It makes sense that businesses successful enough to grow to the enterprise level might one day go international.
For the business owner, it’s an exciting and intimidating prospect. You have the chance to bring your brand, and your offerings, to customers in different countries.
On the one hand, this effort will be about replicating the success you’ve had in your own country.
On the other, marketing yourself in the United States will be different from marketing yourself in France, Germany, or Australia.
Your website will play a huge role in serving your international customers, which means international SEO is required.
On the most basic level, practicing international SEO means targeting specific countries and languages on your website.
But it’s not enough to simply have those pages out there for international users to find. How will you optimize for better placement and greater visibility on Google and other search engines?
Make sure you’re focusing on these 4 foundational areas of international SEO to give your site its best possible chance in new markets.
1. Establish The Right URL Structure For International Pages
Enterprise and large-scale websites will have a ton of pages, likely hundreds or thousands. When you’re in the ecommerce market, those product and category pages add up fast.
One of the primary steps you need to take if you want users in another country to find what they want on your website is to build your international pages for the right audiences using the proper country-coded URL structure.
Take this example.
Say you’re a U.S.-based online consumer electronics retailer, and you’ve done the research to show that you stand to grow your profits if you expand into the U.K. market.
You’ve already done all the SEO for your U.S.-based pages, but now you need to create and optimize pages for a British audience, that is, pages that Google will turn up for users searching from the United Kingdom.
The first and perhaps, most important step is to create British-centric web pages built with URL structures that signify the content is meant for U.K. users.
There are a few ways you can do this. Many international websites choose to country-code their international URLs with a ccTLD, which in this example would be “.uk.”
Other options include creating:
- A country-coded subdomain (uk.websitename.com).
- A subfolder on your original website (websitename.com/uk).
- Another domain entirely (newwebsitename.com, optimized only for British users).
You’ll have to decide for yourself which approach is best.
For instance, you might believe that establishing a separate domain for each new country you expand to is a bad idea. Your organic traffic data will be broken up among your websites, preventing you from seeing everything at a glance.
The subdomain and subfolder routes would allow you to view the international versions of your site separately while still allowing you to collect organic traffic data all in one place.
In any event, telling the search engines the version of your website meant for each country is necessary to rank for the right audiences. Devise a way forward with this before doing anything else.
2. Go All-In On Page Experience For International Users
Country-specific URL structures are good for getting your international pages ranking for the right audiences.
But let’s say you get the “.uk” subdomain version of your site to rank for British users. Those users then go to the site and notice you’re using American English rather than British English.
Maybe that isn’t a huge deal right now, but it’s still a little off-putting.
Then, upon checking out your prices, those British users can only see the costs in the American dollar.
They’ll need to convert dollars to British pounds and figure out what they’ll owe to make a purchase. But why put your potential customers through that?
Just as in traditional SEO, international SEO needs to consider user experience.
Whether you’re serving up web pages to British audiences who share the English language with the United States or to Italian users who speak a completely different language, be sure to translate all your website content for its intended users.
You can use any translation tool to do that but the story doesn’t end there.
You’ll want to lock in whether Google shows that version of your page to the right audience by adding hreflang attributes to your pages.
Hreflang tags are signals that tell Google the language used on the page. Why is that important?
Because then, Google will show that version of the page to users who come from IP addresses that speak that language.
Of course, keep in mind that languages are not necessarily confined within national borders.
If you create German-language versions of all your pages specifically for German-speaking people, remember that German is spoken in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
You don’t want Google to leave those last three countries out in the cold with search results by showing German-language pages only to people in Germany.
To solve that problem, you can add hreflang tags for specific countries.
In this case, you’d have tags for the other countries using their letter abbreviations.
So, German itself would be “hreflang=de,” while you would use “hreflang=de-ch” for German speakers in Switzerland.
Regarding currencies, you should be sure to look into the currency options on Shopify, Woocommerce, or the platform you use to select the currencies you will accept.
Ideally, you’ll be able to accept whatever the national currency is of the target country.
You may also want country-specific resources on each translated page of your website to address user concerns about taxes, customs, and shipping.
3. Be Aware Of International Keyword Differences
When you’re a large enterprise website expanding into different countries, you also need to be acutely aware of the differences in keyword trends among countries.
There’s the issue of keywords appearing in completely different languages in other countries. Still, even in countries that speak the same language, the terms might differ (“elevator” in the United States, “lift” in the United Kingdom).
You can use tools such as Semrush and Ahrefs for keyword research according to search volumes in different countries.
This is where things can get a little tricky. Depending on local elements such as culture, weather, language, and history, your customers might have their own common words for things.
Take the example of U.S. English speakers saying “bike” in casual conversation much more often than they say “bicycle.”
You will need to put the time into researching the terms used in your target countries and translate them properly where necessary if you want your pages to rank for the most relevant terms.
With enterprise websites and other large-scale sites, this research can take substantial time. It’s good to know you can do this before committing to expanding internationally.
4. Pursue Backlinks From Country-Specific Domains
The last point to cover is that, as an enterprise website attracting users in many countries, you’ll want backlinks to assist in that effort.
If you have experience in SEO, you already know the benefits of high-quality backlinks.
The caveat to remember in international SEO is that your backlinks should be coming from websites with the same ccTLD as the website version you’re showing people.
So, if you have a version of your site for Japan, it makes sense that most of your backlinks should be from websites with a “.jp.”
This makes sense from a user-experience perspective.
Japanese users who follow those external links and find the Japanese version of your site won’t be jarred by suddenly finding an English page.
Your international link-building strategy will be based on the products you sell and the market sectors where you sell them. Only you will know the best strategy for acquiring links to your pages from the appropriate domains.
Just think: “What kinds of backlinks would Google most associate with trustworthiness for my site?”
International Enterprise SEO Needs All Your Attention
It takes a lot of time and effort to get your international SEO right, but if you’re an enterprise business expanding across national borders, be sure your website is working for you rather than against you.
Put the work into creating awesome experiences for your international customers, and this move could end up paying dividends for you for years to come.
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