Search engine optimization has a direct impact on where your website appears in search engine results pages (SERPs), so the better optimized your site is, the more visibility it's likely to achieve. However, a one-size-fits-all approach to SEO doesn’t suffice when targeting new international markets. Your strategy needs to be adapted to each new territory individually. With that in mind, here are some must-know SEO tips for international expansion.
1. Adapt strategies for different search engines.
Although Google has 84 percent of the worldwide search engine market share, other search engines have stronger presences in certain countries, such as Yandex in Russia and Baidu in China. What works for Google doesn’t necessarily work for other search engines, so SEO strategies need to be adapted accordingly.
2. Rethink domain structure.
The website you use in your home country isn't guaranteed to be sufficient in another country. Websites should be aimed specifically at an intended audience, and domain structure should reflect this. Therefore, your domain structure needs to signify the country or language you’re targeting.
For instance, you might want to use a different country code top-level domain (ccTLD), such as fr. for a French website. ccTLDs can be implemented to signpost to users that the site is aimed at them. It can also improve visibility for search queries in that specific location, as it will be recognized by search engines as targeting a certain country.
Alternatively, you could add a subdirectory to your current domain, like "www.domainname.com/fr," or create a subdomain (such as france.domainname.com). This can be a simple and more cost-effective method of targeting global markets, although search engines don't automatically associate subfolders or subdomains with the target country.
3. Consider language variations.
When targeting other countries, you need to ensure your website is using the local language. For instance, the national language of Brazil is Portuguese. However, the Portuguese spoken in Portugal is very different to that spoken in Brazil, so simply translating a website into Portuguese won’t be enough — it needs to be localized. Similarly, if you’re targeting China, you’ll need to keep an eye out for regional variations in dialect. For instance, Mandarin is the primary language of mainland China, but Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong, Macau and the province of Guangdong.
4. Localize your content for each country.
It’s not just language that needs to be localized. Beyond the copy itself, your website will need to accurately display the correct time zone, currency and measurements, and adhere to each country’s laws and regulations. If your content isn’t correctly adapted to each new market, you may fail to build the brand trust required to make sales.
Content localization for your website will also require conducting new keyword research, as some words and phrases may not have an equivalent word in other languages. In fact, even if there is an exact match translation, that doesn’t guarantee that people are looking for it in your target country. For example, if you’re a footwear retailer targeting an Australian audience, you would probably be better off bidding for “thong” rather than “flip-flop” keywords.
5. Use hreflang tags.
Hreflang tags are pieces of HTML code that indicate which language and location a page is aimed at. This helps search engines to deliver the correct localized version of a page to an audience. For example, if someone in Madrid typed in a query relevant to your site, an hreflang tag signals to Google that the Spanish version of the page should appear in the search results. Hreflang tags can also denote regions. For example, an "en" tag shows Google that your page is for English speakers, but an "en-us" tag shows the intended audience is English speakers in the U.S.
6. Manage different cultural expectations.
User experience should also be considered when planning international SEO strategies. Cultural differences mean that one target audience may react differently to content than another target audience. For example, Western audiences favor websites that have clean, easy-to-use layouts, whereas Chinese users favor cluttered websites filled with links. This stems from how the Chinese engage with offline commerce and the belief that the more a store has on view, the more it has to offer.
Edward Coram James is an SEO professional and CEO of Go Up Ltd, an international agency dedicated to helping its clients navigate the complexities of global SEO and the technical aspects of delivering location-specific pages to targeted audiences.
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