How to scale your business internationally on search engines

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Most online sites at some stage will want to expand, and one of the most common ways to do that is by offering products to an international market.

However, it’s not an easy or simple task by any means. This post will help you understand the risks, research and steps involved in expanding your business into an international market.

Considerations and research

Is it the right time to go international? Is there a need to go international? This very much depends on your focus for the future and the current needs of the business.

If you are increasingly having visitors to your site from international locations, now be may the time to start implementing an international SEO strategy.

There are, of course, a few things that you need to take into consideration – such as:

  • Are you able to implement ALL technical fixes?
  • Do you have the resources to carry out the work and manage each variation in the future?
  • If targeting a different language, do you have somebody to translate?
  • Is the business ready to carry out international orders and process transactions?

Once you have checked all the above, it’s essential to carry out further research. As with any new website idea or build, it’s all about making sure it’s a worthwhile venture.

One of the biggest research areas will be around keyword research to find out if there is demand in the locations that the business will be expanding into. It’s important to note that the keyword research should be done in the language you will be targeting, and location.

If all the above is confirmed and ready to go, the next stage is to plan the implementation.

Website structure

You may have seen a number of different implementations of international, each having different pros and cons. I tend to lean towards using subdirectories; however, it very much depends on the type of targeting you will be using.

These are the main structure types:

  • ccTLD – Domain variations such as example.fr, example.au
  • Subdomain – fr.example.com, au.example.com
  • Subcategory – example.com/au/, example.com/fr/

We have provided an example of the set up for a website using the subcategory URL structure for the UK and France. It’s important to note our main website is sitting on a .com as this tends to be the norm now. However this would work in the same way for .co.uk.

We’ve done this with variations that include both language and location, but this can be done with just language or just location.

This would mean that we add the following code to our website:

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com” hreflang=”en-gb” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/fr-en/” hreflang=”fr-gb” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/fr-fr/” hreflang=”fr-fr” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en-fr/” hreflang=”en-fr” />

We can also add an X-default tag to this piece of code to be safe. This will tell search engines that if there is a URL that is not using this structure that it should default to the URL specified. This would change our code snippet to:

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com” hreflang=”en-gb” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/fr-en/” hreflang=”fr-gb” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/fr-fr/” hreflang=”fr-fr” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en-fr/” hreflang=”en-fr” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com” hreflang=”x-default” />

It’s important to note that this is only for the homepage of our example website. Internal links will also need to use this code but with the URLs changed so they reference the specific URL rather than the homepage.

We have also left the homepage as .com because in the past we have seen drops when a site has also used the new URL structure for the homepage. If we were to change example.com to example.com/en-gb/ it would mean example.com having to pass through a redirect.

It’s much easier to do this within the CMS you are using; however, if needed you may use a bulk href lang tool.

Sitemap implementation

When people talk about using sitemaps and international SEO, they tend to be referring to implementing localization through the use of sitemaps. This is another way of accounting for different languages and countries if hreflang is not a possible solution.

The solution works in a very similar way to hreflang, but sits within a sitemap rather than in the website’s source code. We tend to only suggest using this method if hreflang is completely out of the question.

Metadata & content

We have already carried out our keyword research to find out where the demand is based on different languages, this is where new metadata needs to be used for each language variation. It’s also important that the right variation of the word is used, for example when targeting the USA from a site that uses UK or Canadian English.

The on-page content also needs to reflect the language that the user is on. If the hreflang is marked up to say the page is in French, it needs to be written in French. It sounds simple, but you would be surprised how many people get this wrong.

It’s also very important to make sure you have the in-house resource or outside help to be able to get this all done before launch. Yes, it is possible to gradually amend the content, but for users this could be very annoying – imagine their frustration in landing on a language they cannot understand.

As well as translating the content, it should reflect the audience you are targeting and their behaviors. User behavior varies from country to country and is something that needs to be taken into consideration when generating on-page content.

There are many differences that may not be apparent straight away. However, the best tip I can give is to not translate directly from English as what you are saying may not make any sense in another language.

It’s also very important to take cultural differences into account when writing new content or trying to sell a product in a different market. People from different countries will look at areas of the website in different ways such as: security, payment gateways, type of language used, shopping cart structure and many others.

This is why it’s worthwhile speaking to people from the country you are trying to target and getting somebody local to write the content and provide feedback. It all comes back to doing your research beforehand.

International Google Local

This section is very much dependent on the type of business you run. However if you have a physical location in the new countries you will be targeting it’s very important.

Google My Business allows businesses to create a listing giving full details of their company along with the location. This will be important in building up an organic search presence in a new location. There are plenty of posts on local SEO so I won’t go into it too much here, but these are the main steps:

  • Create the location here https://www.google.co.uk/business/
  • Add as many details as possible
  • Add the address to the most relevant page on your website
  • Mark the address up with local schema
  • Obtain links from relevant websites in the area or region

Carrying out the above steps will help the new location build up a stable base of links that can be built on top. I would also suggest creating relevant social profiles and local listings if relevant.

Summary

Making sure you are fully prepared is by far the biggest step in scaling a business to target an international market. Without the correct preparation, there is a very high chance that you won’t achieve what you initially set out to do.

International SEO is not a simple process by any means and can easily go wrong. However, if you are in the position to expand your business into an international set-up, there are easy gains to be made.

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