Sometimes small business leaders don’t know whether they should expand to international markets or just stay content with their local popularity.
Some of them who decide to go international usually end up using the same SEO strategies they were using before. These people should read this article to understand international SEO is a whole different ballgame.
A local business gets best ROI for its SEO when it uses local SEO strategies.
Oh, yes. Keywords. Here’s the story of Jimmy’s bakery to show you why keywords are central to understanding international SEO vs. local SEO.
Jimmy opened a bakery in Queens, New York. Being a millennial, he knew how important presentations were. So, he went the whole way. He made a great website, put up amazing social profiles, and his donuts were just so irresistible.
People in the neighborhood loved Jimmy’s bakery, and Jimmy was so proud of himself, he was targeting “bakery” for his website SEO – an uber-competitive, and uber-generic, keyword for a local business. Maybe he thought his was the only bakery worth visiting.
A few months passed and Jimmy realized his SEO budget was drying out without showing any results. In fact, he wasn’t sure why he was getting so many clicks from other parts of the world and people would just leave the page after a couple of seconds.
Jimmy didn’t realize the problem was his keyword selection. Bakery is a very general keyword that tens of thousands of businesses around the world would associate with.
Jimmy didn’t realize he needed local SEO. Don’t be like Jimmy.
International SEO Vs Local
Apart from keywords, though, a number of other factors determine the choice of an international optimization strategy over a local one.
The most important factor is the necessity of it. With something as broad and big as international SEO, you don’t want to go for it until you’re sure it’s a need for you now.
Recognizing this need isn’t rocket science either. You need to analyze your website traffic closely. If a big chunk of your traffic is coming on from abroad and a variety of cultural communities, speaking various languages, and taking interest in your offerings and content, you’d be wise to take that as a sign. But before you start confusing international SEO, let’s draw a circle around what it is so we can tell what it’s not.
International SEO is simply your strategic reaction to international, multilingual consumers taking interest in your website from foreign regions.
You see international consumers want your business. You bring it to them by making websites that are optimized for their country or language (or both).
But what if you only want to sell locally? Well, it’s up to you, of course, but turning a blind eye on a market that’s showing interest in your business isn’t the smartest business strategy either.
It’s a matter of understanding your potential and fulfilling it. If you have an opportunity to grow, do exactly that.
Jimmy made a mistake in understanding his business potential. He went overboard. He didn’t see optimizing his web content for a generic keyword was beyond his capacity. Even if he somehow managed to get to the first SERP for the keyword, most of the traffic would be absolutely useless. He ran a bakery in Queens. Why would anybody from Ukraine want to visit his website?
When we ignore our business potential, we make wrong decisions. Jimmy did that. Don’t be like Jimmy.
Strategies to Follow
Once you know you need international SEO, you need to focus on the strategy with careful steps, but don’t think of it as something you can’t handle. If you’ve been working on your website’s optimization, you already know more about it than you realize.
1. Country/Language or Both?
Between the two factors, the more important one is language. Here’s why: A language may itself target more than one geographic communities. Let’s say you offer a product that connects with Spanish, and so when you decide to target Spanish speaking countries, you won’t have to make separate websites for all of them.
So, make separate websites for the same language only when the communities involved are too far apart or that location matters for your marketing efforts.
Pitfall to Avoid:
Don’t use Google Translate to “refresh” your website’s copy and serve it on the new website. That’s something Jimmy would do. You’re smarter, so you’ll hire a professional copywriter of your target language instead.
Oh, and don’t forget to use hreflang attribute in your code (and stating the country, if you’re going for targeting countries separately).
2. New Domains
This is also an important problem to figure out before you go on building your website.
This is so important because it’s more than just about the domain name. This is about your URL structure and, hence, your website architecture. You can’t expect the structure you have on your local website to work just as well on a different website targeting a different market.
In this infographic created by Moz, you can see there are three main decisions to make when it comes to your new website’s domain. Thankfully, the pros and cons are stated pretty clearly, so we don’t have to give this discussion more room (If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask us in the comments below).
3. Web Hosting
Everybody knows website loading time can be a determining factor in whether a user stays on your website or goes back to the SERPs to look for other options.
This is one of the most important reasons why you should always host your websites locally. Make sure your new website for an international market is hosted by a good (even if expensive) hosting service.
International SEO Myths
Now that you know what international SEO is and what steps you need to take to build your basic web presence in the new market, it’s time to bust some myths about international SEO.
Naysayers make up a big chunk of the world’s population. So, when people start pointing fingers at international SEO and ask questions they only need a minute to figure out themselves, it doesn’t surprise us. However, letting you know what’s what is part of our job. So, here you go.
1. “International SEO is confusing.”
Well, it’s a complex subject, just like any other major area of online marketing. You need to spend time and understand the guidelines that Google has so generously (and responsibly) been publishing as the needs arise.
Read the Webmasters blog.
2. “I need so many websites to rank globally.”
That would be a no. You don’t a separate ccTLD for your international SEO to work. The reason is, depending on your needs and niches, you might simply use subdirectories to tend to the needs of their multi-regional or multilingual content.
Use ccTLDs when it’s an absolute necessity.
3. “Let’s use the same content on all of my websites. That will do for their Google.”
No, it won’t. You can’t simply translate your website word-to-word into a new language, publish this content on the new website, and hope for it to optimize successfully on a country or language’s associated Google domain.
That’s poor geo-targeting. In fact, that’s missing the target altogether because your website will basically be cannibalizing your other websites.
4. “Why should I put in so much work on SEO when big global brands didn’t?”
That question would make sense if you were a big brand, too. You aren’t. So, stick to what’s good for you and don’t look at the big ones. They don’t even keep SEO as their priority, which leads them to make silly mistakes every now and then.
You’re not as big as they are, but you can definitely be smarter.
5. “Language URL parameters will do the trick for me.”
Again, no, they won’t! You might think it’s a technically sound idea to put your region or language of choice in the URL and let it be. But it’s a sound idea because a lot of times these parameters don’t get indexed.
You won’t like that happening to your website, will you?
6. “That hreflang tag I put in will make me get the top rank. You just watch.”
Yeah. We’re watching, but that’s not going to happen. Although hreflang tag is a great and powerful tool, it isn’t used among ranking factors. It’s there to make sure your localized page gets displayed properly when it’s called.
7. “Let’s use the flag on the site. That should tell everybody what language we’re using.”
Err… That’s a pretty silly thing to believe. Flag icons are just that. They don’t necessarily represent the language. Before we talk about other languages, consider the one you’re reading right now. England’s or USA’s flags do not represent all English speaking nations of the world.
This is something Jimmy would think. Don’t be like Jimmy.
Show This to Your Friends and Talk to Us
Share this article with anybody you know who’s struggling with the decision of taking up international SEO for their business. Tell us what you thought of the article in the comments section below.