The wonder of our globally connected digital landscape means that the world, after all, really is small. As of January 2021, 7.8 billion people could potentially be on your radar (or your screen) – just by tapping your finger. Your prospecting audiences and potential customers could be anyone, anywhere, any time. So, if you have customers in more than one country, then international SEO needs to be a significant player in your content marketing strategy.
International SEO is simply optimizing your search presence for audiences in different countries. Local SEO, on the other hand, focuses on improving your website’s visibility and search rankings locally, to connect with searchers in your area. But if you are wanting to offer your services or products to a global market, then applying international SEO best practices is integral to your marketing strategy and achieving your business goals.
By making use of geo-targeting, hreflang tags, and other localization signals, you can successfully target content to your users around the world.
Let’s get those digital definitions out the way first:
● Geo-targeting – (aka local PPC) – “refers to the practice of delivering different content or advertisements to consumers based on their geographic locations.”
●hreflang tags – (no, that is not a typo) – tell Google which language you are using on a specific page, so the search engine can serve that result to users searching in that language. These small snippets of code help search engines match up the correct language with the searcher. Instead of your English content, Dutch speakers, for example, will see your content in Dutch.
●Localization signals – (a way to localize your global brand) – will include navigation elements, title and meta tags, alt descriptions for images, time and currency etc.
If you want your brand to have a global presence and make waves across the world, then there are a few basic considerations to implement:
#1 Speak their language
Every successful business or brand relies on relating and engaging with targeted audiences and nurturing customers. Google translator is a great tool, but it won’t be enough, because behind every word spoken is emotion, association, context and story.
The strategy with international SEO is not only translating keywords and copy from one language to another but also making the effort to understand a country’s context, local vocab, slang and the way people search for what they need. This means sensitively engaging with a native speaker in that country which will ensure a personal and authentic element in all your copy and ads. You have to connect with your audience – whoever they may be and wherever they may be – in a way that they can personally relate to.
Even the same language across multiple countries has its unique lingo and synonyms, and so, when selecting targeted keywords for international SEO, you need to do your homework.
In South Africa, Australia and the UK, for example, a baby product audience may be searching ‘dummies’, whereas in the US that would be ‘pacifiers’ and in Canada, we’re talking ‘soothers.’ And then beyond vocab, you also need to consider spelling – UK vs US spelling rules being a big one.
This will mean taking the time to localize your website’s content and ad copies around vocabulary and imaging. Your website or business needs to be ‘search-engine friendly’ wherever you intend to have a brand presence.
#2 Read their thoughts
When relocating to another country, most expats go through a cultural immersion briefing. As a guest in another country, it is respectful to honour the culture and be sensitive to the practices of the host country. The same goes for international SEO. If your brand is scaling seas and continents, your website and ad copy need the same cultural sensitization. Your brand story needs to connect with whichever audience you engage with – you need to find out how they think.
In her article, How Does Color Usage Affect SEO and Conversions? Shari Thurow explains how colours produce different reactions in different cultures: “The color red communicates happiness in China; anger and danger in Japan; and life and creativity in India.”
Just considering the simple issue of colour will determine how you ‘localize’ and tweak your website’s visual elements and could have a major impact on user behaviour and engagement.
#3 Research their online behaviour
Social media is a powerful pillar for any international SEO strategy for engaging audiences and creating brand awareness – locally and globally.
Google Analytics is your best friend in determining where you already have a social media presence and which countries are bringing you organic traffic and you already have a prospecting audience. By using keywords research tools, you are can research these potential markets to find out how many people are aware of your brand and are searching for your products or services. You can also do some sleuthing as to the local competitors in your targeted countries and their online marketing strategies.
And then, when building your website and planning your international SEO content, you can either choose between a country-targeted approach or a language-targeted approach.
When publishing a post, Facebook’s Power Editor helps you reach a multilingual online audience by letting you choose the language and country for display. Again, do your research – not every country uses social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. (VK is the largest social networking site in Russia, Weibo is the Chinese version of Twitter, and Xing is the German equivalent of Linkedin). So make sure you maintain your presence on these platforms if these countries are on your international SEO radar.
#4 Keep learning your audience
International SEO is a dynamic and ever-evolving beast, so you need to be on your game when your brand goes global. There are always factors you need to bear in mind and constantly monitor when you are trying to reach global audiences with your online brand.
There is literally a world of nuances, but here are just a few to start with:
● In many developing countries there is not a fast or consistent internet connection, so your website should be quick to load. (This might mean sacrificing certain content or visuals).
Find out in which countries you need to be optimized for mobile searches due to user behaviour.
● In some countries, the majority of SEO traffic comes from Google, but in other countries, Bing and Yahoo are also big players.
● Always be user-centered, finding ways to build trust with your unique audience and to connect them with them without being patronising or insensitive.
The online world may well be small, but it is very different. Online user behaviour in every country is unique. Your brand’s success in multiple countries will depend on how well you can appeal to the needs, wants and demands of each ‘local’ audience.
In scaling your online presence to reach far off places, some of the most important strategic decisions will revolve around international SEO best practices as well as website and language optimization tactics – it is what will make or break or brand’s success.