your product/service essential for the audience of that country? Important factors to include in your research are:
- Look at your organic traffic: from which countries are visitors taking a look at your website?
- Check out the trends in a certain country;
- Doing localized keyword research;
- Competitor analysis.
Identify your competitors
Take a look at your competitors, and identify who they are and what they do, by asking the following questions and taking the necessary steps:
- Find out who your international competitors are and on which target countries they focus;
- Perform a competitor SWOT analysis;
- Which keywords do they use?
- What is their SEO strategy?
- How do they position themselves as a brand;
- Analyze their backlinks;
- Think through their content strategy;
- Check out their website structure;
- Do (landing)page research;
- Analyze their customer’s experiences;
- What keywords are they using for their advertising?
- Take a look at their pricing;
- Research their customer reviews;
Strengths and weaknesses
Find strengths for your business in your competitors’ weaknesses. Competitor analysis is also a good way to use their research as valuable information for your international business strategy. When you’ve done some good research, you also want to find out what they need to improve. You can use this to get better positioning.
- How can you optimize their strategies?
- Can you give customers a better experience with your website/service or product?
- Do they focus on search engine optimization?
- What countries/areas do they neglect to focus on?
Your international audience
To create better experiences for your customers in a new target market, you want to understand your international audience. You want to know more about their characteristics, needs, thinking, behavior, and culture.
To find out more about them, you can do some online research. But it works even better to just ask, or work with people who live or grew up in your target country. They can tell you a lot more detailed information about your audience and usually know exactly what works and what you need to avoid.
This may also lead to building a great network, new partners, joint ventures, or even new products and services that are specialized for your new target market. As a result, it increases your chance of succeeding internationally.
If you want to focus on an international target market, you need to think about how you can create the best impression possible on your audience.
Take the following steps to analyze your audience:
- Identify your audience and segment them into different groups of interest, needs, behavior, demographic-, psychographic-, technographic-, and geographic information;
- Does your product/service satisfy the needs of your international audience?
- Use data to get to know more about your audience’s interests and needs;
- Discover their pain points;
- Search for customer reviews to find out what their expectations are;
- Which cultural differences do they have?
- What things are trending in your target country?
When you’ve found out more about your target market, competitors and audience, you’re sure to have found a country that matches your business. The next step: optimizing your website’s structure for international uses.
Structure your website
Great! You’ve found the right country for your business to add to your target market set. Your business and your product/service are ready to go international, now it’s time to take a look at the state of your SEO. Let’s start with site structure! When you’re working with different languages and countries, the first step is to make a decision in your international site structure. How are you going to supply people from different countries with content in their native language?. In developing a good website structure, there are important technical decisions you need to make. All of these will impact your SEO performance greatly… let’s take a look at the options!
Choosing the right domain structure
The first step is choosing an international-friendly URL structure for the content on your website. Each URL structure has its clear advantages and caveats. Choose the structure that has the best benefits for your business purpose.
The gTLD (general top-level domain) is an internet extension that is not related to a country or location. These gTLDs can be used for different use cases. The gTLD: .com is for example used for commercial reasons. This is useful if you want to grow or expand your business, but on the other hand, this structure has a lot of competition, and it’s not always possible to get the domain name you wished for. A great benefit of gTLD is that there are several domains with different purposes, which is a great benefit with an eye on the future. For example, the gTLD: .net is used to network. This also shows more clarity in what industry your business is, and what your service/goal or product is related to.
A country code top-level domain (ccTLD) is used to show search engines, as well as internet users, where a website (or a company) is located. It does so in the following manner, by using country specific domain extensions, for the various local websites of your organization:
seeders.nl (the Netherlands)
This domain structure equips your site with a big indexing advantage when it comes to local search results (geo targeting). Using ccTLD is also a great way to get customers’ trust and make them feel more confident buying a product or service at your website. It’s also helpful for search engines because it shows them more credibility. On the other hand, ccTLDs are not very helpful for authority, because every time you create a new, local website, you have to build authority for that local domain from scratch. When going international, you’re going to need different content for your local users. When you go for a ccTLD, you want to get local domains, like seeders.de (Germany) and seeders.nl (Netherlands).
Subdirectories with gTLD
A subdirectory is a local language extension that is placed after the root domain. Simply put: a subdirectory is a set of folders on the server that give you the opportunity to create translated versions of your root domain. These local ‘folders’ will rank as local content, while still being able to profit from the domain authority of your root domain. To give you an idea how this could look:
Subdomains with gTLD
Subdomains are quite common these days, usually being used for stuff like career websites (e.g. careers.seeders.com), but it can also be used for local versions of your international website. This approach is similar to the subdirectories strategy, but instead of it being a folder on the root domain, a subdomain is a separate website. This does give you some freedom in the building of your website, it could look, for example, quite different from your main website. The other side of that coin though, is that you don’t profit from the authority of the root domain (and vice versa) quite as much as you do with subdirectories.
Hreflang tags help Google (and other search engines) differentiate between different local versions of your content. They can point out completely different languages, like German and Dutch, but also signify smaller variations, like various local dialects within a certain language box, like US English and UK English. Tags like these dialect differentiators, serve a great additional purpose: they make sure that Google doesn’t flag your content as duplicates, because they are so similar. An hreflang tag could look like the following:
link rel=”alternate” href=”http://seeders.com” hreflang=”en-us” />
The one language domain
The one language domain, for example seeders.com is a good option if you want to focus your SEO efforts on one website. Besides that, it’s also a lot easier for your team to work on one language domain. A one-language domain may save time and money in the short run, but this structure has fewer chances of getting benefits from authority and geo-targeting by itself. If you do have a lot of content, or you want to adjust to your target audience, using one language domain can have limitations for your goals. The best thing about a one language domain is that you can use all of your available resources, and pour them into content production for just one website, and one language. Having the ability to focus all of your efforts on one website, will give your authority a huge boost, opposed to your efforts being fragmented across multiple sites.
When you’ve chosen a website structure, you are ready to optimize your content for each language. Before writing the content, it is essential that you do some keyword research per country, as the viability of keywords could potentially wildly differ. Translating keywords from a different country does not work, you want to specify your research to get great results.
You may want to write new content or improve your content with cultural trends in your target country. To write professional content that is cultivated and appropriate to your target country, we strongly advise you to work with local copywriters. If you want to make sure you work with a reliable network of specialists, contact an international agency (like us!).
Essential tools for International SEO
To implement your international strategy, you need some great tools to help you on your way. High-quality SEO tools will help you with tracking rankings, keyword research, useful information, insights about competitors, and much more! Let’s take a look at some of our favorites.
Moz is one of the tools we love to use, for several reasons! The tool can be used especially for site audits, rank tracking, backlink analysis, and keyword research. Moz is ideal when you’re a starter and want to use tools that are easy to understand, and is an excellent tool for site audits and rank tracking. It has clear explanations, guides and an academy to help you with understanding the tool and SEO as a whole!
Ahrefs is a powerful tool to use for larger companies. Ahrefs has some great features, like tracking the growth of your backlinks over time, analyzing your SERP history and getting keyword alerts. It’s a well-thought-out tool that SEO experts like to use to work more efficiently. We use Ahrefs for competitor analysis, keyword research, backlinks, and gap analysis.
Screaming frog is a tool that we use for technical seo. It’s a site crawler that can be used to find broken links and audit redirects. This tool has many opportunities to improve your SEO. For beginners, it can be difficult to understand the tool. For experienced SEO professionals, on the other hand, Screaming frog is an excellent tool to identify technical issues.
We use this tool for rank tracking, backlink checking and monitoring. A nice feature of SE Ranking is its notifications. SE Ranking can track changes of the most important pages on the websites of your competitors. You can use this information to improve your own website. At Seeders we use SE Ranking for rank tracking on all of the domains and keywords that we’re working on.
Mistakes to avoid
To make sure you are ready to transform your business and become an international brand, we’ve made a little list of common mistakes you should avoid:
- Using Google Translate. This translating tool doesn’t guarantee you correct spelling or the right grammatical structure for a language. It also does not take into account cultural differences in language. Simply put: use this and you’ll be guaranteed low-quality copy;
- Use non-researched translations of keywords in new country markets;
- Forget- or use the wrong hreflang tags;
- Use the wrong redirects when you migrate to a new domain;
- Not checking your content with natives before launch;
- Targeting a different country with the wrong domain.
The international SEO checklist
Last but not least, a checklist for you to get started with international SEO:
- Research potential new target markets;
- Analyze your (international) competitors/industry leaders;
- Build a network of natives in your target country or work with an international agency;
- Understand the mind of your audience;
- Ready for a new target country? Build a team to start working on a great strategy
- Determine the right domain name for your website;
- Choose the right structure for your website;
- Decide on the SEO tools you want to use;
- Do (local) keyword research;
- Translate your content with natives and excellent copywriters;
- Separate your content and choose on which domain/landing page you want to publish it;
- Apply your international SEO and link building strategy and start your global journey.
Isabella is responsible for content production at Seeders Group. She produces short- and long-form content for all Seeders communication channels. Isabella specializes in social media & copywriting.