Learn how to take your website’s organic search performance global by following our 8 steps on implementing an international SEO strategy.
8 Steps to Implementing an International SEO Strategy
Author: Albert Konik, Senior Content Writer
When planned and implemented correctly, an international SEO strategy can bring enormous traffic to your website, boosting your brand awareness and revenue by bringing your content and services to global search results.
That’s the critical phrasing, though – when planned and implemented correctly.
Creating an international SEO strategy is much more than just copying your local SEO efforts and expecting them to work as well as in your home market.
Following a few ‘simple’ steps, you can have your international SEO campaign up and running sooner than expected. And reaping some excellent benefits out of it as well!
Read on to learn the core steps to international SEO success, but first, let’s ensure we’re on the same page when talking about international SEO.
What Is International SEO?
International SEO is the process of optimising your website for international users. Doing that will allow search engines to identify the countries and languages you want to reach.
The goal here is to grow your website’s organic presence in international markets, helping bring more traffic to your website and build brand awareness.
Why should you consider going that extra mile?
If your business grows, it’s only natural that you’d want it to thrive internationally and expand to new markets.
In such a case, SEO should be an integral part of your marketing strategy during your internationalisation.
And given that the global eCommerce market is expected to grow by 18.7 percent in the coming decade, not-optimising your website for other countries is business suicide.
However, optimising your website for international users sometimes makes sense even if you’re not planning to expand.
For instance, imagine you’re running an Australian blog about cryptocurrencies. While conducting your regular Google Analytics overview, you notice that your website attracts a respectable number of US and UK users.
If you already have some traffic from other countries, imagine what would happen if you optimise your website by making a few minor changes to your content for these locals!
How to Implement an International SEO Strategy in 8 Steps?
International SEO itself is a relatively easy concept to understand. It is just your regular search engine optimisation but for an international audience.
Implementing it, however, is a different kettle of fish. It involves careful planning and might take some time until you start reaping the rewards.
But let’s cut to the chase. Here are the eight steps to succeed in international SEO efforts.
Step 1: Identify Your Target Markets
The chances are you have already identified the markets you want to target. You don’t need to look at SEO factors to do that, as other operational factors are likely involved too.
Still, checking your site’s search potential on various markets is highly recommended. Doing that will show you that you might be missing out on a market with high search demand or low search competition.
How to check it? There are two efficient ways for that.
One is using your Google Analytics account. Head to Reports, click on User, and on Demographics.
Google will then provide you with detailed data regarding where your traffic originates from.
The second option is using the Site Explorer tool from Ahrefs.
You’ll need to scroll down a bit to find it, but below the performance metrics, you will see the graph displaying your traffic share by country.
Of course, this data will only give you an overview of the markets that show some potential. To fully plan your SEO strategy, you will need to dig more to understand the search intent and keyword opportunities.
We’ll cover that in the section dedicated to keyword research. For now, we want you to understand how to identify your target markets.
Step 2: Choose Your URL Structure
As much as you’d love to, now is not the time to perform your keyword research. Before you do that, it’s good to ensure that your website has strong technical foundations.
This starts with your URL structure.
Each targeted market requires a unique URL. It’s something that even Google recommends, as this allows it to crawl and index all versions of your content.
That’s why, before we get to your content, let’s review your URL structure options.
Yes, options. There’s more than just one possibility to optimise your URL. There are four URL structures you can use, to be exact – ccTLD, subfolder, subdomain, and parameters.
ccTLD stands for the Country Code Top-Level Domain.
Let’s say we want to target the UK, US, Canada, and Australia. In this case, the ccTLD URLs would look as follows:
- Enhanced user experience (a visitor knows straight away that they’re in the right place)
- You can use localised hosting for improved loading times
- More expensive as you will need to purchase several domains
- It’s more challenging to maintain several domains
- It may not specify the language (e.g., Canada has two official languages – French and English, .ca doesn’t define which one is used)
Subfolders are popular both among SEO professionals and webmasters, as they don’t require purchasing multiple domains.
- Relatively easy and affordable to set up
- Can be customised
- Easier to track and report (due to their single-domain nature)
- Builds SEO authority on the same domain
- Users might not be familiar with URL structure
While also relatively popular, subdomain URLs aren’t as favourable among SEOs as ccTLDs and subfolders.
- They can be set up using localised hosting
- Can be customised
- Require setting up several domains (which is more expensive and can be difficult to maintain)
- URLs can be unclear to users
We’ve decided to include parameterised URLs just because they exist. They are the worst option you can choose when creating your URLs and should be avoided.
- Relatively easy to set up
- Create duplicate content
- Difficult for users and search engines to read
- Much less clickable than other URL structures
- Less user-friendly
SUSO TAKE: When choosing between different URL structures, we recommend ccTLDs or subfolders. Subdomains are also a worthy option but aren’t as user-friendly as the other two. As for parameterised URLs, they should be avoided at all costs.
Step 3: Decide Which Keywords to Target
Once you have the technical foundations ready, it’s time to find your keyword opportunities. For that, you need to conduct thorough keyword research in each of the chosen markets.
Yes, each. Even if you target same-language markets, keyword research is not a step you can skip.
Remember, terminology and grammar vary from one country to another, even if they use the same language. These two factors have a significant impact on keywords your customers might be searching for.
American and British spellings for certain words differ – i.e. “color” (American English) vs “colour” (British English). Likewise, some of the words themselves may differ i.e. “elevator” (American) vs “lift” (British).
Search volume will also vary between markets due to demographic differences.
For instance, let’s say we want to target the keyword ‘LEGO sets.’
Using Ahref’s Keyword Explorer, we can find that the US has the highest search volume for this keyword at 155K, whereas the UK only has 29K.
Okay, but what about targeting foreign language markets? In this case, it might not be the best idea to translate the keywords you want to target yourself.
If possible, opt for a native speaker who can verify how the target audience would phrase a particular keyword. It might look like an expensive option at first, but it will provide you with the best results in the long run and may even turn out to be cheaper than having to translate the key phrases yourself.
Some SEOs may also recommend auto-translation tools, but from our experience, they aren’t reliable enough to trust them fully.
Once you get your list of keywords, use the Keyword Explorer again to find your keyword opportunities and competitors. With that ready, you can proceed with adapting your content, which brings us to the next step on the list.
Step 4: Adapt Your Content to Match Different Locales
Once you have keywords you intend to target, it’s time to create and optimise your content for each market. Once again, you can do that yourself or hire a native speaker.
Optimising the content yourself is a good idea when targeting the same-language audience. For instance, if you operate in the UK and want to expand to Australia or the United States, the changes required may not be nearly as extensive as if you were expanding from Australia to Germany.
Grammarly can prove itself very useful here, as it allows you to adjust the English variant you want to write in, be it British, American, Canadian, or Australian English.
The tool will then help you adapt your content for the specific phrases and grammar nuances that are unique to your target market.
Hiring a native speaker enables you to create high-quality content that’s perfectly tailored to the specific audience.
Step 5: Create an Internal Link Strategy
It’s easy to forget about your internal links when implementing the global SEO strategy. With all the other factors involved with putting together a global strategy for your site’s SEO, internal linking is something that often gets overlooked.
If you forget to adjust your internal links, you will end up rolling out a website that leads users and Google bots to the wrong pages. That can significantly disrupt the user experience and send conflicting signals to Google.
Be sure to get your internal link strategy right before you roll out any new sections of your site to target a different market.
Another piece of advice here is to ensure you have enough content to link to. The more pages, the better, as their higher number will help Google associate your brand as an expert within your industry and associate your website for relevant keywords.
Including a navigation bar that allows users to switch between language versions is also a good idea. Here’s an example:
It will help maximise the user experience, ensuring your visitors can quickly find the version they want if they find themselves on the wrong site.
Step 6: Serve the Correct Content to the Right Users
Optimising your content is not enough to ensure Google presents your target markets with the right content version.
This is where the hreflang comes into play.
What is hreflang?
The hreflang tag (or attribute) is a piece of code that tells Google which language you’re using on a specific page as well as which country the page should be served to. That allows Google to display the correct version of the page to the right audience.
This is why hreflang plays such a vital role in your international SEO strategy. The lack of correct hreflang tags can seriously harm your domain’s user experience, which can significantly drop your rankings.
How to implement them?
It seems simple on paper, but hreflang can quickly become a very complex part of your international SEO. Google’s very own John Mueller describes it as ‘one of the most complex aspects of SEO.’
To be fair, hreflang is a topic that’s far too complicated to tackle here. Ahrefs has a very cool guide to hreflang, and you can also use the Hreflang Tags Generator Tool by Aleyda Solis to get them working fast.
Step 7: Create Your International Link Strategy
You may have a strong backlink profile in your local market, but it will not automatically apply to the new one. For example, a backlink from an authoritative source in the UK likely doesn’t hold the same weight in Germany or the United States.
If you’re planning to target these markets, you will need to build your authority from scratch ensuring that your new domain/subdomain/subfolder is receiving links from websites that target the same location.
For example, if you’re creating a new French version of your website to target the French audience, you’ll want to build backlinks from other topically relevant French websites.
For that, you need to create an effective international SEO link building strategy.
The best idea here is to reach out to local publishers and influencers. This requires securing backlinks only from authoritative sources.
Step 8: Hiring an International SEO Agency
Now, the question is, should you do all the heavy lifting yourself?
That depends, but ultimately hiring an agency who has a track record of executing high performing SEO strategies will ensure that all of the best practices for running a successful global SEO campaign are followed.
As presented, implementing an international SEO strategy involves a lot of planning and effort. Unfortunately, planning and effort alone will likely not bring any results without the proper resources and knowledge.
An international SEO agency brings both these factors to the table. SEO expertise combined with your internal knowledge about your brand is the recipe for success.
Therefore, if you want to be 100% sure your global SEO strategy works, hiring SEO professionals is your best shot.
If you believe your brand is ready to sail out into the wide waters, implementing the right international SEO strategy is a must.
Without it, you’ll just be sailing into the unknown, hoping for the best. And we don’t need to tell you that it’s a recipe for disaster. You may already have a sturdy ship, but without a map and compass, you’re lost.
That map and compass is your international SEO strategy.
With one, you can chart a steady course for success. The seven steps described above will help you with that.
That said, start with identifying your target markets. Then choose the correct URL structure and proceed to keyword research. Based on that, create and adapt your content, and ensure your domain variants have the correct internal link structure.
Implement hreflang so that Google can read your content and serve it to the right audience, and finish it all with a good old backlink strategy.
These eight steps are all that stand between you and your international SEO success. Are you ready to conquer the world?
If so, get in touch with us and learn how we can help you take your SEO campaign global.
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