Global e-commerce sales have been rising steadily for years. There have also been optimizations in terms of digitalization in many industries due to COVID-19. One out of every two companies have expanded its business to international markets and the trend keeps rising.
If you are already successfully established in your home market, it is worth considering expansion into other markets. One of the most important points to take into account here is how to implement international search engine optimization, which presents some challenges. Let’s get started!
1. Why SEO is important for almost all companies.
You can easily realize the importance of SEO for companies by looking at the research results conducted by different companies over the years below:
- Approximately 64% of marketers actively devote time to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). (HubSpot, 2020)
- 51% of shoppers surveyed said they use Google for research when planning an online purchase. (Think with Google, 2019)
- According to a 2019 Statista study, search traffic generated 65% of all eCommerce sessions, with organic search accounting for 33% and paid search for 32%.
- 68% of online experiences begin with a search engine. (BrightEdge)
These results help us understand that consumers tend to use search engines before making purchases. Statista’s 2019 research shows that organic searches are even more important than paid searches. This is an important statistic that shows why almost all companies need SEO.
2. Market share of search engine providers
Google is the clear market leader in most countries, which is convenient for international projects – because it is enough to check rankings and visibility on a search engine. Nevertheless, as part of the international SEO strategy, you should carefully check the market shares in the relevant countries.
Search Engine Market Share: According to Country
Let’s examine the market share of search engines in nations with big internet user populations.
Besides China and Russia, Google rules the majority of countries. Google only holds a 3.56% market share in China, whereas Baidu holds a 75.54% market share, while Yandex and Google jointly control the Russian search engine market.
United States (U.S.)
—Search engine market share for the U.S. from StatCounter
- Google — 86.99%
- Bing — 7.02%
- Yahoo — 3.11%
- DuckDuckGo — 2.42%
- Yandex — 0.12%
- Ecosia — 0.10%
- Others — 0.24%
United Kingdom (U.K.)
—Search engine market share for the U.K. from StatCounter
- Google — 91.74%
- Bing — 5.14%
- Yahoo — 1.64%
- DuckDuckGo — 0.87%
- Ecosia — 0.32%
- Yandex — 0.15%
- Others — 0.14%
—Search engine market share for China from StatCounter
- Baidu — 75.54%
- Bing — 11.47%
- Sogou — 4.83%
- Google — 3.56%
- Haosou — 2.20%
- Shenma — 1.74%
- Others — 0.66%
—Search engine market share for Russian Federation from StatCounter
- Yandex — 49.02%
- Google — 48.08%
- Mail.ru — 1.24%
- Bing — 0.84%
- DuckDuckGo — 0.40%
- Yahoo — 0.31%
- Others — 0.11%
All major search engines provide some analysis and data by means of webmaster tools. Even more important than the general market share of the search engines per country, is the distribution of your projects.
Therefore, set up the relevant accounts for yourself:
- Google Search Console
- Bing Webmaster Tools
- Yandex Webmaster Tools
Using some modern SEO tools, you can connect all Google functions via an API. This way you have all analysis and data, incl. Google Analytics and Google MyBusiness in one solution.
Another big advantage of so-called data warehouse systems is that users can analyze the data more often because it is in one tool and no extra login is needed. For example, most copywriters and bloggers log into Search Console rather rarely to check traffic and rankings for their blog posts. The same applies to some crucial web-controlling data such as bounce rate, dwell time, and so on.
4. International Language Usage
In your international SEO strategy, consider not only the regions or countries but also the languages. In some countries, for example, several languages are spoken. This means that in these countries, for example, Google.ch is used, but the users speak different languages (German, Italian, French). The rankings, therefore, differ significantly.
You should also consider which languages you want to offer on your website or store.
Especially in the EU, an enormous market potential can be achieved by adding a few additional languages. Of course, this is not only about multiplying the reach and organic SEO traffic, but also about maximizing the conversion rate through the respective national language!
The number of people who speak the following languages:
- English 527 million
- Spanish 389 million
- Portuguese 193 million
- German 132 million
- French 118 million
Spanish in particular is a very common and often underestimated language.
Especially smaller countries like Croatia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, etc. are often very exciting because there is much less competitive pressure in such countries.
Here you will find a table to help you understand in which countries you cannot go too far with “English”:
When it comes to auto-translation, even for Google, there is nothing against automatically translated content, as long as the content quality is good in the end. However, poorly translated content can be classified as a violation and result in a manual Google action. The Google Webmaster Guidelines state the following in this regard:
However, John Mueller from Google already admitted in 2019 that the quality of machine translation services has improved significantly. The problem, he said, is not the translation programs. If the original content is poor, it can only be translated poorly. To be on the safe side, automatic translations can be manually post-optimized.
Copyright © Twitter | Tweeted by John Mu.
5. Server Location
Often SEO managers ask themselves what role the server location plays. The truth is that optimizing your website for users such as reducing the page loading speed of the website is a crucial criterion for SEO. After all, every IP can be assigned to a country.
When it comes to website speed, you should make sure that you implement advanced techniques such as using Content Delivery Network (CDN) to increase your website’s pages loading speed. CDNs gives you the opportunity to load your website content faster, as it is a method aimed at reducing the distance of users from the server location.
CDNs such as Cloudflare always store the website’s content where the user is located. If the server location is e.g. in Germany and the users in the USA, the data does not have to be sent from DE to the USA unnecessarily and the website loads faster.
6. Language or Location Targeting
Before defining a domain strategy for international SEO, it is necessary to determine which regions should be targeted based only on their language, but regardless of location. If you offer your services to English-speaking users, regardless of whether they are in the UK, America or Canada, language targeting is sufficient. The location targeting would be necessary if, for example, you offer different prices and services in the UK, America and Canada or want to exclude certain countries.
- Language Targeting
This targeting strategy should be implemented if the location has less impact on products, services, and goals. It may be useful in the following situations:
- Products and services are identical in all regions
- Regional language differences are negligible
- Individual regions have (so far) only little traffic and conversions
- It is not clear yet from which countries the traffic comes and whether there is further potential in the individual countries.
- Location Targeting
Location targeting is often used when a specific location has a big influence on products, services, and goals. Using location targeting will be beneficial for your business website if:
- Different products and services, eg USA and UK, should be displayed.
- Regional language differences can be decisive for purchasing (e.g. “trousers” vs. “pants”).
- There is enough traffic and conversions in individual regions to expand them separately using online marketing’s advanced techniques.
- Different prices should be displayed in different regions (price structure and currency).
- Different search engines are relevant in relevant regions (e.g. Baidu in China).
7. Domain strategy for international SEO
A fundamental point in the context of international SEO is also the decision which domain strategy you want to use. For example, you can choose between country-specific top-level domains, subdomains or subdirectories.
- Country code top-level domain: www.domain.fr, www.domain.pt, www.domain.es
- Subdomains: fr.domain.com, pt.domain.com, es.domain.com
- Subdirectories: www.domain.com/fr, www.domain.com/pt, www.domain.com/es
Each of these strategies has its advantages and disadvantages. Which is the right one for you can therefore not be answered in a general way and always depends on the scope of your internationalization. The following is an overview:
Country code top-level domain
- Clear URL structure
- Better ranking chances
- Higher trust
- Better adaptation to cultural and linguistic differences
- Only one country domain is affected in case of a penalty
- Large organizational effort
- Search engine optimization link building works are necessary for each domain
- If an international audience is to be addressed, these unnecessarily restrict the audience
- Choosing the domain name can be more difficult
- Partly strict allocation guidelines
- Easier to manage than TLDs
- Possible penalties do not affect the main page
- Baclinks to the main domain do not affect the subdomain
- Usually less common for users, therefore have less trust
- Benefit from the authority of the backlinks to the main page
- On the other hand, the main page also benefits from the backlinks to the subdirectories
- Little effort, because only one domain is maintained, that minimizes especially the technical effort
- Less intuitive for users than TLDs
- The main page imposes a certain structure that may not be suitable for every country
- The demotion of a directory can have an impact on the entire domain
Important: When implementing the domain strategy, make sure that you do not mix the individual variants. For example, the following specification makes no sense: www.domain.de/us/. This is because both “de” and “us” are specifications for countries, but not for languages. So, you would define the domain for Germany as well as for the USA, which is contradictory. Therefore, to use sub-directories, you must not use country-specific top-level domains, but “.com”, for example. Alternatively, you can use languages as a directory, for example, www.domain.de/en/.
8. What are the technical aspects of international SEO?
The “Hreflang” attribute is an important component of international search engine optimization. With this attribute, you ensure that Google understands the respective geographical orientation of your pages and delivers the appropriate language version or the regional URL of the content to the user. In addition, the attribute also helps to prevent country-specific “duplicate content”, i.e. identical or almost identical content. This problem mainly occurs in Spanish/English-speaking countries or regions such as the DACH region.
Thus, Google knows that the content of this page also exists in another language and that a certain URL is intended for users from a certain country and with a certain language. For example, the attribute looks like this (when implemented in the <head> of an HTML document:
|<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es-AR” href=”http://www.domain.ar/” />|
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”de-AT” href=”http://www.domain.at/” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-GB” href=”http://www.domain.co.uk/” />
What does hreflang mean?
The hreflang tag is a part of a web page’s code that is inserted as needed to tell Google and other search engines which language version of a web page to use in search results for a geographically targeted audience. Which language version Google returns as a result of a search is controlled based on the user’s location.
The attribute allows you to show search engines the relationship of your web pages created in different languages to each other. This is especially useful if you have created content that is specific to a local audience. The language attribute was introduced by Google for this purpose towards the end of 2011.
For example, if you create an English-language version of your German homepage, you can mark it as “English” by using hreflang = “en”. This way, searchers with an IP address that indicates to search engines that the user is in an English-speaking country will see this page in English instead of the German version in the search results.
The attribute can also be used to indicate to search engines that content is available in variants of a single language. If this is the case, you can target your pages even more specifically by extending the attribute with annotations that indicate for which region the content is localized. For example, using “es-PE” for Peru, “de-CH” for Switzerland, and “pt-BR” for Brazil. This might be very useful for targeting users who are paying attention to variations in language, culture, currency, shipping, or seasonality.
Why is the language attribute important for search engine optimization?
Whether it’s the website of a globally established company, a regionally based company operating in several countries, or a national company looking to expand internationally, it’s important to make sure targeted local users can find the company’s website. This is where international search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play. Except for additional and important layers of information, International SEO is not much different from general SEO.
One of these additional pieces of information is the language attribute. The tag ensures that visitors are shown the language or regional version of a website that is appropriate for them. Thus, the language attribute helps to reduce the bounce rate, increase conversions and increase the time visitors spend on the site.
These are all factors that are taken into account when Google evaluates a website and determines its ranking. Using language attributes may not help increase traffic in general. The main goal is to provide users with the right content they are intending.
The language attribute is currently used by Google and Yandex search engines. Bing uses language metatags instead. However, the attribute is only a signal, not a mandatory directive for search engines. This means that the attribute can be overridden by other SEO factors in some cases, with the consequence that despite the implementation of the language attribute, another version of your page will get a better ranking in search results.
To give search engines really clear signals about which pages are convenient to users in which language, the use of ccTLDs is recommended. Country code top-level domains such as .fr, .mx, and .ca are considered by Google to be a strong geotargeting signal, signaling to the search engine that the website is targeted to a specific country.
The implementation of the language attribute is recommended by Google for websites with identical or largely identical content. For example, if a website is created in Portuguese for users in Brazil and Portugal, the content usually differs only marginally, e.g. by a different currency or contact information. The same applies to English-language websites for users in the USA, Great Britain and Canada.
The language attribute can be specified in the header of a web page, in an XML sitemap, or in the HTTP header. The link attribute has the following structure when implemented in the header of a web page:
|<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”xx-XX” href=”target-URL” />|
The rel=”alternate” attribute points to an alternate version of the page or document. The hreflang=”xx-XX” attribute first specifies the language (xx). The second value (XX) can be used to optionally specify targeting to a specific region. href=”target-URL” is the URL intended for a specific language/region.
If, in addition to a page for users in Portugal, you provide another Portuguese-language version of your website for users in Brazil, for example, at “https://www.website.pt/br”, you can use the hreflang attribute to point Google to this page as follows:
|<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”pt-BR” href=”https://www.website.pt/br/” />|
Another common mistake: The language is mandatory, the region only optional. A specification like “be” does not stand for Belgium but for the language Belarusian. If you want to specify the region of Belgium explicitly, you have to specify the languages as well, for example, “nl-BE” (Dutch in Belgium) or “fr-BE” (French in Belgium).
The implementation must also ensure that the attributes themselves are referential and that pages with the same content are linked bidirectionally, that is, each to the other. Bidirectional linking is important for Google to recognize the structure and dependency of the page on each other. For example, if you create one page each for customers in Chile, Mexico and Guatemala, the Chilean page and the Mexican page must be linked reciprocally to each other and additionally, must be linked to the Colombian page in each case. The Colombian page must also link back to the Mexican and Chilean pages.
|<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.website.es/” hreflang=”es-ES” />|
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://website.mx/” hreflang=”es-MX” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.website.co/” hreflang=”es-CO” />
Implementation in an XML Sitemap
|<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>|
<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” href lang=”de” href=”http://www.website.de/german/” />
<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” href lang=”de-ch” href=”http://www.website.de/swiss/” />
<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” href lang=”en” href=”http://www.website.de/english/” /> </url>
<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” href lang=”de-ch” href=”http://www.website.de/swiss/” />
<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” href lang=”en” href=”http://www.website.de/english/” />
<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” href lang=”de” href=”http://www.website.de/german/” />
<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” href lang=”en” href=”http://www.website.de/english/” />
<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” href lang=”de” href=”http://www.website.de/german/” />
<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” hrefl ang=”de-ch” href=”http://www.website.de/swiss/” />
The “loc” tag is required to specify the page URLs. The following “xhtml:link element” refers to the alternative version of the respective page. It is recommended to check the sitemap in Google Search Console before submitting it.
Implementation in HTTP header
The implementation of the language attribute in the HTTP header is deprecated when non-HTML resources, such as PDF documents or PowerPoint presentations, are provided in different languages and on different URLs. For example:
|Link: < https://www.website.com/downloads/ppt/english.pptx/; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”en”Link: < https://www.website.de/downloads/ppt/german.pptx/>; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”de”|
Link: < https://www.website.fr/downloads/ppt/french.pptx/; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”fr”
hreflang and rel=”canonical”
The rel = “alternate” href lang = “x” markup and rel = “canonical” can and should be used together. Each language version should have a rel = “canonical” pointing to itself. For example:
|<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://website.com/”>|
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://website.com/” href lang=”en” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://website.com/uk/” href lang=”en-UK” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://website.com/au/” href lang=”en-AU” />
The important thing here is that the canonical must point to itself, i.e. be self-referencing.
However, if the canonical points to another URL, no hreflang may be implemented on this URL, since otherwise, both specifications contradict each other.
Use of x-default hreflang
You can use the x-default attribute to indicate to Google that a page is not assigned to a specific language or region. This means that this page will be delivered by Google as a default page in the search results to users for whom no separate language version is available. The x-default attribute is also included as an HTML link element in the header area of a website.
To define a default page, the ISO code of the language including the optional region is replaced by the value “x-default”. The use of the x-default attribute is useful whenever there are multiple designated language versions for a web page, but not all regions where that language is also spoken are not covered.
For example, if you provide one version of each of your website for Americans, Britons, and Canadians, other English-speaking regions such as Australia will not be covered. You can use the x-default to reference a default web page to display to users from these regions. An example code could be inserted as follows:
|<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://website.fr/en-gb” hreflang=”en-GB” />|
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://website.fr/en-us” hreflang=”en-US” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://website.fr/en-ca” hreflang=”en-CA” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://website.fr/en” hreflang=”x-default” />
With this implementation, users from Australia, for example, will see the default page “http://website.fr/en” in the search results.
An hreflang tag is essential for websites that provide their users with dedicated pages in their language and for their region. At the same time, the implementation of the language attribute is one of the most complex technical issues that webmasters and SEOs have to deal with.
However, implementation of the hreflang tag is even more important for international SEO. The language attributes improve the usability of your website for an international audience and reduce the bounce rate and significantly increase the dwell time.
b) Loading times
Loading times play a major role in achieving good rankings and the highest possible conversion rates. Make sure you achieve high pagespeed values – mobile and for PCs. If you have optimized your technology here, you should use a content delivery network, especially for international SEO. This has the advantage that the content loads faster since the distance of the users to the server location is reduced. CDNs like Cloudflare always provide the website and store content where the user is located. If the server location is e.g. in Germany and the users in the USA, the data does not have to be sent from DE to USA and the website loads faster.
In addition, such systems offer many other features that lead to better loading times. Also the security of the website can be improved which is very important especially for international projects. Systems like Cloudflare can detect bots and fend off DDOS attacks.
c) CMS / Shop systems
Be careful with multi-domain systems. These can be very inflexible. If there are problems all domains are affected.
Instead, many international companies create a separate website per country, which is managed locally. This way, countries are more flexible and faster to implement in case of any changes. WordPress is also being used more and more. If technical features and customizations can be implemented faster and cheaper, better SEO results can also be achieved. Especially for large international companies, SEO technology is often a bottleneck and slows down success. By using CMSs such as WordPress, you can accelerate the success of your site in terms of SEO.
IP-Serving is the automatic forwarding of a user based on his IP or language setting to a specific language or country version of his domain. These redirects should be avoided, as they are problematic for both users and Google. Suppose a German user is currently on vacation in Italy and wants to shop online through your German store, but is always automatically redirected to the Italian version of the store à this can lead to a purchase abandonment.
What Google says about this:
|If your website contains language-matched pages that return different content based on the visitor’s detected country or preferred language, Google may not crawl or index all of your content for different territories or assign a rank to all of them. This is due to the fact that the default IP addresses of the Googlebot crawler seem to originate from the US. Additionally, the crawler sends HTTP requests without the Accept-Language setting in the request header.|
|If you want to dynamically change the content or redirect the user depending on their language preference, then keep in mind that Google may not be able to find and crawl all of your variants. This is because the Googlebot crawler usually operates from the USA. […] Avoid automatic redirects based on the language setting chosen by the user. These redirects may prevent users and search engines from accessing all versions of your website.|
All international URLs should be made accessible to search engines in a Sitemap.XML. It is advisable to create separate sitemaps for each language/country to make it easier to evaluate technical errors.
Depending on your domain strategy, you may need one global or several local Robots.txt files:
- One global robots.txt file can be used if you choose a global .com domain
- Several robots.txt files can be used if you choose a separate domain for each country
Many companies keep their Robots.txt files relatively generic, specifying only the path of the sitemap and blocking a few directories they don’t want to be indexed.
However, you should also keep the following in mind:
- Do not state sensitive paths/folders via Robots.txt. This way this information can be visible to everyone, which can pose a threat. If you want to hide something, solve it in another way not in your website’s robots.txt file.
- Especially for international domains you can save hosting and server resources by blocking bots and SEO tools and make it more difficult for competitors to find out about your website with the help of SEO tools.
Robots.txt may look something like this:
Numerous tools and bots check your domains daily to collect data without you noticing. For example, in 2021, 42.2 percent of internet traffic was caused by bots. There was a significant increase from the previous year.
Of course, not all bots and tools adhere to the information contained in Robots.txt. Especially the dubious bots that want to harm you will surely disregard any specification in Robots.txt. For this, other tools such as Cloudflare are needed which offer a very advanced bot detection and can then block them.
9. Tool Stack for International SEO
The expansion into further countries still brings some challenges. Besides the differences in language, culture, competition, or in a legal and economic framework, you should also consider some points in the SEO areas. Basic questions are:
- Which tool stack is optimal? Should there be one international tool stack or different tools per country?
- Which tools are essential and which are nice to have?
- Do I need local or international service providers e.g. for content, SEO, link building, etc.?
Choosing the right tools is crucial for optimal SEO performance. Only through appropriate technologies can you ensure a certain quality standard internationally and empower all SEO managers and teams. Try to secure competitive advantages through technologies.
You will need tools for the following purposes:
When creating content, it is important to take into account the uniform specifications regarding tonality from the head office. Nevertheless, the content must be created individually for each country. Whether category texts, advertisements, guidebooks or blog articles. Each content should be written or translated by native speakers of the respective country. If the texts are translated by a non-native speaker, they would probably not be useful for your website.
Especially country-specific phrases cannot simply be translated one-to-one, as they can mean something completely different in another language or region. In addition, you should pay attention to the linguistic peculiarities of the country. For example, unlike traditional German, there is no “ß” letter in Switzerland, moving means “Zügeln” or painting a wall means “Ausmalen”. These small differences can easily be noticed by local visitors and may cause them to lose their trust in your business.
Content creation plays a central role in SEO. A lot can be done wrong in case you have no experience in content creation. There are around 100 SEO criteria that need to be considered for an optimal SEO text. Among them, for example:
- How long should the text be?
- Which keyword density is relevant?
- Which keywords are searched for by users?
- Does my page already rank?
- Spell check
- What questions do users have about the topic?
- Are my meta tags optimal?
- Which additional keywords are there?
All these are questions that editors and product managers usually cannot answer. If all this should be checked manually by the respective SEO manager or SEO team of the business for each text, this generates enormous effort and costs. In addition, depending on their competence, some of them are likely to be forgotten. This is why companies on the path to internationalization often prefer to hire a media agency to take care of the content creation process from start to finish.
Keyword analysis is one of the most important parts of search engine optimization. This forms the basis for further optimization measures and is used to understand users’ search behavior.
In international SEO, it is important to create a separate keyword analysis for each country. This is because search behavior can differ greatly in different countries. For example, users in southern countries tend to search for “down jackets” or “winter blankets” less frequently than in northern countries. In addition, the competitors vary from country to country as well. Therefore, a separate keyword analysis should be made for each country and the keywords to be prioritized for each country should be decided separately.
The search behavior of users is constantly changing. Therefore, SEO tools such as Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, and Ahrefs are needed that determine relevant keywords per country and show the search volume.
Since search engine rankings change periodically, it is crucial to review existing and new keywords on an ongoing basis, not just at the start of a project. By regularly researching keywords, you could determine the ones with high search volume and relatively low competition. Thus, you could create quality content about them, and easily increase your website’s organic traffic which might reflect your leads as well.
In international SEO projects, it is important to monitor all the technology in an automated way. Websites and stores have their own lifecycle. Especially when many users are working on projects, there might be a lot of errors and problems. For example, having a too-large image with the wrong image format (like .png or .jpg) on the homepage dramatically increases loading time, which can directly affect ranking and conversion rate.
The technological details you need to check for your website in each country include:
Especially for small and medium-sized companies it happens relatively often that the websites and online stores are offline. Often this is not even noticed. If the website/store is offline nothing can be sold, rankings crash and you lose clients and sales. Therefore, this is one of the basics of every SEO project. No matter if local or international. You can easily avoid this situation by getting hosting services from reliable providers.
- Technical aspects:
Regular and automatic crawls must check the most important technical aspects and send alerts in case of problems. This includes e.g., 404 errors, 500 errors, and much more.
Some SEO tools display this information in the dashboard so that the likelihood of it being overlooked is reduced. Even very large companies with their own SEO teams often overlook this because they often prefer using too many different SEO tools.
A security crawler should regularly check your website/store for technical problems. It is also important to check the SSL certificates, otherwise, the website will be “blocked” in most of the common browsers. Also, check your web presence regularly for any type of malware. Some tools can help you with this regard by using APIs to check for malware.
For example, if a website’s SSL certificate expires and the managers/employees do not renew the certificate despite warnings from the tools they use and other warning emails from the hosting/domain provider, the website is classified as insecure by browsers, resulting in a significant decrease in traffic and sales. The fact that the SSL certificate is no longer active is also problematic for Google and GDPR.
This is what it will look like for users who want to access a website without an SSL certificate:
Your Robots.txt file may be affected by a change on the server side or in your website’s panel. There are some tools that monitor Robots.txt and send an alert when changes are made. Why is this so important? The Robots.txt gives Google and other bots instructions on what they are allowed to do and what not. In case of unwanted changes, the entire domain could be blocked by Google, which would result in the loss of all SEO rankings So, make sure your robots.txt file is adjusted as it should be.
- Loading time:
The loading times should be monitored automatically in each country since following them one by one might be hard. Loading time should be checked not only for the start page but also for various sub-pages such as landing pages, blogs, shops and etc.
Tools such as PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix are frequently used by SEOs to measure and analyze loading times. Don’t forget that page speed values should be analyzed separately for both mobile and desktop devices.
d. Link Building
Link building is still one of the most important parts of search engine optimization. However, it is still considered one of the riskiest SEO strategies, as it can cause your site to be penalized by Google if implemented incorrectly.
Link building strategy must be implemented independently for every single country. Ideally, you work with an SEO agency that can provide backlinks separately for the countries your business is serving.
Furthermore, it is important to get backlinks from sites that use the same language as the site you want to build links to, have the same top-level Domain (TLD), or have strong visibility or traffic in the respective country. So, for example, if you have a site www.domain.fr, you need mostly build links from sites has the TLD “.fr”. This can have a better positive effect on the ranking of your website.
It is important to do your backlink audit regularly with tools used by advanced SEOs such as Ahrefs and SEMrush, where you can analyze the backlinks that your website receives. It is recommended that you block any backlinks that may put your site’s ranking at risk using Google Disavow Tool.
f. Competition monitoring
Always keep an eye on the competition. This is especially crucial for checking:
- Keyword Rankings
- SEO Visibility
- Loading times
- Indexed pages
Many companies create individual reports to check the factors above one by one for implementing a perfect international SEO. Especially for competing internationally, the competition reports would have to be created per country. Each domain name/website has its own ever-changing keyword rankings and there are different competitors to analyze for each country. Some SEO tools give you the opportunity to track up to 20 competitors per country/domain and view a detailed SEO report for each competitor.
g. International SEO Reporting
Make sure that all SEOs working on your business – no matter where they are – have access to all the data about your website. It is also important for analysis that everyone is viewing the same data. It’s not ideal for SEO teams in different countries to use different SEO tools and therefore have various data.
As an example of one of the disadvantages of SEO teams using different tools, SEO visibility may increase in one tool and stagnate or increase in another. This creates complexity within SEO teams and makes it difficult to derive appropriate strategies.
Uniform, accurate and comparable metrics/values should be available for all countries. Values such as keyword rankings or visibility may vary by country and the tool. Ensure that all assessments and reports are gathered by using a trusted SEO tool.
10. International SEO: decentralized and central organization
Many companies that want to do SEO in different countries have a head office in one country and run decentralized branches in other countries. Deciding how to organize yourself as part of the expansion is an important factor for international SEO. In addition, there are other questions and hurdles that you should ask yourself before starting internationalization.
Even in advance, it is important to know how search engine optimization works in individual countries and what you have to consider in the individual areas of search engine optimization. In addition, the choice of the optimal domain strategy for your own project is a decisive factor. If you have read the article this far, you have learned the most important points for successful international SEO.
Before starting an international SEO project, it is important to consider some points in advance. First of all, it is important to make a decision regarding the organization.
- It is recommended to have a central point of contact for all countries in the home country and separate branches for the respective country.
- An alternative would be to employ separate SEO managers for each country. Ideally, this person should also speak the native language of the country.
It is advisable to pass on all important information and basic guidelines from the central office to the contacts for the individual countries. For example, briefings for content creation, service provider selection, and communication, or link building are important. The selection of various SEO tools as well as applications for tracking systems and SEO analytics should also be handled directly by the central office. This usually saves some costs, as many tool providers offer special packages for larger organizations and the entire company has a uniform database.
In addition to central control and communication to the contact persons, there should be a Global SEO Manager who keeps an eye on the development of all countries, including the home country. For example, this person can analyze in more detail when a country is doing particularly well or poorly in terms of SEO. In this way, important insights can be gained for all other countries. The tasks that specifically arise in the respective areas can then be carried out by the relevant employees directly for their own country. This includes, for example, content, keyword analyses, or link-building strategies.
One SEO agency for everything or many different ones in the local countries?
Even large corporations cannot manage without external help. Here, many companies ask themselves whether they should hire a global SEO agency for all countries or rather various local SEO service providers. There exist some global agencies that employ several thousand people. This is one of the benefits of hiring a global SEO agency because these agencies often have native local speakers, and this is one of the key differences of global SEO agencies from independent local SEO agencies.
On the other hand, there is also the option for teams in countries to decide on their own which SEO agency they want to work with. The fact that not everything is determined by a centralized body and that a certain independence is maintained is always very well received in SEO teams. However, all SEO measures should be monitored through a centralized and international SEO management tool.
11. Case Study: Backlink building for an international provider
In the following, we will use an example case to explain how Intseo Media experts supported a provider with several international sites in the context of backlink building. The goal was to increase visibility, market share, and sales.
The client already had a well-known online store offering sunglasses, optical glasses, contact lenses, and sports glasses. In the beginning, Intseo Media only managed the German store. Later, ten additional online stores for different countries, for example, England, Hungary, or Sweden, were added.
Here, the language barriers were a particular challenge, especially in non-German or non-English speaking countries. In some countries you can manage well with English, in others it is absolutely necessary to use the local language.
In addition, the demands on the topic of SEO are different in every country. In Romania or Hungary, for example, the Internet infrastructure is less developed than in Germany. England, on the other hand, is generally ahead of the German market in terms of search engine optimization.
In some countries, for example, only low-quality backlinks were available, which have not been used in Germany for years. More effort arose in the search for suitable backlinks for such countries. In the Scandinavian countries, backlinks in this sector (fashion) are usually extremely expensive, but Intseo Media’s outreach specialists did a great job and managed to find fashion-related backlink opportunities that are not that expensive for the client.
Another challenge was SEO tools at that time. Especially when it comes to smaller countries in Eastern Europe, many SEO tools do not offer visibility values. At this point, our experienced SEO team got help from relatively lesser-known SEO tools to track rankings/visibility in Eastern European countries. Advanced tactics have enabled Intseo Media to check keyword positions in all countries and more than 100 languages. Rankings were checked daily by default, which allowed us to generate independent SEO reports for each country.
You can easily identify the SEO successes that Intseo Media provides to its clients by analyzing the report below. Especially when you consider that only backlinks were created (i.e. no on-site SEO services were provided to the client). Nothing was changed on the site, technically or in terms of content. This shows how much greater SEO success is actually possible. Also, the project duration was 6 months. The table below shows the visibility development of all the client’s managed countries:
|Country||Visibility (June)||Visibility (December)||Increase in %|
To make the development more understandable, we have used the known SEMrush Visibility values. At the time, there was no SEMrush data for Romania, Hungary and Denmark, so Searchmetrics values were used instead.
In Germany, the performance could be increased very quickly and significantly. Especially if you consider that visibility of 2.35 is already a pretty good level. But also in most of the other countries, remarkable results were possible, despite some unforeseen challenges that arose in the course of the collaboration. For example, visibility in Austria increased from 0.71 at the beginning to 1.596. In Sweden, the visibility was 0.22 at the beginning of June, increased to 0.4303 at the end of December.
12. Important Tips (As a summary)
- Google must find all international versions (hreflang!).
- Meta-tags: Language
- All internal links must be adapted to the user’s version.
- Sitemaps must be separately adjusted for all versions.
- Search Console should be created separately for all versions.
- All content must be well-translated.
- Automatic translations must be checked when certain technical terms may not be translated.
- Users should be able to change the version at any time.
- If pop-ups and the like are used, these must be delivered depending on the international version.
- If videos are included, they should always be in English or separate videos should be produced for each language.