On top of investments, business plans and market research, an effective international SEO strategy is one of the many factors you have to consider if your company is preparing to tackle the global market. The right decisions can do wonders for your business’s online visibility and increase your web traffic which, together, could lead to significantly more sales from abroad.
However, this certainly isn’t an easy endeavour. Simply translating all your materials into the relevant language will do little to boost your online success. Instead, you’ll have to spend time creating unique strategies for each language or country you’re trying to target. And with everything from keywords to domain structures to think about, it may be hard to know where to begin. Follow our international SEO checklist to tick off every element of your new, global campaign.
What is multilingual SEO?
Multilingual SEO involves optimising existing website copy to offer it in multiple languages and/or specifically tailor it to different geographical locations. For instance, you may want to create a Spanish version of your website in an attempt to increase sales in Spain, or perhaps set up French, German and Italian versions of a Swiss-based website to target all the regions of Switzerland. Implementing a multilingual SEO strategy means it’s more likely that your website will appear in Google’s results for searches in specific regions, and in several languages. This, in turn, helps you to expand your potential audience as people outside the UK will be able to find the site.
Your international SEO checklist
An effective SEO strategy addresses and targets your audience’s specific needs, which means multilingual SEO is so much more than merely translating your English keywords into other languages. Turns of phrase and specific terminology could be drastically different in alternative tongues, which means your website may not rank for the terms you had in mind. For your international SEO to pay off, you need to know your target audience and their language inside out.
Choose your global targets
First, identify the specific global markets you’re trying to reach by researching which countries contain potential customers most likely to be profitable. Studying global buying trends will help you learn where the highest demand for your product is, while you can also use tools like Google Analytics to see where visitors to your website are located. If you’re already attracting significant traffic from India, for example, perhaps this is a country you should consciously target.
It’s also important to consider the culture and ethics of particular locations. For instance, if your business involves alcohol, you wouldn’t target Muslim-majority countries like Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia where drinking is prohibited.
Research your keywords
While you may have a strong grasp of what keywords customers use to find your website in one country, directly translating these into a new target language is not always the answer. Different words have different contextual meanings in different languages and, unless you’re fluent in the language, you’re unlikely to know in what context they should be used.
Therefore, your international keywords can be best identified with the help of a professional translation agency. Here at Global Voices, our multilingual SEO research services don’t rely on word-for-word translations of your existing SEO strategy. Instead, we conduct research in your target languages so unique elements like accents and slang will always be accounted for, and then choose the most relevant words and phrases for your business, analysing how these can be best found by searchers in other languages.
Localise all content and branding
Website localisation involves modifying online content and branding so it’s appropriate for visitors in a particular location. This means taking a place’s historical and cultural context into consideration so that your website reads naturally and is easy to use. For instance, though Portuguese is spoken in both Portugal and Brazil, the two websites would be very different as they would reflect things like local dialects and the unique customs of each country.
Localisation also influences website design, as your target language could take up significantly more or less space than the equivalent English words, so the layout will have to be altered to accommodate it. The process could involve displaying times, dates and currencies in the local format, and rephrasing any slogans and catchphrases that no longer make sense when translated into your target language. You may also have to remove any imagery that could offend your target audience. For instance, while a thumbs up is usually positive, this gesture is considered to be akin to swearing in certain Middle Eastern countries like Iran and Iraq.
Consider domain strategy
Your chosen domain strategy can make a huge difference to the power of your international SEO strategy, and each option has a unique set of pros and cons.
Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) are reserved for a particular country and can be identified with a country code, like www.domainname.fr. These specific extensions make this the ideal structure for geolocation, but as these are independent domains, it will take more time and effort to increase the site’s popularity and get it to rank.
If you have a generic top-level domain like .com, .net or .org, you can use either subdomains or subdirectories. Subdomains will feature your target country at the beginning—such as fr.domainname.com—and allow you to index more content without adding an additional layer of depth to your current website. However, like ccTLDs, you’ll have to work to build popularity as each subdomain is usually considered a separate entity. Subdirectories, on the other hand, allow you to add content for different countries or languages under the same domain, like www.domainname.com/fr. This means that every subdirectory will inherit the popularity of your current domain, but this option could lead to a complicated web structure if there’s lots of content.
We recommended consulting a professional SEO agency to find out what domain strategy is best for your international SEO prospects.
Use hreflang tags
Once you have multiple versions of a page for different languages or regions, you can use hreflang tags to ensure Google is aware of the variations in languages. These help the search engine point users to the most suitable version based on their language or location. Though Google may still list the correct version without these tags, translating alone is not enough to guarantee this. Hreflang explicitly indicates all your language or region-specific content and therefore makes it more likely that they’ll rank for the relevant users.
These tags can specify language and region and it’s recommended that you include both. For example, if you only display “en-gb”, this is solely specific to English speakers in the UK. However, by also adding “en” by itself, you’re telling Google that the page is also appropriate for all other English speakers around the world.