Growth is typically one of the key elements most businesses want to achieve, this could be displayed as visits, conversions or revenue. This is why a large proportion of businesses decide to take on another market e.g national or international.
If your current website is solely targeting the UK you might be thinking a quick win is to launch this website out to the US market. Same language, same content so you’d think no problem.
If only it was this simple. There’s much more to this to consider such as your businesses products, your available resources and your customers. Going international doesn’t happen overnight instead it requires consideration and planning.
The aim of this guide is to help you decide if international growth is right for your business. When it comes to international SEO it’s important to remember there’s not one correct method to use.
International SEO sometimes isn’t the best method of growth for some business, to prevent you from exhausting resources to see no results it’s worth checking these first:
- In the country, you’re hoping to roll your products out to think about how do the people in that country buy products. Is it online or is it in store?
- Is there any search volume for what you’re selling in that country?
- Are you able to avoid using google translate and instead hire a translator to translate accurate content?
- Take into consideration any cultural differences e.g Chinese websites look completely different to UK sites
- Consider localisation as not every country calls a product the same thing e.g UK = football US = Soccer
One of the first stages in the planning is to work out how you’re going to target your new potential customers. There are 3 options to pick from:
Language – To work out if language led targeting is the better option for your business you’d need to take a look at how much country-level demand is there. If the search demand isn’t huge then this is suitable. Additionally, your sales process shouldn’t be impacted by the country of your customer.
Country – Country targeting is ideal for your business if there is significant demand in your desired new country by carrying out some keyword research into relevant business-related terms. However, if you do decide to use country led targeting bear in mind that your sales process is likely to be impacted by the country of your customer.
Country & Language – Country and language targeting is used when there is significant demand for your businesses products in each country all while there also being enough opportunities in search demand from multiple languages spoken in the country.
When it comes to international SEO it’s really important that URL structure is carefully considered as once you pick which format you’re going to use you don’t want to be changing this later down the line or using a mix of them.
ccTLDs – This URL structure typically has the strongest signal as for each country you create a separate website allowing the displayed content to be localised.
A ccTLDs structure is only suitable if:
- Your business has a large demand for its products in each of the targeted countries.
- Your business has the resources to develop and maintain multiple standalone websites.
- Your business has the resources to develop localised content for each of the websites.
- Your business has the resources to local link building campaigns for each of the sites.
- Your business is wanting to push local sales.
- Your business is wanting to generate a brand presence in each of the targeted countries.
Country targeting ccTLDs: www.domain.fr\
Country and language targeting ccTLDs: www.domain.ca/fr
Country and language targeting with subdomain ccTLDs: www.fr.domain.ca
Subdirectory – A subdirectory lead URL path has slightly weaker signals when compared to ccTLDs structured URLs but it’s thought to be the easiest and most cost effective way of doing international SEO as it only requires one site.
A subdirectory URL structure is suitable if:
- Your business doesn’t have the resources to build and maintain individual sites.
- Your business doesn’t have the resources for local link building for each individual website.
- Your businesses product demand doesn’t differ much by region.
- Your business is wanting to keep the costs low.
Language targeting subdirectory: www.domain.com/en/
Country targeting subdirectory: www.domain.com/fr
Country and language targeting: www.domain.com/ca-fr/
Subdomain – This choice of URL structure is the least popular as it’s thought because you’re using the root domain that it might lose some equity from the main domain.
A subdomain URL structure is suitable if:
- Your business doesn’t have the resources to obtain and managed individual ccTLDs websites.
- Your business for tech reasons isn’t able to go with subdirectories.
Language targeting subdomain: www.fr.domain.com
Country targeting subdomain: www.gb.domain.com
Country and language subdomain: www.fr-ca.domain.com
URL structure comparison
Hreflang is vital on all pages of any international website as it’s used to tell Google which pages are the translated or localised version. It doesn’t matter if it’s set up as a ccLTDs, subdomain or subdirectory hreflang tags are essential.
Adding in hreflag tags too all of the pages on each international website is extremely time-consuming so you can get plugin which automatically generates them as it is very easy to mess them up.
Another reason as to why hreflag tags are crucial for international sites is because it helps to prevent duplicate content issues across all localised content for ccTLDs.
However, when it comes to implementing hreflang there are some rules:
- The content doesn’t need to be an exact translation to hreflang to be added
- Hreflang tags only need to be added to pages where you have alternative versions.
- The code added must be the same on all versions on the page.
- Hreflang only needs adding to the canonical version of the page.
A common tagging mistake that is made on any international website is x-default. They are only used to help Google understand where to place the un-targeted pages and for users that don’t have language targeted content on that website. It isn’t meant to be used to replace the original place. So for example, if you have a UK and US version of the website but someone in Canada searches for the related terms you’d x-default them to the preferred version.
If you have accidentally used an x-default hreflang tag instead of a standard hreflag tag search console can help you to identify any mistakes made and where to find them.
Meta content language tags
Meta content language tags are used to indicate what language the HTML content has been written in so that it can then send signals to the search engines to the target for the page.
Something to bear in mind is that these have a significantly weaker signal when compared to hreflag tags.
You’d think that because there are multiple versions of the same webpages it would result in content duplication. However, there are 6 elements you can change across the pages:
Product differentiation = certain product you offer might have no demand in different countries and as a result, you might not offer that product and instead offer a high demand product that you might sell specifically for that country.
Naming Schema = due to localisation it can result in the products name being changed for different countries e.g trainers in the UK but in Ireland its runners.
Keyword usage = as the product names might be different dependant upon each country the keywords you use will likely change too based on the product categorisation. As a result of this keyword research will be required for each different country you’re wanting to target.
Pricing structure = one of the most common elements that change from country to country is pricing. This doesn’t just cover the currency, supply and demand will change based on the different countries and therefore your product prices might differ.
Laws, rules & regulations = a quick win when it comes to changing content is to include information on local laws and regulations, to determine if this would be necessary for your business take a look at what your competitors are doing.
- Don’t use machine translation as they still aren’t good enough.
- Don’t automatically redirect users to a different language based on their location. You don’t know what language your customer might be speaking in that country so alternatively suggest it.
- All the content on your website from the site navigation to the help desk must be in the language you’re targeting.
- Avoid using cookies and scripts to show the different language versions of the page. Search engines can’t crawl it and your potential customers may not be able to see it too.
There are multiple ways of implementing international SEO with no one-way suits all approach so before you decide if its the best option for your business thoroughly look into it yourself or ask an expert to check it out for you.