Your product or service might be brilliant in any language, but when you’re taking your business global it takes an entirely reconfigured strategy to make sure overseas audiences get the message. SEO tactics that worked wonders here won’t necessarily land abroad – so understanding international SEO and having an expertly designed global SEO strategy will put you in the best possible position for launch. 

Find out more about our international SEO services

What makes a strong international SEO strategy? 

SEO is always about taking a flexible and responsive approach to reaching your customers – understanding their needs and never working on a one-size-fits-all basis. But SEO is different in different countries. When you’re optimising for search engines abroad, that process is even more crucial because a strategy that’s successful in one market can fall flat in another. 

Taking the time to plan a detailed international SEO strategy is like hiring a fluent, experienced translator instead of using Google Translate – you know every word will be right, and you know your audience will understand. It’s about taking into account the differences not just in language, but in culture and communication, that could derail your website’s success in other territories if you tried to export it abroad as it is. 

You’ll find yourself communicating with overseas customers just like your competitors who speak the language – responding to their search queries in the way they speak to each other, with localised and tailored website copy.

Define your target audience by completing market research

Who’s going to be most interested in what you’re offering? It might not be who you think – your product or service might have just the same potential abroad as it does here, but with a different demographic. Research who these audiences are, what drives them to buy, and how they tend to search online. 

Keyword research is a big part of this process, but it’s also about getting inside the heads of the brands that have cornered the market in your target country before – what is it about them that’s struck a chord locally? 

How they talk about the product or service and their brand tone of voice are both important – but remember that at the heart of the SEO process you’re looking to draw the attention of search engines – not just marketing directly to customers. What search engine is most popular in your target market, and what does its algorithm look for?

Identify your competitors in each market

There’s a reason certain brands are thriving in your target country – and it’s not just that they speak the same language. Taking the time to understand how your local competitors connect with audiences will make the difference – consider hiring a freelance native speaker to see those companies from the audience’s perspective and give you some insight into how their SEO practices are meeting consumers’ needs.

But it’s not just about who’s already cornered the market – who could you be getting ahead of? The companies you compete with at home could be looking to expand internationally too, so look carefully at their SEO performance and see if there are areas where they’re not fully optimising for particular markets or languages. What you find might even help you decide where to expand to next. 

Conduct international keyword research

This is where the difference between straight translation and tailored optimisation really comes into play. Some of the cast-iron keywords that work every time at home might not work abroad, and by doing some in-depth international keyword research you’ll understand what those are and why. 

This might be because a keyword is overused or it might be that customers simply don’t use the terminology you do – so broadening the field and analysing as many potential keywords as possible is key. Your international keyword research should be as localised as your keyword research at home. 

International SEO isn’t just a box to be ticked before launching abroad – it’s an ongoing process, so you should continue to track the performance of keywords after launch rather than doing one single round of keyword research.

Optimise for the target country by adapting your brand 

It can be disheartening to learn that your incredibly clever branding – the product of many hours’ work and the key weapon in your online arsenal – just won’t fly in an overseas territory. But hiring the services of an international SEO expert and coming up with a detailed strategy can mean that you don’t have to throw it out and start again – it’s possible to adapt more of it than you might think. 

Make relevant content for local cultures

You might think that you’re just not using the right words, and failing to speak the language as the locals do – but the reality can often be more nuanced than that.

One of the ways you connect with your target audience at home might be creating informative content like blog posts that answers relevant questions and gives your brand authority. Doing the same thing abroad might not be as difficult as you think – how can you take advantage of the culture, interests and habits of your target market to make content that connects with their lifestyle?

Think about building local links

Just like informative content, link building is a key aspect of SEO wherever you’re operating. Creating a tailored link building strategy for your target market can have a big impact on your website’s search ranking there. If you’re getting backlinks from locally relevant domains (for example, .fr in France), then Google or other search engines will see that your website is proving relevant for audiences there. 

Focus on technical aspects 

International SEO might be about the nuances of language and the differences in how customers engage with brands around the world – but it’s also about getting the technicalities right. Having a website structure that’s built for global markets can make a big difference in how you rank. 

Use hreflang attributes

Hreflang attributes go further than telling search engines what language content is in – they designate the region it’s intended for, which is especially useful if one language is spoken in several places. For example, they’ll prevent English-language content intended for the US from reaching UK audiences as duplicate content. 

Make sure hreflang attributes are used correctly by including them in one of three places: 

  • The <head> of your HTML
  • The XML sitemap markup
  • Your HTTP header

Choose the right domain and site architecture

It’s worth having designated URLs for specific territories, rather than having subdirectories within your existing sitemap and putting the onus on the user or their browser to select the version that’s relevant to them.

Country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) – for example brandname.fr and brandname.de are the key to doing this successfully. While they can be a more expensive and time-consuming option they are well worth investing in, especially if you’re looking to expand into multiple territories at once. This is because they smooth the user journey and signal to the search engine which version of the site is relevant to your audience. 

Your international SEO agency

Among the many other mammoth tasks involved in expanding your business into new countries, a strong international SEO strategy isn’t an optional extra. With the help of an international SEO agency, a carefully designed strategy will identify the unique challenges each territory presents – and work to take advantage of them rather than swerve them.

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