After winning on the home front and establishing a solid brand with substantial returns, expansion in unknown territories may be appealing to you. The question is, will localised keyword research and traditional SEO tactics that have proven successful domestically also work for you on an international scale?
What Is International SEO?
The thought of expanding your business internationally sounds thrilling, but there are many things to consider before jumping in. To make international expansion a success, a thorough and well-thought-out technical SEO strategy must underpin the project. International SEO is a combination of activities to improve a website’s organic search presence beyond more than one country or in one language. Activities include but are not limited to, URL structure, language preferences, geotargeting, localised content and multilingual link building.
When To Expand Internationally Online?
Moving into new digital markets costs money and may require significant investment to begin with and thereafter. So before making this decision there are points to examine. One reason you may be thinking of expanding could be because you have seen an increase in international website traffic or a more reliable reason such as revenue generation from overseas customers. Another way to test the water is to run paid ads via the likes of Google or Facebook in the areas you want to expand. This way you may initially only make a small financial loss if things don’t work out and then the decision to expand will be easier to come to, either way.
An International SEO-Friendly URL Structure
There are many URL structures to choose from to target a particular territory with a website. The URL structure you choose will be determined based on the languages and regions you want to expand and/or how you want your brand to be marketed in other countries. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
This option is as simple as it sounds, you have two or multiple entirely different root domains.
- A clear sign that regional divisions of the business operate separately from one another. This helps tell users that your brand is dedicated to its presence in that country and is a good signal for international SEO.
- You can host locally to the target region with the likelihood that the website will load quicker.
- The expense of running and maintaining multiple websites and domains.
- SEO rank is not shared, and each site must earn domain authority in its own right.
ccTLD (Country Code Top-Level Domain)
Example: jgmagency.co.uk (United Kingdom) or jgmagency.fr (France)
This type of domain, also known as a country code top-level domain, uses two letter codes to tell users and search engines which country or state a website is registered to.
- Like the previous example, it is clear to users that each domain has separate business operations, or at least this is what would be implied
- When marketing to large countries, geotargeting can indicate to search engines which region the website is targeting and have a positive influence on website SEO when done correctly
- The expense of maintaining and running multiple websites
- A user may get the implication the website is deemed for a specific country or region
A subdomain is linked from the root domain, also referred to as a separate third-level domain that is unlikely to receive link equity from the root domain but is a good place to house content in localised languages. This also allows for each Subdomain to house different content, and the content can be managed locally – for example, the UK team can change and manage the content on the uk Subdomain, and the Hong Kong team can change and manage the content on the hk subdomain.
- There is no cost for multiple domains, all subdomains essentially are an extension of the root domain
- You can have servers located in different locations
- SEO ranking won’t be shared between the subdomains
- A subdomain has the potential to dilute domain authority
Internationalised content is placed in a specific subdirectory, or subfolder, of a root domain. This option is generally used if products, content and services are the same, but we are just switching to a local language and currency etc.
- SEO rank is shared with all subdirectories. Subdirectories are web pages, so of course, they all lead back to the root domain
- This option is cost-effective as you only have the cost and maintenance of one domain
- It can be tricky to host many different languages on a website
- Users may prefer to browse locally
gTLD (General Top-Level Domain) with URL Parameters
A general top-level domain uses the root domain but targets speakers of different languages using URL parameters, also known as query strings, to identify the language used.
- Using this strategy is not recommended
- The query string causes problems for crawlers so can actually harm your SEO efforts
- The URL is often confusing for the user
Over recent years, several international brands have changed up their domain strategy. Take The Guardian as an example, it migrated away from ccTLDs to one single domain. This strategy gives off the impression of one company, one solid brand and equally one that reflects the company’s growth. The Guardian announced that they would be moving to a new global domain to reflect its evolution from a UK national print newspaper to a global leading news and media outlet. The move was great for The Guardian to appeal to growing overseas audiences.
With the multidimensional nature of business today, ensure you consider that fact. Don’t think you must choose one of the above, you can choose a hybrid strategy too. Ultimately, it is which option you choose to work best for your business, and only you know the mechanics of the business better than anyone else.
Always refer to your target audience and what suits them when making decisions concerned with International SEO. You can send strong signals to search engines by using the correct localised features such as time zones, currency, addresses and area code telephone numbers.
When creating new or repurposing content, remember that culture can vary greatly across regions. Different cultures can interpret layout, colours, and call to action in different ways, so you must ensure you appeal to the users.
As we mentioned earlier, it is important to note that when choosing URL structures, be sure to steer clear of using tools such as Google translate. Ideally, you will have the content of the website translated manually which will avoid things such as profanity and high bounce rates. Furthermore, when leveraging translations, you should use hreflang attributes, this will tell search engines which language you are using on a webpage so that it can deliver the correct result in the correct language. There can be different dialects of a language spoken around the world like Portuguese is spoken in Portugal and Brazil.
Final Considerations for International SEO
Before broadening your offering internationally, you want to make sure its position is dominant in the region it’s already in. This will make what we have outlined above much easier to move through. In summary:
- Decide on the appropriate domain strategy
- Consider content optimisation in all languages
- Remember you will want to update content regularly in local languages
- Outreach for link building in each target market
- Remember that not all territories will work the same, some may have special considerations such as culture or favoured search engines which you will need to appeal to
For further guidance on international digital expansion and how SEO comes into this, be sure to get in touch with us for advice.