How to Optimize a Site for International SEO

International SEO involves getting your site ranked for internationally competitive keywords, which drives traffic from around the world to your website. The more traffic from different parts of the world that your website receives, the more brand awareness, on a global level, your company will receive.

International search engine optimization doesn’t confine your business to its geographic location – it opens up all opportunities possible for growth, expansion and brand awareness. Launching an aggressive international SEO campaign involves a variety of different techniques.

SEO Fundamentals Remain the Same
The good news about launching an international SEO campaign is that the tactics you use for a domestic campaign are still the same. There are, however, additional factors to the decisions you make and the approach you take with a long-term strategy. Here are some of the most important considerations to address when launching your global SEO campaign:

Translating Keywords
Keywords are considered convenience words, not really traditional words. They are created to help people search and then respond to search marketers. Search phrases in English can have a completely different meaning in another language, and vice versa.

The solution to this is to recreate the keywords in the target language exactly the same way you would in English. To do this you can use a native-speaker of the target language, who is also trained in search marketing.

Consideration of How You’ll Manage Content
Not every culture is the same, obviously, this makes the transition from one language to the next a bit of a challenge if not done properly. The best way to handle this would be to build your English content with localization or translation in mind. The copywriter should create content that sticks to the facts and doesn’t include popular jokes or cultural references that a translator will be unable to translate.

Fresh copywriting in each new language will be significantly more expensive than using translation. However, a good option is to also mix fresh copywriting on a particular local subject which warrants it, and using localization for the rest. The prefered choice would be to work with an international search marketing company which can localize and optimize at the same time.

Optimization of International Web Structure
The Web structure of each international version is a key element that should be analyzed independently. You need to make sure that the structure isn’t only relevant, featuring the name of the URLs in the right language and with descriptive names, but also that its not overly complex and deep. For example, don’t add unnecessary directories. It is important to have a unique subdirectory, subdomain or a specific ccTLD (country code top-level domain)  to show each of the international versions.

Crawling, Indexing and Alignment Issues
You need to make sure that your site is crawled effectively, indexed and correctly ranked in the the correct international search result version and for the relevant language queries.

You need to check to make sure you aren’t blocking some of your language or country versions whether with robots.txt, or by showing the content through script that isn’t able to be indexed, or that you’re not always automatically redirecting search crawlers to only one version.

Correct Usage of HreflangAnnotation
The lack of use or misuse of the hreflang annotations is one of the potential causes for an international search results or traffic misalignment. This includes the usage of non-existing language, country code or not cross-referring with other pages featuring the same content for other countries or in other languages. It is crucial to make sure of the correct usage.

Use the correct webmaster tools geolocation settings
One thing that is commonly either used incorrectly, or not at all is to verify the Geographic Target in Google Webmaster Tools if you are featuring sub-directories or sub-domains and not ccTLDs for your country targeted sites.

Linking International Websites
You need to be careful when cross-linking different international websites, even though you want to make sure that your users and search bots can correctly access all the different international Web versions. If there are too many, this might be seen as unnatural in case you’re not working with ccTLDs but gTLDs (generic top-level domains) due to some type of restriction.

Additionally, if there is a point when you’re not managing the SEO processes for the other international versions and some of them get penalized, the cross-linking might end-up hurting the site you’re focusing on too. This is why its important that you also monitor the cross-linking to minimize the risk as much as possible or even, just to make sure that search bots discover your different international Web versions but without overlooking the crawling of your internal pages.

Even if you aren’t focused on an international SEO process, with these tips you can make sure that the internationally targeted Web versions aren’t going to negatively affect your current SEO project.

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