So, your site is becoming another case study in globalization. Location targeting
You're noticing a spike in international visitors to your site.
You've started to get tons of customers asking questions in languages you don't understand.
People want to know if you'll ship to this or that country.
Your gut is telling you that there's money on the table. When you see new international audiences taking an interest in your site, you see gold.
And you just might be right.
If any of the above sounds familiar, now's the ideal time to invest in a global SEO strategy. Perhaps even full-fledged websites or sub-domains to cater to foreign audiences.
The time is ripe.
If these international audiences have found your site despite the fact that it only caters to one region or one language, just imagine how your profits could explode with sites or sub-domains focused just on their needs, written in their languages.
That's right—in a sense, going global really means going local.
After all, 46% of the 5 billion searches on Google are for local content. People from hundreds of countries, speaking thousands of languages are looking for solutions close to home.
And your brand can benefit globally from this local boom.
Ready to crush your competition on the international fronts? To launch a campaign for world domination?
Here's your SEO ammo.
What is Global SEO?
In a nutshell, global SEO means optimizing your content for a multitude of regions worldwide.
You'll need to create content that works for different regions and language, as well as optimize that content for each region's search engine results pages. Search results appear differently for Italians using google.it and South Africans using google.co.za.
Let's say you sell strawberries and you have outlets or business operations in Russia, Spain, France and Japan, but your local market is the UK. Your international SEO would optimize for those countries as well as the word "strawberry" in their languages.
In Japan, you'd optimize for イチゴ
In Spain, you'd target Fresas
In Latin America, you'd target Frambuesas instead.
Meanwhile, in Russia, it'd be клубника
And in France, the word would be Fraises
At home, in the UK, you'd still be optimized for "strawberry."
In short, that's global SEO.
The Difference between Global SEO, Local SEO and General SEO
General SEO covers all the fundamental factors that help search engines crawl, index and list your content in the results pages for searches.
Whether you serve a local or global market, you'll always have to put these SEO practices in place. General SEO factors include:
- Site speed
- Keyword optimization
- Schema markup
While working on local SEO, global SEO or any other type of SEO, you'll use general SEO principles—the key is that you'll tweak them to suit your specific purpose. Of course, local and global SEO tactics have unique nuances and tactics, so you want to go beyond the general.
Local SEO is typically for offline businesses with a brick-and-mortar presence in a given city, state or country. Apart from applying general SEO rules, Google relies on customer reviews, local directories and business information networks for local search rankings.
Global SEO targets audiences across the globe. You'll be optimizing for your audiences' languages, cultures, behavioral tendencies, local internet regulations and policies in your marketing messages and methods.
There are some global SEO tactics that are more general, like translating existing content into a variety of languages. And then to some extent, it's a matter of repeating local SEO over and over, until you've covered every specific region of interest. We'll cover both.
An important consideration for global SEO: Data and privacy policies
Countries and regions across the globe are adopting data privacy regulations to give consumers control over what is shared about them online. Although Europe's adoption of privacy rules made the most headlines, Africa and Asia already have privacy regulations in place.
On May 25, 2018, Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went live. And Africa has her own privacy guidelines called Personal Data Protection Guidelines for Africa (PDPGA). The Asia Pacific region recently reviewed their Asia Pacific Data Regulation and Cyber Security Guide, this includes major economies in the region like China and India.
And if you serve markets in Africa, Europe or Asia, you should pay attention to the regulations there. Attentiveness to local internet regulations helps your business in all ramification, not just SEO.
Now, when it comes to SEO—that's the tricky part. Google hasn't said that data protection will influence rankings. But like most of Google's ranking factors, it's likely something that will come into play slowly but surely.
At least, that's the SEO gossip these days.
For example, the HTTPS implementation. This wasn't a ranking factor until Google started favoring websites that encrypt data over those that don't. In fact, Google started taking the SSL certificate factor so seriously that Chrome now warns users accessing non-HTTPS sites.
The best approach here is to live ready.
What's Google's Perspective on Global SEO?
There's a reason why we're all wondering what Google cares about.
Google is still the biggest player overall in the search market worldwide.
Even the small handful of markets dominated by other search engines either use Google as much as they use the competitors or just slightly less. Except for China (Baidu) and South Korea (Naver).
So, we need to keep Google's perspective in mind. Here's what Google cares about when it comes to global SEO.
The Big G Always favors Relevance
Google's age-old philosophy: Relevance matters. Google uses on-page SEO, off-page SEO and visitor behavior to measure relevance.
In fact, measuring and ascertaining relevance and user satisfaction are the core competencies of RankBrain. Oh, did I mention that RankBrain is Google's third most important ranking factor? Oh yes, it is.
Your global market has unique needs that beg attention. Tackle those needs.
So, don't copy-paste across country pages and languages. Meet each market's unique needs.
Your best-performing content among Americans may be totally irrelevant to your Japanese audience.
Let's assume you ship and sell fruits across the globe and have markets in tropical countries like Singapore and in cold climates like Iceland. Your website should address topics like "fruit preservation" differently. Iceland is cold year round, and Singapore is hot all year. Their needs are different.
Build Trust in Each Market
You might be a rock star with millions of raving fans in North America. Your products sell out weeks to launch date, and you cover magazines coast to coast! You're lucky. Thank the Americans.
But now you're in South Korea! No one knows who you are. Yet.
You'll have to build your brand from the ground up in new markets. You'll have to invest in brand awareness and building trust with your local market. If you had a few customers in the past from a given region, reach out to them for reviews.
Take Your NAP Seriously
Nope! I'm not about giving you tips to oversleep.
Your business name, address and phone number (or NAP for short) tells the search engines about you. Inconsistency in your NAP confuses the search engines with conflicting information and devolves your chances of ranking in search results.
Local SEO Shows that You Care
Since each market has unique needs and behaviors, you must build your brand to match these market changes.
The more you can appeal to each specific region, the more relevant your content will be to the users who find it—and the most Google will see that you really care.
Get listed in local directories, get featured in local media, get support from local influencers, and other proven local search engine optimization tactics.
Now that you know Google's stand on global SEO, let's explore seven global SEO tactics to conquer the digital world.
Tactic #1: Research Across Countries
Going global means you've done pretty well in your local or primary market. Kudos on your hard work!
So you need some internationalization now.
The first step to creating an effective global SEO strategy is research.
Assess your industry's potential for global SEO expansion
Different industries have unique strengths and weaknesses. Some markets are more mature for specific products and services than others. You want to make data your ally here.
Your goal here is to find the countries where your opportunities are most substantial and then pour your attention and resources in that direction.
Using your site traffic and competitor reports you can look at things like:
- What countries send you the most international traffic?
- What countries are converting the most in your marketing funnel?
- Who's showing the most interest in your products (but can't access them yet)?
- What markets are your competitors entering or planning to open in and why? Don't follow blindly on this one, be sure to know the reason before you leap.
More ways to assess your industry's opportunities for expansion:
- Global industry trend analysis reports
- International product or service market reports
The idea is to gather intelligence, and then make informed decisions based on the data you have. At the end of this research, you'd have decided what countries (or cities) your industry's opportunities are most robust.
Secondly, you'd have also understood industry-level strengths, weaknesses and threats in those markets.
Set global SEO goals
Once you've done a little research, it's realistic to set goals because you know what's possible and you understand the challenges at hand. Rand Fishkin gives a detailed and useful answer on his Whiteboard Friday video on SEO goals. Here's a quick highlight:
1. Begin with your company's goals
2. Set marketing goals
3. Derive your global SEO goals from your marketing goals
4. And then decide on what metrics to track based on your SEO goals
Now that you have your goals, it's time to find the best avenues to realize them. Where do you start?
With what's already working!
Start with keyword research
Use Google Keyword Planner, Yandex Keyword Tool and Bing Keyword Tool to determine the keywords within your niche that already have significant search volume (and ideally, lower competition). This search shows you where to find your opportunities in the new markets.
The figures from Keyword Planner, Yandex and Bing serve as your references. Don't take them as absolutes. You'll combine those figures with other research findings to make your final decisions. When doing your keyword research, remember to refine by the specific country and language you're prospecting so you get the most accurate market data.
To get even more market data, you can use SuggestMrx to get suggested Google and YouTube keywords. The tool lets you choose from 15 countries, and you can access seven languages apart from English.
At this point, your research should have unearthed the most relevant and high-volume keywords for a given international audience.
You can then ascertain the competitiveness of your keywords (i.e., how difficult it'll be to rank for these keywords) using the Moz Keyword Explorer. The tool also lets you search by country/language.
Next, you want to know your current rankings for these keywords. This tells you how much work you'll need to put in to dominate or rank on the first page of search engines for these search terms. And you'll need a tool where you can track this for all different languages and regions.
You can use Monitor Backlinks to find out your Google rankings for each search term, and to filter by language and regions, among other things—which we'll get to later on.
You can also use AuthorityLabs to watch your rankings across other search engines.
Research Your Target Audience
As I mentioned earlier on, you should have started your international expansion by targeting countries (or regions or languages) that already show interest in your industry or even your business in particular.
Start exploiting the best opportunities that you've uncovered.
Find where audiences from these target groups hang out and then develop your SEO plan to focus on those places.
- Do they use specific forums?
- What websites do they visit?
- Do they spend time on social media?
- On what social media outlets do they spend time?
- What influencers do they listen to or follow?
SimilarWeb lets you get the "Top Sites" in each country and by sector, which is an excellent way to know who your competitors are for each international market.
Competitor analysis does two critical things for you:
1. Helps you know what you're up against.
2. Opens your eyes to opportunities your competitors have found
Other ways to know your competitors is through industry and market reports. Who are the leaders in your space in those markets? You can analyze their search traffic, backlinks and websites for strengths and weaknesses.
You can use Monitor Backlinks to figure out who among your competitors already ranks for your target keywords. Plus, you can discover the sources of backlinks these competitors have and their rankings on search engines.
Develop a global SEO strategy
Next, transform your industry understanding, market research, goals, opportunity analysis and competitor analysis into a robust global SEO strategy. The rest of this post is about the tactics that help you translate your research into desirable results.
To develop a robust strategy, you should consider hiring a native language speaker in the country you're prospecting. While Google Global Market Finder will help, its translations are automated (based on Google Translate) and are prone to error. It might even mislead you.
While developing your global SEO strategy, you should invest in a local human translator to help you put your research and planning in context.
Tactic #2: Get Your Website Ready for Global SEO
Your website is your customers' first contact with your business. And there's no one-size-fits-all solution for site structures. You'll have to find one that works for your audience.
If your site doesn't work, your visitors will translate that to mean your company doesn't work. In fact, 94% of site visitors stopped interacting with a website because the design was poor.
This might seem simple enough, but it gets more complicated when you're dealing with global SEO.
Using hreflang in your URLs
The hreflang attribute is how you tell the search engines your website's language so they can rank your content for search in the language. You'll have to create this attribute per site for every site. Google has a detailed guide on how to implement the hreflang attribute on your website.
Bing also offers a guide on how to let it know your website's target country and language. Bing uses language meta tags. Yandex, just like Google, uses the hreflang tag. You can find Yandex's details on their webmaster page.
Although hreflang targets specific countries by language, your language targeting can be regional. For example, your website may target French-speaking West Africa. You'd reach all the countries in the region that speak French.
You may want to revert to language targeting if your research shows that you have shallow country-level organic search for your keywords. Language targeting helps you reach all the countries that share a common language.
Language targeting is also a soft-landing method to know what countries (or country) engage the most with your brand and products. You can revisit later, see what works and improve your optimization.
Albeit, e-commerce businesses tend to do better when they target locations and their languages. Amazon, for example, has Amazon France, Amazon US, Amazon Japan, and more. Africa's Jumia is localized in different countries across the region.
Service and products like Skype, Microsoft or Android don't focus on countries or locations but languages. So you'd have to decide what works best for your audience. Look at what's working in your industry and also analyze what solves your users' needs best.
As I've noted earlier, location targeting is great for e-commerce businesses. But, depending on your unique business goals and your situation, you can implement location-based targeting to suit your audience's needs.
Your site structure could work with:
- ccTLD or gTLD domains
ccTLD and gTLD Domains
Using a ccTLD for your domain names is the better thing to do if you have the resources to build your popularity from scratch for each of your websites. Google doesn't treat all country or city code top-level domains equally. For example, it treats .co and .me as gTLDs.
To determine to determine what fits your business, you should examine the pros and cons of using a ccTLD.
You should consider using a sub-directory for targeting your international market if you'd instead leverage on your current site's success. This method saves you the stress of building your site authority from scratch.
The major con to this option is the complexity added to your site's structure. Electronic Arts and Spotify use sub-directories. For example:
If you'd rather not add more complexity to your site structure, then using sub-domains would be okay. Sub-domains let you isolated specific site contents that target groups by language or location.
Just like ccTLDs need more effort to build popularity, sub-domains will require significant work from you to build up an audience for them. Sub-domains are stand-alone entities and are just shy of being perceived by the search engines as independent websites.
Shop.com uses sub-domains to target different countries.
Sub-domain targeting Hong Kong.
Sub-domain targeting Malaysia.
Sub-domain targeting Mexico.
Beats by Dre also uses sub-domains for their locations optimization.
Tactic #3: Optimize for International Search Engines Beyond Google
Image Credit: Webcertain
Some of the most developed international markets have strong preferences for other search engines apart from Google. You can consider your global SEO incomplete if you haven't optimized for other search engines. So you want to optimize searches on:
Baidu - China
Yandex - Russia
Naver - South Korea
Yahoo! - Japan and South Korea
Bing - the US and many other markets
The first step here is to get an account with the relevant search engines that your target markets use. If these search engines use foreign languages you're not familiar with then use the help of an interpreter.
Next, get familiar with any unique features on these search engines' webmaster tools. If the search engines don't have English versions then may need to pay for some help. Hire a webmaster who understands the local language or an SEO savvy translator to help you interpret your site's data.
Tactic #4: Hire SEO-Schooled Content Translators and Customer Support
Hire content translators who understand SEO. And onboard customer support who understands the language and any technical issues that customers might struggle with.
Using software for customer support
Zendesk lets their users handle their customer support in 84 languages using an app from Translate.com. Zendesk also provides human translator services.
Gengo offers API integration that businesses can configure to work with their support platforms. You can access more than 70 languages on the platform.
Hire human support
You can also hire in-house translators to handle your company's customer support and translation needs.
Depending on the complexity and costs of using software powered translations, you might opt to use a local translator or hire only bilingual staff so that they can double as translators in your customer service department.
Offer written support or FAQs
You can reduce the need for a human or software translator by creating thorough FAQs, guides and support documents for your international markets. You can also produce videos and infographics to help in this regard.
Hiring for content translation
Capturing your global market will need local content. You want to hire SEO savvy local content creators who understand your industry. Of course, you want to pay attention to any local employment laws in that market if you're not using independent contractors.
Tactic #5: Build a Robust Backlinks Strategy
What's global SEO without link building?
As you probably already know, links are one of the two most important ranking factors of the search engines. Links tell Google a whole lot about your site. An abundance of links from a country would suggest that searchers from that country engage with your site's content.
Backlinks from authoritative sources also pass their authoritativeness to your site. Links from a government, university, research institution's, national brand's website tells the search engines that your resource is credible and relevant to their audiences.
Social media links and mentions also influence your site's rankings. Lots of social mentions and shares from a particular country tells the search engines that your content resonates with audiences from that country. So how do you keep a robust backlinks strategy?
Keep your link density as you build out more pages
Building out new pages on your site without building links to those pages will water down your site's link density. Build backlinks as aggressively as you build out new pages on your site (especially if you're using the sub-directory and sub-domains site structure).
Leveraging translators to get more links
If you'd hired a multi-lingual or bilingual staff body, then you can have them find link building opportunities for your website. They understand the language and can help you earn links on:
- Local resource pages
- Local social media
- Local university websites and government websites
- Local events listings
- Local review sites
- Local business directories
- Local blogs
- Local online communities and forums
Hiring bilingual employees or contractors have significant benefits. You get human translators for your content who can make informed decisions on your link building needs.
Use competitors' links sources and strategies
If your competitors are already doing well in your international markets, you can leverage on their successes.
If your competitors' global SEO strategies are performing exceptionally well, then you go beyond monitoring the links sources to adopting their link building strategies. You can ask questions like
- Do they use media promotions on TV and local newspapers to get a ton of attention?
- What influencers are they leveraging?
You want to experiment and then focus on top-performing local backlinks strategies. Prioritize getting backlinks from ccTLDs of the country or city you're targeting.
Tactic #6: Culture Shock, Seasonal Cycles and Local Traditions
Cultures, sales cycles, and traditions influence your sales. And whatever influences your sales should influence your search engine optimization efforts. Or why are you optimizing your pages in the first place?
How do you handle culture shock, changes in sales due to cycles and the influence of local traditions? Let's explore the answers.
Holidays, sales seasonality and local buying cycles
The winter and summer holidays may be tremendous sales seasons in America and most of Europe, but that's not the norm everywhere. China and other parts of Asia, Middle East and Africa have local traditions and holidays that influence sales differently.
In short, you want to know the special dates in your international markets and align your global SEO efforts accordingly. Use tools like Google Trends to keep an eye on your audience's behavior around keywords in particular times of the year.
Beliefs, meanings and behaviors
Beliefs and norms influence your global SEO. Understanding your audience's values help you know what words and phrases to use in your meta descriptions, titles, and content.
Let's take Japan for example.
Content that targets seniors or people older than you must show respect. You can't talk to older persons as equals; you'll turn your audience off, especially if you're a younger person. Hierarchy is vital to the Japanese audience.
Numbers and colors also have their significance. Don't sell things in packs of four or nine to audiences in Japan as they're perceived inauspicious. Except you sell funeral services, don't give lotus, lilies, or any other white flowers as gifts.
Pages with items in packs of four or nine are likely to have high bounce rates and signify to the search engines that your content isn't good for the audience.
Sign up forms that require users to release a lot of information will not get significant conversions in Japan. Look at the form below.
A form like the one below will likely never get a conversion at all!
Oh yeah, the Japanese love privacy and anonymity. Asking for more than an email address on your e-commerce site might lead to a ridiculous amount of cart abandonment or high bounce rates.
In Japan, social media gets only 2.9% of their users' time. Meanwhile, users in the US spend about 16.8% of their time on social networking.
Being too forward with your Japanese audiences won't help your business. If you're in the B2B space, then you want to take things slow with your Japanese prospects as decision-making takes time since group solidarity is honored.
Groups carry more value in Japan than individuals. When you sell items or create content, make sure you're speaking with this in mind.
Tactic #7: Measuring and Managing Successes (and Failures)
If you don't measure your effort, you'll be shooting in the dark. You won't know what's working and what's not working.
In short, measuring your global SEO effort helps you take charge of your internationalization and expansion. You'd do more of what works, discover what would work, and drop what's not working.
Establish KPIs based on market-specific behaviors or behavioral tendencies. Your Japanese customers won't buy immediately and would take time to build a relationship with you. They'll seek group solidarity among their decision makers for B2B decisions.
Your KPIs should reflect your audiences' behavioral tendencies.
Albeit, you must establish essential KPIs such as
- Web page rankings on the search engines
- Performance of your organic search (e.g., click through rates)
- Site speed
- Conversion rate, bounce rates and page dwell times
- Number of indexed pages on the search engines
- Traffic from mobile devices
Interpret data and scale your business
Interpret data based on cultural norms, beliefs and local traditions. Let's take Japan as an example. If you had no knowledge of symbolic numbers and colors, you may never correctly interpret a high bounce rate and cart abandonment.
Know what cultural norms influence user behavior. Just looking at hard numbers may never tell you the underlying emotions behind the statistics. Base your data interpretation on behavioral attributions.
Scale your business using insights drawn from qualitative and quantitative data. Since you know the norms and culture of your audience, data from your analytics helps you see supporting statistics for making business growth decisions.
Global SEO Wrap Up
The opportunities you stand to enjoy from having a global SEO strategy are plentiful.
But your tactics can't be the same ones you use for traditional or local SEO.
Use this guide to help you start prospecting and dominating your industry on the international fronts.