For many businesses, attracting an international audience is an exciting opportunity, allowing you to take existing products and services to new consumers and significantly increase sales.

Having generated a strong presence in the UK search results, you might start to notice that other English-speaking countries such as those in the US are finding your site, and in some instances are requesting products and services. If you could properly target this new audience it could be very lucrative for the expansion of your business.

What Is International SEO?

International SEO is a range of optimisation tactics and strategies to boost your website's visibility in a specific region's search results. 

If we take Google as the biggest search engine we will see that there is a specific index for each country or region.

Some examples include:

  • Google.com for users in the USA
  • Google.co.uk for users in the UK
  • Google.ie for Ireland
  • Google.fr for France
  • Google.de for Germany 
  • Google.es for Spain

It's important to understand that users from different countries will be more familiar with using these indexes for their search needs and that these indexes will often yield different results for the same searches.

Search volumes will also be very different based on region, with language and local nuances all playing a part. In fact in some countries such as China, Google plays little to no part in the search journey with Baidu having a 60.2% share of user searches.

For international SEO to be successful we need to configure our website to target specific content to specific indexes, ensuring the right audience receives content in the right language. This in turn enables us to inform the audience and make a sale.

 

Should I Go Global with My Website?

As with any new venture, it's always sensible to do some due diligence before making any investment. 

Fortunately, several sources of information are readily available regarding global markets to get you started.

  • Gov.uk and WTO.org provide lots of valuable business news and advice as well as statistics regarding global markets.
  • Statcounter.com and InternetWorldStats.com allow you to break down international users by country and search engine preference
  • Your existing GA4 data sets as well as sales enquiries from international users are also a great indicator of whether there is demand for your products & services in a particular region.

You may also want to try https://www.startpage.com/ to check the current competition in your chosen region.

 

How is International SEO Different from Traditional SEO

While the general best practices are the same across international SEO there are several additional factors to consider when targeting your site internationally

 

Keyword Research

As with traditional SEO keyword research is an integral part of international SEO. There are however some significant differences.

For example, how users search within different countries is often not a direct translation of an English phrase. 

In other cases, it is the exact English phrase which is used regardless of the language spoken. You can also find differences between countries that speak the same language, for example, bin (UK) vs trash can (USA) or car boot (UK) vs trunk (USA). Using the wrong term or incorrect translation can often undermine the trust a user has in your brand, so getting this part right from the outset is important.

 

Content Optimisation for Language Regional and Cultural Differences

At the outset, content optimisation makes it easy to translate your English copy into another language or even target English-speaking countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia. There are however some fundamental differences, even in similar languages either in common word usage or in spelling.  Using the incorrect words, spellings or phrasing can highlight that you aren’t a native speaker to your users, undermining trust in your brand. It is therefore key to localise your content to your chosen region.

There are also different cultural nuances to consider for example whether certain images are culturally acceptable within the area you are targeting. Colours can mean very different things to different cultures for example the colour red in China means prosperity, and the colour green means love in Japan. There are also culturally significant holidays which may affect sale periods such as Easter which will be more popular in traditionally Christian countries vs Ramadan which would be more popular in Muslim countries.

We can also find different tolerances and behaviours on a cultural basis, several examples can be found in Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions Theory. As an example, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, and Costa Rica are considered feminine cultures indicating that traditional gender roles overlap. These types of cultural differences can and should affect your advertising and sales messages throughout the site.

Other more practical considerations might include the format of dates for booking forms on your website for example in the UK and Europe we format dates as DD/MM/YYYY, in the USA and Canada they use MM/DD/YYYY whereas in China and Japan, they use YYYY/MM/DD.

Pricing and Packages which are specifically tailored to a region may also need a lot more consideration than simply translating the price. For example, if a user needs to travel to a particular location for a service or product it may be necessary to alter the package within a region. 

Payment providers are also another important consideration with Paypal, Apple Pay and Google Pay being popular in the US and Europe. In China, Alipay is a popular payment provider, while in Latin America; Pix, SafetyPay and Webpay are popular payment providers.

As you can see from all the elements above it may be necessary to build buyer personas for each region you are targeting. This will enable you to consider all the relevant information when considering your content for each region.

 

Legal and Regulatory Considerations

https://unctad.org/page/data-protection-and-privacy-legislation-worldwide

 

Data Protection

In the UK you are probably familiar with GDPR however according to UN Trade & Development, 71% of countries have some form of data protection and privacy legislation, with a further 9% having draft legislation. Failure to comply with legislation can result in large fines while also reducing trust in your brand.

 

Consumer Protection Laws

Many of the countries you’ll be targeting will have individual consumer protection laws around areas like advertising, pricing and contract terms. For research purposes it is useful to understand how your competition handles these challenges, however before considering a potential market, it is advisable to seek legal advice.

 

Additional Technical SEO Considerations

While International SEO has many similarities to standard SEO there are some additional considerations. 

Location of Hosting Server / CDN - The location of your server can have a direct impact on overall load speeds for users. Long load speeds can increase bounce rates, reduce conversions and lower rankings. Testing page speeds against a particular region is therefore an important part of International SEO.

Hreflang - This is a tag that can be applied in HTML to the header of a page. It is designed to inform search engines when a page has an equivalent/alternate version which is written for a different geographical market. If you are providing pages with an alternate version which targets a specific region and language you will need to add hreflang to each of these pages, indicating the alternate versions.

Avoid Automatic Redirects - Based on the user’s IP address. While it may seem sensible to redirect a user to a language version based on IP location it can cause some significant problems. Indexing is often carried out by bots. If we take Googlebot for example it may visit your site from a US IP address. This is fine if you only want to index US content but can cause problems when it visits your UK site only to be redirected to US content. There are also instances when a user in Spain for example is an expat and wants to find the English version of a site rather than the Spanish version. In both cases, auto redirecting based on IP address would cause issues. Instead, it makes sense to offer users the option to jump between different language versions of the site.

 

Choosing Your Domain Structure

One of the key elements that affect the success of your business internationally is the setup of your domain structure.

There are 3 structures which are suitable for international SEO 

Separate CCTLDs (Separate Country Level Domains)

Separate CCTLDs, for example, .co.uk  ( UK ), .de (Germany), .fr ( France ), .nl ( Netherlands ), .es (Spain).

Creating a separate website on a country-level domain indicates to the search engine that the content is targeted to a specific region. Using the same reasoning this means that these types of domain names cannot be used for multiple international regions. 

Pro: Sends a very strong signal to the search engines regarding which region content is targeted at

Con: the major con of separate CCTLDs is cost. Some of the costs include hosting each site separately, maintenance and design costs for separate sites as well as separate marketing costs for things like link building.

 

Subdomains

Subdomains, for example, uk.example.com, de.example.com etc. utilise an existing international TLD (such as .com), but add a subdomain to the front of the URL. These subdomains are then treated as a separate property by the search engines which can then be targeted towards a specific region.

Pro: Separate properties can mean it's easier to configure different design elements and functionality within the site.

Con: Similar to the separate CCTLDs there is a cost implication to running separate subdomains with the added disadvantage that the signals to search engines regarding the regions being targeted need to be implemented and maintained.

 

Subfolders

Subfolders for example example.com/uk example.com/de example.com/fr etc where subfolders are added to a TLD which are then targeted to a specific language and region. 

Pro: as the subfolders are contained within the site this can significantly reduce costs of hosting and maintenance. There can also be a reduction in overall marketing costs for things like link building as the entire setup is under one domain.

Con: Adding individual functionality for each region to cope with different nuances of culture can become difficult in this setup. Subfolders are also a much weaker signal to search engines regarding geo-targeting. As a result, additional technical signals regarding hreflang will need to be considered before launching.

 

Link Building

Link building is an integral part of SEO campaigns, however, in international SEO, link building requires some further consideration. The main thing we are looking to achieve in this case is links from appropriate regional sources. 

In simple terms this can be explained as follows: Google has specific indexes for specific countries or regions. It therefore stands to reason that the Spanish index contains sites which Google believes are most appropriate to users in Spain, while the UK index contains sites most appropriate to users in the UK.

If our link-building efforts only target sites that are familiar to a UK audience we are effectively sending a strong signal to Google that your content is useful to UK users. To appropriately target a particular region we need to understand the landscape. One of the best ways to do this is to carry out competitor research. This can be carried out using tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs or Majestic. Analysis of competitor backlink profiles will give a clear indication of the types of backlinks your search result competitors are using to succeed.

You can then add to this by finding local and regional sites and targeting them with your link-building efforts to secure links in your chosen region.

 

Key Takeaways

While international SEO has many of the same considerations as regular SEO the key differences are around your audience.

Making your site accessible to audiences within different countries relies on your understanding of how they search, the different cultures and nuances of language and is integral to the success of your site internationally.

As an International SEO Agency, Reflect Digital can help with your International SEO campaign. Our unique behavioural science approach will help you understand the requirements of your audience and how best to target them.


 

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MEET THE
AUTHOR.

CARL POXON

Carl spends his days helping our clients elevate their brands through the power of SEO. From creating strategies designed to deliver excellence and meet objectives, to implementing campaigns that deliver next-level results, Carl loves it all. 

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