Are we ready to cross borders? Bags ready, booked tickets, the business projected abroad, but what about SEO, is it ready too?
It feels like we just heard the sound of a record scratch, huh?
And there’s a reason you’re here today, right?
Maybe it’s because something about your global expansion strategy is still generating some questions, and those doubts may be related to SEO.
Maybe you are thinking: SEO is already a settled issue in my business; why would it not allow me to take my luggage and venture abroad?
Well, because SEO, first of all, is a matter that never comes to an end. Secondly, what works for you may not work for your friend’s business, and what works in your region or country will not necessarily work well for you abroad.
But stay calm, no more unanswered unrest because experts have already created the notorious international SEO concept, and that’s exactly what you will learn about here.
In this content, we will teach you how to create your strategy in other countries and conquer unknown markets. These are the topics we will address:
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The Concept of Internationalization
As you will notice, international SEO is simply a term used on the Internet to talk mainly about decision-making and the technical aspects of making a website international.
It also helps you understand global competitiveness issues, which allows you to plan your digital strategy and analyze the competition, even before expanding your operations.
Before continuing, we should breathe for a second; shortly, we will have time in this article to talk about international SEO.
This abrupt pause is because we would like to invite you to think about some terms that we are using and that we cannot afford to ignore, such as global competitiveness and internationalization.
It’s fundamental to understand that the work in applying them is extensive, and we will need your willingness to embrace these demands, including those of SEO.
Abroad you will find a whole world of opportunity. No doubt this will be your driving force to execute your international project.
And we have data for you, which will surely motivate you even more. According to AFI (International Financial Analysts of Madrid):
“Companies that internationalize, regardless of their size, are not only more competitive but also more productive and are more resistant to micro and macroeconomic changes, in comparison with companies that don’t”.
Thus, it is clear that internationalization is a great advantage, and that is why, if you take the Internet as an ally, it opens opportunities for you to break through the barriers of borders, including physical ones.
Let’s get deeper into this!
Why is it necessary to go international?
Becoming international is far from an easy task: it presents risks, uncertainties, and costs.
So, where is the advantage of doing this?
At first sight, there is none. But, in reality, it’s much more fun than it seems, because after great efforts come the best rewards.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not a decision that pays off overnight.
If you are already completely sure that this is the way to go, let’s review the reasons that will support your decision, like:
- the desire to grow;
- becoming competitive;
- diversifying the market;
- getting out of a financial crisis.
Also, the skills you will need to be able to deal with the multiple tasks that will emerge along the way:
- studying the context;
- evaluating the types of offers and;
- learning not to limit yourself to national markets.
It seems that we are only trying to scare you, but what we really want is to create a shield so that, despite everything, you can assertively say: yes, I want to turn my business into an international brand!
With that, here begins our work: we will help you with your first step! The one of conquering the Internet, using your blog or website to apply international SEO techniques.
What is International SEO?
International SEO is the process of optimizing a website or blog so that search engines identify which countries you want to reach or which languages you should use in your business.
We can define international SEO as the geolocation of SEO, in which, instead of optimizing your website to attract traffic from your city, state, or country, you will be optimizing for different countries and languages.
In other words, despite the name suggesting something rather unknown, international SEO in practice is more familiar than you might think.
What is International SEO for?
Let’s say you’re in Mexico, and your business is really working, both physically and virtually.
Your presence on the Internet is so strong that you suddenly start receiving visitors from Colombia, Spain, Argentina, among others.
This turns on a light in your head, and you begin to wonder if your potential in these countries is promising.
Mexico, Colombia, Argentina: they all speak the same language!
Maybe you will quickly consider delivering the same content to all three countries, conquering each of these markets.
Well, not so much. But our advice is that you be careful because it is not only ambition that leads us to triumph.
What you need now is to configure your website or blog to reach everyone at the same time.
And that’s what international SEO is for, not only to indicate to the search engines your languages and regions but also to configure your site in such a way that it sends the indications to the search engines in a proper way and can reach the countries you want through the Internet.
Even so, all that we have said here depends on the type of business you run, your resources, your customers, customer projections, and real needs.
As you have seen, international SEO is full of variations, but that’s exactly why we started talking about it, finding the paths that most favor you.
Among these “it depends”, there are some unalterable principles, which are worth mentioning right now so that you can start planning your expansion.
What are the Basic Principles of International SEO?
When we speak of principles, we are referring to these fundamental aspects, which should be considered imperative.
So, if your interest is clearly directed at talking to new countries through the Internet, that is what you should know:
1. Keywords between regions
Do the following exercise: Google your country using the anonymous window.
For example, if your country is the United States: google.us, if it is Chile: google.cl. Each country has a specific Google domain.
Then choose one of your keywords and search for it in two different Google domains.
Very often, the same content with the same keyword will be positioned in different places.
We performed this exercise as well! We used SEMRush to make the search more precise, and these were my results for the keyword: Search Engines, in Spanish, “motores de búsqueda”.
For the Google.mx result, apparently, we are in the second position:
We conducted the same search for Google.es (Spain), and we are taking first place:
But why is that? Many factors! For example, the traffic of keywords, the relevance of keywords in each country, the ways users search, among others.
If you look at our example, the volume of searches for the keyword “Search Engines” in Mexico is greater than in Spain.
Perhaps in Mexico, the first place answers the keyword better than my article. In Spain, it’s likely that people do not exactly look for “Search Engines”, and, therefore, the volume of searches is lower.
Do you understand the idea? Each region of the world has its own language structures, expressions, specific vocabulary, and different information needs.
That’s why content designed especially for your local audience will not always be relevant to the audience in the other country you want to reach.
Imagine: if it is possible to find different positions using only one keyword in the same language, what would your ranking be like in other languages?
If your business wants to speak a second language, it is valid not only to translate the keyword but also to think about how people search for a certain term.
In Brazil, for example, the way people search is different from the way it is done in Portugal or Angola, even though everyone speaks the same language.
The searching habits will always be different, no matter where.
Besides, the medium used to search, be it computer or smartphone, also changes how the search is performed.
Depending on the engine, the dynamics also change. Google searches will never be the same as experiences in Bing and Baidu.
- start searching on Google.X for the region you want to reach;
- use this space to perform deep searches regarding the uses of each keyword that is relevant to your business;
- observe how it is addressed in the country of your interest.
Take the first step by observing who is best ranked on the first SERPs related to your business sector, and look in detail at how they work on each term.
2. Original and quality content across countries
The old and unforgettable premise: original and quality content!
No matter how much we talk about international SEO, this continues to be the same rule that applies to basic SEO. Thus, originality and quality continue to prevail.
If you keep track of your local strategy, it is possible to identify what your buyer persona considers to be quality content.
You can also use tools like Google Trends to see what subjects may be important to cover at a given time. Remember to always compare with what the competition is doing, identifying weaknesses and opportunities.
Now that you have so much information just from your region, imagine what it’s like to do a quality and originality search in several countries?
That’s exactly where the magic of international SEO is: more countries, more analysis, points of comparison, and more information to combine and create.
3. Mobile-Friendly Content and Website
An undeniable trend of search and browsing that should always be prioritized in any content created.
Just like in basic SEO, correct?
If Google prioritizes mobile-friendly content, your site needs to perform well and offer good usability on mobile devices.
4. Do not forget the Hreflang attribute
Finally, something that allows us to distinguish SEO from international SEO!
Hreflangs are attributes that allow Google to identify the URL that should be shown to the visitor, based on their language and geographic location.
When you access a website, it automatically directs you to the correct page.
To apply this indispensable tag, you can follow this tutorial offered by Google itself.
5. Monitor and measure your results
In international SEO, you must also keep an eye on every move. Any event in your country or elsewhere will reflect on your results.
And if you want to maintain, improve or change, this is a premise that you can never leave out.
So far, in the basic principles, international SEO is just any old SEO.
So, the time has come to go deeper into the subject!
What are the Most Commons Obstacles in International SEO?
Maybe you think that we like to scare readers a little! But we believe that what comes easy goes easy.
It’s not that international SEO is difficult; what we’ve seen so far is very simple, wouldn’t you agree?
The subject complexity is that you must have the strength to join several ends at the same time. One of those ends that make international SEO more complex is the correct setting of goals.
So, let’s take it in parts.
International SEO Objectives
When companies decide to expand through the Internet, there are three types of goals to develop:
- by language;
- by country;
This objective usually happens when a company offers product X in one region and wants to offer it in another country.
For example, a Brazilian company wants to sell sports shoes in Argentina. Here, it doesn’t matter the country because the product will be the same; this way, the Brazilian company’s main goal will be to speak Spanish.
The same content will be offered. It is only necessary to respect the semantic variations when translating, in case it is necessary.
But let’s imagine another scenario: the same Brazilian company wants to sell sportive shoes in Portugal. The language is the same, but again, because the same product is offered, what matters is the language and not the country.
They have an advantage: they already speak Portuguese! The work now depends only on adapting semantic uses of vocabulary.
Keep in mind the following: if the product or service is the same, it will not matter to international SEO which country you want to reach. What matters is the language or languages your company speaks.
The second option of a goal is by country. In this objective, a company wants to reach other countries with another type of product.
Taking the same example above: the Brazilian company that sells sports shoes wants to reach Portugal selling watches.
So, its target is not a language, but a country.
Then, we have a third type of target that is very specific: when the need to speak another language in another country is mixed. Let’s see.
We are used to relating countries directly to their official language; for example, when we think about the United States or England, we conclude that they speak English.
However, despite having an official language, many countries are home to entire populations that prefer to use another kind of language on the Internet.
An example of this could be a Japanese company that operates physically in the United States, with actual Japanese employees who address the Japanese public in the United States.
See? A company that speaks to the United States in Japanese and not in English. And this is the third specific objective that many companies want to achieve and that in international SEO is called hybrid objective: country and language.
So, as a company, the first thing you must determine for your expansion process is whether you want to speak a language, speak with a country, or both. Once you have clarified this, you will know exactly what your business needs to do.
If you have concerns about determining your focus, use this ingenious tool from Outspoken Media: Defining your international SEO strategy.
Okay, so far in the article, we have given the go-ahead for internationalization.
We covered how to deal with keywords, the fundamental principles to consider, and established an international SEO objective.
Now we must answer the following question: how to internationalize the website or blog?
How to Succeed in International SEO?
There are two fundamental aspects to consider when doing international SEO: the Content Marketing strategy and the technical part of the website or blog.
Content Marketing for international SEO
To start with this aspect, let us first clarify something: all we talk about and will continue talking about here is assuming that you are already familiar with Content Marketing and have already defined your SEO strategy.
If this is not the case, we invite you to read about these subjects and start your internationalization on the right foot:
Now, let’s see some actions to help your company enter the international market.
After defining a clear objective, the first step is to draw a map showing the countries you want to reach abroad, noting the new markets’ main competitors.
If you have already done this part, the next step is to evaluate the chosen countries’ SEO opportunities.
That is, perform searches in the corresponding SERPs to see what they have and decide what key points of SEO will strengthen your digital presence.
With this information in hand, here is a 4 step checklist:
1. Define who your potential client is
You probably already have your buyer persona defined in your country. Then, the time has come to create your Persona for the new countries you have chosen.
Yes, you can set it even before you have your first customer. To do so, use Analytics and see the Public – Geo – Local or Languages section.
This will allow you to see not only the trend of your audience but also the potential themes and content to be explored in the new regions.
Another way to define your content strategy is to consult SEMRush or similar tools, selecting the destination country, and observing the keywords that provide a better ranking.
Therefore, always check that the keywords surrounding you are really within your market sector and consider the search volume before using them.
Do you remember the example we provided before about the difference in keywords between search engines in Mexico and Spain? That’s why it is important to talk about volume!
Just to close this part regarding potential customers: use keyword tools to find interesting terms, considering relevance and positioning.
Analytics will help you determine the organic presence in each country or language.
2. Analyze your competition
You probably already know your competition out there, but the tools we have mentioned here, like SEMRush, can also help you confirm your search exercise.
There is one subject we should always consider: focus on organic competition because international SEO is geared towards organic ranking strategies; otherwise, we would be talking about SEM.
Analyzing your competition is important because you must be aware of the challenges you will constantly face to obtain a good Internet presence.
3. Perform an international keyword search
Back to the basic principle of international SEO. In addition to what we’ve already told you, use the tools to compare domains.
Use the Google predictive text or carry out industrial espionage using a competitor analysis tool (like SEMrush) or entering directly into your competitor’s website or blog to analyze which topics they address, which keywords they target, and, then, make sure to create better content.
4. Create content
Once you have chosen your keywords, it is time to create content in the local language.
In the case of companies that aim to reach a country providing the same service, this part will not really be a problem. Perhaps some small adjustments in the content will be necessary.
One country could not use the same word in the same way. In the case of our Spanish blog, we constantly face this situation when translating the word ‘Marketing’.
In Colombia, it is called “mercadeo”, but in Mexico, they call it “mercadotecnia”. Which one do I choose if both countries interest me?
So, we decided to target both words at once throughout the contents, using the concept’s definition as the perfect opportunity to talk about the two terms.
As I mentioned, “mercadotecnia” is the Spanish translation of the well-known English term of Marketing. It is also known as “mercadeo” or “mercadología” in some other uses of the Spanish language and its different contexts and regions.
Even so, sometimes, it is convenient to create two different contents to address the two keywords.
Just be careful not to duplicate the content. Analyze the situation carefully so as not to spend resources unnecessarily.
However, for companies that do not wish to speak in another language for the same service provided, for example, this aspect is important.
Many choose to do translations and, contrary to what is said: doing translations is totally valid and, yes, it is allowed by Google! So do not be afraid to use this method.
The only thing you should avoid is translating with automatic translators, which occasionally generates poor results.
There is nothing better than having people dedicated to this job, and if they are native speakers, it is even better.
Automatic translators do not think about the intentions behind words. They do not make correct translations of expressions and don’t care about the proper keyword placement.
So, yes, translations also require research. It’s not just a matter of translating everything literally.
Are original contents using the target language allowed? Of course!
If you identify a keyword opportunity and a significant audience to consume it, create 100% original content; the new region’s audience will appreciate the attention.
This concludes the basic part of Content Marketing for international SEO.
If you think about it, it’s not too different from what you already do in terms of your marketing strategy, right?
Now, let’s move on to the most delicate part of international SEO, which, finally, is what separates this concept from everyday SEO: the technical part.
Decide on the main technical aspects
Elementary! Defining your international SEO strategy’s technical aspect is indispensable.
From the server location, choose the right structure for your site, and the correct Hreflang implementation.
For this part, you must have a clear and definite goal: country, language, or hybrid?
If you want to focus your efforts on a group of countries that share the same language, opt for an approach based on language selection.
If you want the content to target a specific audience or country, it is better to choose country segmentation — obviously.
From this, you should choose the structure that most benefits your goal:
- ccTLD country-specific top-level domain: This is basically about obtaining a domain containing the extension of the country you want to reach. This way, you connect and geolocalize your site by default.
That is, if you have a “.com.mx”, you are already automatically geolocalized in Mexico. But remember that if you want to reach more than one country, you will have to work on each domain as a separate project, and each new domain starts with zero authority.
- Subdirectories: Here, the content is geolocalized in a specific subdirectory of a root domain, earning its authority more easily, without the need to start from scratch. The targeting, that is, its geographic destination, can be configured through Google Search Console.
- Subdomains: This is the most viable option if you do not want to create a second-level domain. Google interprets subdomains as independent entities, in the same way as in ccTLDs. Sub-domains must also be geolocalized manually.
- gTLD generic top-level domain: they do not specify a country, and if they are used for the content of a specific country, they need to have geolocation in Google Search Console or Bing.
- Parameter: a URL modifier that tags the path users take to the content and changes the page content based on the URL parameters. It is often used to indicate the language of a page.
- Hreflang: The hreflang attribute helps Google identify which URL should be shown to the visitor, based on the visitor’s language and geographic location. This example would tell the search engine that the website has an English version of the content, shown in American territory.
<link rel = “alternate” href = “https://exemplo.com/us” hreflang = “en-us” />
Do you remember the tool that will help you choose your goal? Well, in this tool, you can also see the technical structure that most benefits you, so: try it again!
Bonus: International SEO vs. Local SEO
While local SEO is meant to appeal to a particular audience within one region, an excellent international SEO campaign is intended to epically expand a brand’s reach across multiple countries and large global regions.
That means the most significant difference you’re looking at with your international SEO campaign is magnitude.
Here are some more key ways international SEO tends to differ from the more specialized local SEO you’re familiar with.
When you’re putting together an SEO strategy on an international scale, you’ll be competing against numerous other brands for the same clientele, keywords, and so forth.
These brands may include massive global corporations and household names.
The larger the market you’re looking to expand into, the more content you’ll need to be prepared to create.
Going international with your SEO efforts also requires deeper market research and more of it, as it’s critical to thoroughly understand each of the audiences you’re looking to reach.
Since an international SEO campaign is significantly larger in scope, it almost always requires a larger up-front investment, as well.
Yes, part of this means the need for a larger budget, but you’ll likely need to expand your team and devote more labor to your campaign, as well.
Bonus : International SEO Tools
Adding helpful tools to your repertoire when expanding your SEO efforts is always smart, as the right choices can take so much of the labor out of the equation.
Here are a few to consider if you plan to take your SEO strategy international soon.
Google Analytics is such a valuable suite of tools, you’re likely already using it in at least some capacity. However, it’s a definite must for tracking, analyzing, and assessing how your site’s doing on a global scale.
SEMRush is a wonderfully comprehensive tool for managing many aspects of a well-crafted international SEO campaign. Keep easy track of your SERP position, identify the most valuable keywords for your niche, analyze your competition’s backlink profiles, and more.
If you could use some help taking your on-page SEO to the next level and keeping your growing website as organized and search engine-friendly as ever, HubSpot is a great tool to keep in your back pocket for both local and international SEO. It even gives you live on-page SEO tips to make things super easy.
Regular SEO audits are always necessary, but they’re a must for brands interested in mastering international SEO. Moz makes conducting regular thorough audits simple. It’s also very helpful for keyword research, analyzing backlink profiles, and more.
Ready to go?
In this article, we were able to assess whether it is worth starting your business’s internationalization.
For instance, we reflected on conquering the Internet as the safest way to expand before picking up the suitcases, the business plan, and reaching another country.
Really, nothing very new was said in these words, but we went over fundamental concepts of any SEO and faced the fear of going international.
Of course, we talk about technical aspects and suggestions when dealing with keywords in your content, but there’s nothing that you can’t deal with when you think about it calmly.
In this article, we also discussed the key objectives and analyzed the competitive environment theoretically.
We also identified potential problems and finally saw that there is nothing to be afraid of: It is all a matter of organization, a perfectly feasible process.
And yes, the subject is very extensive, and we could spend a lot more time developing the idea. Still, we’d better leave room in this blog to talk little by little about the myriad of topics that hide behind international SEO.
Do you need to leverage your local or international marketing strategy? Talk to one of our experts and learn how our services and product will improve your results!