I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the years, especially in the travel sector, who see international SEO as simply implementing a HREF Lang tag and translating a few pages of content and adding in the relevant keywords (such as the differences between English and American spellings and terms).
However, when it comes to creating a website that will be accepted as native by a user in another country, you have to make a little more effort.
When it comes to SEO, for some reason a lot of people forget that it’s important to think about how they browse the Internet themselves, how they interact with websites and importantly, how they convert. When I ask someone a very top level SEO question about his or her business they either give me an honest answer, or tell me what they think the answer is.
If you come across a website littered with spelling and grammar mistakes, or even if the copyright in the footer is out of date (that’s one of my personal flags), you lose faith in the site and move on. You’ll face the same challenges with international users – and it’ll take more than a couple of pages translated word for word (or by a professional translator) to instil this trust.
You need to localise by region
One the worst mistakes with international SEO is the ignorance that one language fits all – like having English pages and assuming that this covers off America, or having Spanish pages and assuming that they cover off Latin & South America.
Language is fluid, disruptive and moves across borders and oceans, it evolves and adapts over regions. By assuming that all languages are the same, you run the risk of alienating users and ignoring vital, local terminology that could lead to conversions.
Localising by region and not by language will also keep the engines happy as they’ll see a strong website provide a lot of great content in many different languages, which is great for users.
It is however important that you don’t replicate the same content blocks across multiple languages – for example your French pages might be relevant for France, parts of Canada, Cameroon, Haiti and Djibouti, but duplicating this content could lead to penalties. It’s important that your language setup (whether it be WPML, Polylang or HREF Lang) is set up to accommodate this.
Think about all your site's content
There is more chance of users fully engaging in your site if they can access all your content. Using local references and relevant products will make this connection more likely. Ensure that all aspects of the page reflect the locale – from contact numbers to currency.
If there are elements of your page that are foreign, in spite of perfectly translated copy, users will not feel compelled to take the next step and this can prove a substantial obstacle at any stage of the customer journey. You need to demonstrate that you can offer the same local experience and service as the local businesses you are competing with.
You can’t be native keyword research
Never translate keywords. New keywords should be used for every language and region, to guarantee that, for each market, you are targeting terms that people actually look for.
Looking at the ways you search is key for thinking of how to generate these keywords. When searching, people generally use colloquialisms and slang – or just use the first words that come into their heads. Knowing how your users search for your brands is vital, as it enables you to make sure you appear in the relevant search results.
Follow the people
It is so easy to forget that other search sites and social sites exist. In some countries local sites, such as Yandex (Russia) have much more significance than sites such as Google. Failure to make use of these sites could seriously harm your SEO efforts.
While the principles of SEO remain exactly the same around the world, it is still important to embrace localisation in international SEO. It is about adapting your marketing activities to make them appropriate for the local audience you want to target.
By Daniel Taylor, Technical SEO Account Manager at SALT.agency
Dan is a speaker and regular columnist on a number of SEO, Social Media and Digital Marketing related blogs and publications, and winner of the Scoot Headline National Silver Award in 2015.
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