Sooner or later, most enterprise SEOs I work with turn their focus to international markets.
For some, the pressure to target other locations comes as a result of a natural business expansion. To others, customer demand from other countries sparks the idea of launching a global SEO campaign.
Unfortunately, many struggle with global SEO at first.
Since you’re reading these words, I assume you’re considering targeting international markets, too. To help you make this task easier, I’ve compiled a short guide to global SEO.
My goal is to show you some of the best practices to help you get started.
What Makes Global SEO So Challenging
Here’s something I always remind SEOs of when they ask me about taking their SEO strategy global:
“A global SEO strategy isn’t just about updating the website. It’s about aligning it with what customers in your target location expect and are accustomed to.”
That’s not a small feat.
For example, foreign customers might use different terms to describe your products. As a result, literal translation won’t cut it for them. For some brands, this even meant having to change the product name.
Similarly, these people might respond to different copy than searchers you’ve been engaging so far.
And then, there’s the site setup, from your global sites’ URLs, to relevant tags, to local laws and regulations that you might have to adjust it to . . . it can be overwhelming.
But, don’t worry - we’ll be discussing many of those factors in this guide next.
Getting Started with Global SEO
Below, I’ve outlined some of the steps I recommend you do to position your domain in foreign search results.
As you may have already assumed, this list isn’t exhaustive. Global SEO includes many elements that are impossible to include in a single guide.
I’m hoping, however, that this list will offer you a good starting point to explore the issue further.
Step 1: Assess your most profitable foreign markets.
I’m sure various departments within your organization have conducted foreign market research already. You could base your next actions on their findings easily.
I recommend you go deeper. At a minimum, compare their findings with your SEO data.
Why is this? Well, for one, it can help you prioritize international markets and focus on those that offer some SEO opportunity already.
First of all, analyze where your most converting traffic is coming from. Google Analytics offers many ways to access such data. You can analyze your audience, correlate the e-Commerce data with traffic locations, and so on.
(Analytics Page Report within seoClarity showing the traffic to each page on a site.)
Next, identify the traffic potential in the foreign market. One way to do this is by analyzing your foreign competitors’ keywords and their search demand.
For example, let’s assume that you work for an online store selling running shoes. A quick translation tells me that customers in Poland would search for “buty do biegania” (running shoes in Polish.)
Conducting initial keyword research confirms that it is indeed a phrase customers in that country use.
(seoClarity Search Volume report)
Then, a quick Google search for the term reveals local competitors:
Using seoClarity’s capabilities within Content Gaps, I can research those domains further to:
- Analyze their keywords,
- Identify the most viable phrases to target, but also,
- Learn more about the local market.
(Wisdom of the Crowds shows opportunities between the top three competitors.)
(This display on Content Gaps shows the terms that are ranking for the top 3 competitors for the chosen keyword, “buty do biegania.”)
Step 2: Identify what search engines you need to target.
Google is the dominant search engine in Poland, with 97.7% market share. Entering that market wouldn’t require you to focus on other search engines instead.
But if you were to go just a bit further to the East, to Russia, for example, you’d also have to optimize the site for Yandex (52% market share.) Your potential customers in Japan might search for you in Yahoo! Japan (24% market share). Chinese, in Baidu, and so on.
What’s important is that each of those search engines ranks content differently. You might have to consider their ranking factors when creating a localized version of the site.
seoClarity, for example, can track your rankings for Bing, Yahoo, Baidu and Yandex.
Step 3: Consider local laws and regulations that will affect how you structure the website or content.
Many local regulations might force you to amend sections of your website.
GDPR is a good example. The new EU regulation requires companies to display relevant privacy information to European customers. It also gives visitors a far greater control over how a website processes their data.
Take website cookies, for example. You must allow European visitors to choose what information you can collect about them, what purposes can you use it for, and also, be able to opt out of any of it.
And so, before you begin amending the site, research any local laws that you might have to consider in the new content.
Step 4: Find the team to help localize or optimize pages in target languages.
Unless you speak the target language, you’ll most likely need someone to help not only translate but also localize the content.
I always recommend using either a local team or at least a native speaker living in your country. This way, you can ensure the copy is complete alignment with the target country’s customs, culture, and so on.
Step 5: Set up tracking and measurement that allows you to see your global performance.
I’ve shared the main challenges with launching a global SEO strategy.
There is one more: knowing whether your site is ranking for each country correctly.
Typically, when we measure rankings, we focus on metrics such as the number of pages ranking on the first page or in the top SERP positions. But, when you go beyond your usual location, you must also know if the right pages rank in a specific market.
Like, if your pages optimized for the UK do not show up in the US SERPs, and so on.
seoClarity offers you the ability to monitor rankings for every location you target. You can also track rankings in different search engines than Google.
Also, seoClarity’s site audit technology lets you analyze the hreflang tag to identify and fix issues like the one I mentioned above.
You can also use this feature for testing the tag when you are working on launching the international sites and identify:
- Pages with hreflang tag
- Content without the hreflang tag specified, or
- Assets with inconsistent tag.
Why is this the case? If you’ve optimized your site for Global SEO correctly, and the right site is ranking for each country, only then you can consider your strategy a success.
The Two Approaches to Take Your SEO Global
For the end, I want to touch on the issue of what approach to global SEO you should take.
As a matter of fact, you can target international search queries in two ways:
- Localize your website, or
- Geotarget it.
Localizing the Website
In this approach, you translate your website’s content to your target languages. Then, you optimize each version for any local queries you’d like it to rank for.
As a result, you end up with multiple, separate versions of your site, each of them in a different language.
The benefit of this approach is being able to make the site relevant to your target audience completely. If done well, it can guarantee solid engagement with your international customers.
This approach does require optimizing various elements of the site in a foreign language. Your meta tags, for example, must be translated so well to ensure compliance with various cultural intricacies.
Similarly, each version of the site must feature a properly defined hreflang tag to ensure Google ranks the correct version of the site in the relevant region.
But, as we’ve said before, “Hreflang is a signal, not a directive.” Other factors can override it and push your other pages to rank. That’s why to ensure the correct page shows up in SERPs, you should also consider linking to local content, hosting your site on a local IP, and connecting with local search engines
On the downside, this approach requires you to manage multiple web properties. Assuming you don’t speak those target languages, each requires additional skills or help from a translator.
This approach works if you target different locations that use the same language. A good example would be an online store selling products to all English-speaking countries that you want to position for each country separately.
The issues you’re facing here include different currency or language variations (different terms used in each country to denote something.)
When geotargeting, your focus should fall on the hreflang tag to ensure Google knows which pages to push in SERPs in each location.
Sooner or later, most enterprise SEOs have to begin thinking of making their efforts global. Although the issue might seem intimidating at first, hopefully in this guide, I’ve provided you with a solid foundation to take your efforts further.