Or… how to attract the attention of global search audiences in territories that aren’t your own?

So you’ve successfully adopted a brilliant tactical SEO strategy, your business is achieving high organic rankings for all your most desired search terms, traffic is flooding in and life is good. 

You’ve also triumphed with your local SEO and now your business is regularly providing search results that are relevant to searchers based on their current location and creating huge amounts of footfall through your high street doors.

Heck you’ve even smashed through the roof with your off-page SEO efforts, thanks to some stellar social media work, relevant white-hatted link-building and thankless devotion to Google+.

However, if you look closely at your analytics platform, you may see that your audience isn’t just coming from your own country. A small portion could well be accessing your site from anywhere else in the world.

It’s possible to not only make you site more accessible to your global audience, but also with a few processes and techniques, grow that audience substantially.

Audit your international SEO potential

This is the first step you should take. Discover whether you have a global audience (or a potential one) by looking at some data.

Within whichever analytics package you use, you’ll be able to identify which countries your search listings are visible to and are in turn sending you organic traffic.

You'll also be able to see what the volume of traffic is from each country. What language they speak. Whether they provide conversions or not. You’ll also be able to view metrics such as visit duration and bounce rate.

You’ll then be able to ascertain whether your site is ready to play on a bigger stage or if it's providing adequate accessibility for international visitors.

It’s not just Google

According to our own SEO Best Practice Guide, Google may well be the most popular search engine in most of the western world (with a market share in the US of 70%) but other search engines have a high usage and market share in other countries. 

For example:

  • Baidu in China is the most popular search engine with a market share of 75-80%. Google is of course blocked here.
  • Yandex in Russia has a 60% market share. 
  • Naver in South Korea has a 70% market share.  

The first step to take when expanding your SEO efforts to reach international audiences is to find out which is the most popular search engine for the targeted country.

Each search engine will have a similar keyword planner tool just like Google, so don’t worry if that’s something you’ve become used to using in your regular SEO strategy.

Language

Because you’re not going to get very far if you’re only speaking one language. 

Forbes has some good advice just in case you’re secretly tempted to go the easy route... “Do not put your website’s text into Google Translate and then slap that up on your foreign language website. The results will be bad for your visitors, not to mention your SEO efforts.”

In fact most tools are frequently inaccurate and will inevitably lead to confusion for the user. If you’re a publisher and have a comments system under your articles, you’ll understand the bafflement and pain of badly translated spam comments.

Instead use experienced human translators. They understand the local culture and custom, so therefore have a good feel for what people like or dislike and how they search for information.

Experienced translators also understand the nuances of the language. The slang, the abbreviations, how people really speak to each other. This is vitally important in coming across as a relatable, human and approachable business.

Of course using an actual professional will be more expensive than an automated tool, but the improved targeting and relevance to the searcher will surely provide a much larger amount of revenue.

URL structure

Each version of your country and language targeted sites must have its own unique URL. This ensures that search engines can crawl and index your site without any problems.

You should avoid using cookies or scripts to take users to the same URL, however you can use cookies to personalise the different language or country versions according to user preferences, as long as each version is crawlable and indexable under its own URL.

Country targeting

If you wish to target by country, you can use Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs), which provide a specific country extension for a website.

Ecommerce sites tend to use these, for instance Amazon has a range of different ccTLDs for every country it operates in: Amazon.fr (France), Amazon.co.uk (UK), Amazon.at (Austria).

Although it might be easier to manage one website rather than many different ones for every country, operating separate domain names is much better for SEO. 

However ccTLDs require more technical resources and more effort to build popularity because they’re effectively separate sites and must work harder to gain authority.

If you’re using a generic domain (.com, .net, etc.) then you can also enable country versions by using subdirectories (yourname.com/uk/). 

Subdirectories require much less technical resources and will inherit the popularity of the main domain. However this will also add more complexity to your web structure, and geolocation signals are not as strong as the ones given to ccTLDs. 

If you want to avoid adding complexity to your structure, try using subdomains (uk.yourname.com) again however this may require more effort to develop the subdomain’s popularity as they’re seen as independent entities.

Here's are the differing ways to craft country targeted URL structures:

Language targeting

You can also target for a specific language. For this you can choose to use subdomains (es.yourname.com or de.yourname.com) or subdirectories (yourname.com/es/ or yourname.com/de/).

If you’re language targeting, you should use a specific web structure for each language, either with subdirectories or subdomains. 

Again, sub-directories require less technical resources and less effort to grow popularity over sub-domains, but they also have a more complex URL structure and could limit crawling and indexing.

Hosting

Also think about hosting your site with a local web hosting company. If you’re providing a website to a country where the host is half way across the world, this will create a severe delay for the user and scupper your SEO potential.

Credit 

I hope you found this helpful, again this is very much a beginner’s overview. Please consult our SEO Best Practice Guide for more in-depth guidance and help.

As well as our guide, I also couldn’t have written the article without the following resources from Moz, Kissmetrics and Forbes.

Further reading for beginners

During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too. 

The following related articles should help clear up a few things...

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 6 November, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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