What is International SEO?
International SEO is the process of optimizing your website so that Google understands which country it is targeting and shows your content to international users.
But getting your website to compete for keywords in other countries is not as simple as adding a new subdomain.
You will have to reevaluate your keyword research, prepare content specially adapted to the countries you want to reach, and take care of various technical details that will indicate to Google that your page is available in other languages.
This guide will explain everything you need to know to be successful in international SEO.
How to have a website in several languages?
The first step in your entry to international SEO is to make your website available in other languages.
However, depending on your type of product or service, you may need to have different versions of your website even for countries that share the same language.
You can choose between three main options to have your website in several languages:
- Add a subdirectory
- Create a new ccTLD domain
- Create a subdomain within your main domain
Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s examine each one so you can decide which one is most appropriate for your website.
Option #1: Subdirectories (recommended)
For example: mycompany.com/us
The first option is to keep alternate versions of your website within subdirectories of the original website.
Subdirectories work like folders, which means that a subdirectory can contain more subdirectories. For example, mycompany.com/es/ve and so on indefinitely. They usually appear after the first “/” in a URL.
There are two advantages that make subdirectories the best option to introduce your website to international SEO.
First, subdirectories are easy to implement from a web architecture point of view. It requires some technical work, but any backend developer is used to dealing with subdirectories.
Second—and perhaps most importantly—subdirectories maintain all the authority of the parent domain. This means that the SEO efforts you have made on your original website will be transferred to the new subdirectory.
The only downside to this method is that the signal it sends to Google about your website locations is not as strong as the other two methods. However, due to its effectiveness and convenience, this is the best option for most businesses.
Option #2: ccTLDs
For example: mycompany.us (which is different from .com.us pages)
ccTLDs refer to the top level domains that correspond to countries. For example, the ccTLD of Spain is .es, that of Venezuela is .ve and that of the United Kingdom is .uk.
Adding a ccTLD domain is the option that will most favor the ranking of your website. It is the most effective way to get Google to know that a web page is directed to a specific country.
But ccTLDs don’t just send a positive signal to Google—they also send a powerful message to visitors. If an international user clicks on your website and notices your country’s domain in the URL, they will immediately feel more at home.
Despite how powerful they are, ccTLD domains have a major drawback that makes them not recommended for most businesses: their high maintenance cost.
If you create a ccTLD domain in a new country for your website, that domain will not benefit from the SEO efforts you put into your original website. In other words, you will have to build domain authority from scratch.
In addition to all the SEO costs, you will have to add the necessary fees to maintain an extra domain.
Having multiple ccTLD domains is the best choice for multinational or resource-heavy companies, while subdirectories are more appropriate for small and medium-sized businesses.
Option #3: Subdomains
For example: us.mycompany.com
Subdomains are halfway between ccTLD domains and subdirectories. Their main advantage is that they are very easy to implement. If you want to localize your website with as little work as possible, this is the method for you.
The main disadvantage of subdomains is that they do not benefit from the full authority of your original website. It’s not very clear how Google evaluates subdomains, but they’re definitely not as favorable as subdirectories.
Subdomains may give Google a stronger signal about a website’s location, but not as strong as a ccTLD domain.
How to do SEO on multilanguage sites?
There are three things you should ask yourself before optimizing your website for other countries:
- Why do I want to take my website to other countries?
- Which countries interest me and why?
- What is my budget to do international SEO?
International SEO is a long and expensive task. If you don’t have any sales prospects in other countries, it may not be what your website needs.
But if you are here, it is likely that you have already decided to take your website to other countries. In that case, select the countries carefully.
Trying to make your website successful around the world is a recipe for failure. Hardly any company has the resources to cover many countries. Focus on the ones that are most lucrative for your company or know best.
The bigger your budget for international SEO, the more countries you can include.
Perform a keyword research for each region
Every SEO campaign begins with keyword research. If you have already worked on the SEO of your main website, you probably know which are the most lucrative keywords for your company in your area.
Some keywords are just as valuable across many countries and languages, but in most cases, keywords that perform well in one country will not perform as well in another.
This is even more true if you are taking your website to a country with a different language. You can’t just translate your keywords word for word—every country has slightly different keywords for each search intent.
If you want to be successful in international SEO, you must do keyword research for each country.
Find keywords in other languages with SEO tools and a VPN
To get started, open your favorite SEO tool. Some of your options are SEMrush, ahrefs, Ubersuggest, and Google Keyword Planner. Simply enter a keyword and select the country you are interested in.
You can also use a VPN and do Google searches from other countries. This will help you become familiar with your competition and learn about the most lucrative terms in a region.
Pay attention to vocabulary differences
Even when two countries speak the same language, differences in vocabulary and culture can cause their users to search for the same product in completely different ways.
This is especially true in the case of Spanish. Each Spanish-speaking country has variations in its vocabulary and way of forming sentences.
You should pay attention to these small differences. We are familiar with many of them: pen/pen, jeans/jeans, pineapple/pineapple, etc.
However, sometimes it’s a bit more complicated than just going through a dictionary of localisms. Some keywords are not relevant in other countries because users formulate their searches in a different way.
Perhaps in one country “how to care for a daisy” is more relevant than “daisy care guide”, while in another country the opposite is true.
You will have to familiarize yourself with the terms of your industry in the countries where you want to expand.
Analyze your competition to find keywords in other languages
If the country you want to expand to speaks another language, things get a bit more complicated.
Without knowledge of the other language, you may translate keywords incorrectly or misunderstand the user’s intent. To avoid this problem, there are two things you can do in conjunction with your keyword research.
The first is to review the most relevant keywords for companies in the country. They understand local SEO much better than you can learn on your own in a short time. You can lean on tools like SEMrush and SpyFu.
The second thing is to hire local SEO experts. Not all startups can afford this cost, but if you want to open a space for your company in a foreign market, this is the best option.
Rely on professional translators
Taking the content of your website to other countries is the key to a good international SEO campaign.
It is crucial that you maintain the same level of quality and that you modify the content so that it is specifically aimed at users in the region.
Every year machine translators become more effective, but they are still not comparable to translations done by humans. If you want your content to perform just as well, you need to hire professional translators.
Also, there are some problems that machine translators are unable to notice. Let’s use the example of an article that points to the keyword “how to choose a waterproof jacket”.
If your original website is located in a Caribbean country, this article will likely work well. However, if you want to expand your website to Chile, you will find that there they prefer to use the term “parka” instead of waterproof jackets.
But that’s not the only problem. The climate in Chile is much colder than that of a Caribbean country. A “parka” in Chile is probably thicker than a “waterproof jacket” from the Caribbean, and the criteria for choosing this garment will be different.
It will not be enough to replace “waterproof jacket” with “parka”. It will be necessary to make modifications to the content of the article and perhaps rewrite it.
This is the kind of thing that a machine is not capable of noticing. A professional translator will pick up on these discrepancies and turn the article into a competitive piece of content.
Translate your site with the tools of your CMS
You have now translated all the pages on your site and optimized your content for the regions you want to reach. What is the next step?
Translating the content of your website is undoubtedly the most difficult part of this job, but implementing it is just as important. I will explain some ways to do it depending on the platform you use.
There is a huge variety of WordPress plugins that you can use to translate your website. But in our experience, there is one that stands out from the competition: Polylang.
- Go to the Polylang website and add it to your WordPress page in the same way as any other plugin.
- When you open Polylang for the first time, the installation wizard will appear. Follow the instructions and configure your installation according to your type of content and the languages that interest you.
- Go to the “Languages” menu and select “Strings”. Here you will be able to translate the strings of your website into the languages you selected in the previous step.
- In the WordPress menu, select “Appearance” and then “Menus”. Create a menu for each language. You can assign each menu to its corresponding theme in “Menu Settings”.
- After creating the necessary menus, translate your widgets. Polylang is built into the Block editor, which makes the process very easy. You can select in which languages each widget will be available.
- Translate your web pages. You can change the language of a post by clicking the Polylang icon in the Block Editor. You will have the option to add a new translation or choose an existing one in another post. Make sure to assign a language for each post, page and category.
- Make your Front page a static page in each language. You can access this setting by selecting “Settings” and then “Reading Settings”.
- Now all you have to do is decide on the structure of your website translations. Under “Languages”, select “Settings” and look for “URL modifications”. You will be able to choose between subdirectories, ccTLD domains and subdomains.
If you want a more detailed guide, check out the Polylang manual.
If you created your website in Wix, there is no need to download any plugins. You can simply use Wix Multilingual, one of the tools of this CMS.
- Click “Options” on the top bar and select “Multilingual”.
- Select your primary language and secondary language—that is, the language into which you want to translate your web page.
- Switch to your secondary language to start translating your website. You can do this by clicking on the flag at the top left.
- Translate every page of your website using the Editor. You have two options: automatically translate with Google Translate or manually enter your own translations.
- Go to the Multilingual Control Panel and translate the contents of your apps. It’s as simple as selecting the language you want, but not all apps support this feature.
- Finally, make the versions of your website in other languages visible in the Multilingual Control Panel. Then go to the Editor and click “Publish”.
Don’t forget to customize your language menu.
Squarespace allows you to translate your website with a Weglot integration.
- Go to “Settings”, then “Language and region” and select “Site languages”.
- Look for “Multilingual functionality with Weglot”. Click Connect and then click Allow.
- Create a Weglot account and click “Create New Project”.
- Choose the original language of your website and the target languages.
- Click “Save” and open your site in an incognito window. Your translations will be created automatically.
- To edit your translations or add them manually, you’ll need to log into the Webglot editor. Go to “Translations list”, select the languages you want to edit and you will see a list of your posts and pages.
Build region-specific backlinks
Link building is one of the pillars of SEO. Getting relevant websites to link to your website gives positive signals to Google, increases your authority and improves your position on the results page.
The principle behind this process is link equity. Bottom line: if a site is authoritative and trustworthy, these qualities can be transferred through external links to other web pages.
A good link building campaign is just as important in international SEO.
Perhaps you have already made link building efforts on your website. This will help your entry into international SEO, but it will not be enough. You will need to do link building with relevant websites in the countries and languages in which you want to compete.
Contact companies and blogs from other countries that have similar content to your website and follow the same good link building practices:
- Make guest posts on other blogs.
- Create content that works as a source for other articles.
- Invite other websites to include contextual links to your website.
Take care of the details when translating your website
It is not enough to translate the articles of your blog. All aspects of your website should be targeted at visitors from other countries.
Also, the more detailed your translation is, the more signals you send to Google about the localization of your website, which contributes to a better position in the SERP.
Here are some of the things you should translate:
- header images
- Descriptions in the image metadata
- Menus and options
- pop up ads
- calls to action
- automatic emails
- downloadable materials
Use hreflang tags
Hreflang tags are lines of code that tell Google the language of a web page. Adding these tags will improve your SERP position and require little work, so make sure you implement them.
Pencil Speech Case Study
Not convinced that international SEO is worth it? We assure you that once you realize its enormous opportunities, you will know that it is the right decision.
To convince you, we have prepared a success case in international SEO: that of Pencil Speech.
The objectives of our business have been climbing from conquering the local market, to dominating the regional market and, recently, expanding to compete in other latitudes.
Even though some English-speaking customers had come through referrals, we decided to take the step of publishing our website in English so that these customers would eventually come organically from Google.
The first thing we did was translate the site infrastructure and create a subdirectory for Pencil Speech in English (pencilspeech.com/en).
This is not enough to guarantee a position on the results page, but it is a crucial step. If you show a prospect a landing page in a language they can’t understand, you won’t make a good impression.
Later, we proceeded to translate each of our articles with the help of professional translators. We want to show potential clients from other countries that we understand how SEO works.
As this graph of our website’s performance in English demonstrates, international SEO practices were successful. Translating the page infrastructure created a small increase in clicks, but the numbers only started to grow significantly as we translated our articles.
And it is not about a general growth of our website. As you can see, visits to our Spanish website have grown at a much slower rate.
Currently, several of our articles in English appear in the first position of queries such as:
- search engine optimization
- what is search engine optimization marketing
- disadvantages of seo in digital marketing
- disadvantages of search engine optimization
- website seo
And all this in just 6 months!
As you can see, even small efforts can have drastic effects on international SEO.
Conclusions: Why do international SEO?
International SEO is not an easy task, but we assure you that every hour of work will pay off.
The most difficult challenge in this process is to create quality and relevant translations for your audience in other countries. Once you achieve that, your CMS tools will make implementing them on your website an easy task.
If you are still not sure what your website needs or you want an expert opinion, at Pencil Speech we can help you. Contact us!