What are some unique considerations for international SEO?
International SEO comes with some extra challenges to solve, such as implementing hreflang tags, keyword research for local audiences, choosing a URL structure, and more.
Knowing what all of these things are and learning how to implement them can help you reach so many more people around the world.
Here are the unique considerations for international SEO.
1. Hreflang tags
When you are creating a page in a single language, following typical SEO practices is all you really have to do to maximize your odds of ranking.
Adding one or more languages, though, introduces one additional component to the mix. You need a way to inform Google that your page is available for either:
- Alternative languages
- Other regions
Or, of course, both.
You can do that by using a piece of code that we call hreflang, which you need to add to your website.
To put it into perspective, this is how hreflang tags typically look like this:
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/fr” hreflang=”fr-fr”/>
No need to stress. It may seem complicated at first, but the way it works is actually pretty simple when you break each component down. More specifically:
- link rel=”alternate”: This is how you indicate that your page has an alternative version in another language and/or region. You can similarly use rel=”canonical” to point to the original page you are editing
- href=”example.com”: Add the location of the alternative page here
- hreflang=”fr-fr”: This is where you add the language and region code
There are plenty of ways to add this code to your website. But the easiest one is arguably using the Transifex WordPress integration to generate the tags as you add new languages automatically.
One common issue is that websites will try to create a set of sites with identical content and then hreflang them together in hopes that search engines will index them, for example:
The above looks excellent from a URL setup, but if you try to do this with identical content, a search engine won’t index all URLs and will end up canonicalizing them all to a single version. Duplicate content defeats the point of having hreflang in place, and it’s something you need to consider when launching your site internationally.
– Charlie Norledge, Head of SEO Performance at Impression.
More about hreflang tags in this guide.
2. URL structure
URLs are important for SEO, and the same goes for international SEO.
One unique consideration that you’ll have to think about only when dealing with international SEO, though, is the universal URL structure.
Most global websites use example.com or example.net. And when they target a specific locale and/or language, you’ll typically find them in something like example.de, example.com/de, etc.
This is what we refer to when we are talking about URL structure on international SEO.
There are four URL structures you can use:
- Generic Top-level domain (Example.com)
- Subdirectories (Example.com/de)
- Country code top level domain (Example.de)
- Subdomains (de.example.com)
Keep in mind that both country codes and subdomains will make Google treat your website like a different domain. So, if you don’t want to end up having to build authority again, subdirectories are often the safe choice.
Rather than using country-specific top-level domains (TLDs), it’s generally better for SEO to use subfolders. Otherwise Google will treat the country-specific domain name as a separate domain without the same reputation in terms of backlinks. That’s the reason why Apple.com is using subfolders (e.g. apple.com/es rather than apple.es).
– Robert Brandl, Founder & CEO of tooltester
3. Region targeting
Audience targeting and research is generally a good SEO practice. The only thing that differs when you move to international SEO is that you have to take into consideration that different audiences may have different interests.
Just because one topic is popular in the US for example, doesn’t mean the same applies to all other regions. And this is info that you can use to determine where you should focus on.
To gain those insights, you can use tools such as Ahrefs.
Another thing worthy of keeping in mind is backlinks. Much like we “normally” need backlinks to boost pages, the same applies to international ones.
Forming connections with locals from region to region can help you build high-quality backlinks.
International link-building can help elevate your international SEO strategy and quickly build brand credibility in unfamiliar markets. Research the local market to find established influencers and digital publications that cater to your target audience. If engaging with local journalists, bloggers, and publications at the international level is too big of an undertaking, consider investing in agencies within those new markets to help build your name and backlink profile. They can leverage their established contacts to boost your search engine rankings quickly.
Look for quality, not quantity, as you build your backlinks. It’s far better for your rank to secure a few high DR links than loads of low-quality ones.
– Fernando Lopez, Marketing Director of Circuit
4. Multilingual SEO optimization
When you are performing keyword research for English, you typically only have to consider, well, how people search in English.
But when you start localizing for other languages, you can’t expect to just rank because you translated your content.
If you want the best results, you’ll have to perform keyword research for individual locales. And then you’ll also have to optimize the translated content based on what you found to make Google’s job easier and your ranking results better.
“To optimize search rankings, do keyword research and consider local language conventions, such as colloquialisms. For example, use “trash can” for US English and “bin” for UK English. Use “café” for Spanish in Spain and “bar” for Spanish in other countries.”
– Harry Boxhall, SEO Consultant
5. Machine translation
On your journey to increasing organic traffic via international SEO, you may be tempted to use machine translation tools such as DeepL or Google Translate as an easy way out. But we’d advise against it.
AI has made giant leaps over the years. However, one of the things it still struggles with is taking context into account and adjusting accordingly, and context is of the utmost importance in localization.
Machine-made translations are nowhere near the quality that translators can provide. And they definitely can’t take international SEO into account.
That’s not to say you can’t take advantage of technology. Quite the contrary.
You can use a Translation Management System and have Machine Translation have one sweep, and then translators and writers can improve the quality and focus on SEO.
These are the five unique considerations for international SEO. You typically only have to worry about these challenges when global expansion and international SEO become a priority.
Needless to say that solving these challenges brings enormous benefits, including increased traffic and conversions.
To further increase these metrics, always keep in mind that you should measure the results of your efforts.
One of the ways to do that, for example, as highlighted by SEO expert Rob Weatherhead, is by sharing your successes between countries. “While it is not always the case what works in one country will work in another, there is efficiency in information sharing.”
And that’s apart from stating the obvious that you should track which international/local posts offer the best ranking.