Earlier this month we started looking at how to build a website for international audiences. In our first post we covered domain names, translation and other key decisions in the early development stage.
Today we’re going to jump ahead to the next step and talk about international SEO, content strategy and social media. These are things you’ll need to plan out carefully before a single line of code is written – and you’ll soon see how much there is to think about.
Know your international SEO
International SEO is a huge topic but you’ll be glad to know we already covered a good chunk of it in our first post. Domain structure, language choices and web hosting all come under the same (very large) international SEO umbrella.
Today, we’re going to get into some of the more obvious SEO topics – starting with the search engines themselves.
Starting with search engines
The first thing you need to know about search engines and international SEO is that Google isn’t quite number one everywhere in the world. Baidu is the leader in China while Yandex tops the list in Russia and both Naver and Daum beat Google in South Korea. There’s also a new search tool in Vietnam (Cốc Cốc) that aims to provide an alternative to Google’s poor support in the country.
So, first of all, don’t assume Google is number one everywhere. Next, you need to understand the gap between number one, two and three can vary a lot between different countries. And, finally, remember a search engine that comes second or third on the list can still grant you access to millions of users.
This is especially important because different search engines come with different requirements. For example, in our last post we talked about domain structures. Tests generally show sub-directories perform better, although Google accepts subdomains as well. Baidu, on the other hand, specifically recommends using subdirectories – a pretty big deal if you intend to target China and Baidu’s 70+% market share.
Meanwhile, Yandex has no disavow tool to let you disqualify nasty links pointing your way. Sadly, it does come with harsh search penalties, though, which is something you’ll need to be aware of for Russian audiences.
There are two types of duplicate content on the international scene. First you have translated content that says exactly the same thing. This won’t be a problem as long as you stay away from machine translators and get the pros to rewrite your content, accurately, in the required languages. Use Google Translate and you could have a problem – not only with duplicate content but also making no sense whatsoever.
The more pressing problem is duplicate pages in the same language for different regions, like the UK and US versions of a website. Google is understanding to a point on this but you’ll want to go ahead and use the hreflang tag to protect yourself from getting penalised.
Avoid using splash pages for language selection
A common trick for international brands is to use a splash page for users to select their language before landing on the homepage. This comes with a few UX gripes but they also rob you of vital local SEO points – especially if you have stores set up in other countries.
This might work for you if you already have existing domain authority and no local stores to worry about. We recommend you stay clear of this option regardless. At the very least it removes an extra step between users and your website.
Instead, use geo-targeting to detect the location of a user and auto select a language from there. Just make sure you clearly provide the option to change the default language.
Write content for different audiences
Don’t simply write content and then translate it for every audience. This might work sometimes but you’re trying to connect with these people on a deep level. So create content that touches on the local concerns, topics and cultural sentiments of each country you expand into.
This goes for your blog page and social media alike. Social interests can vary in different countries too and you want to establish connections around them. The aim is to try and feel like a native brand in every country you operate in – not a foreigner trying to edge in on their territory.
Nail customer care on social media
A huge challenge when you go global is setting up a customer care system that can deal with large volumes, in multiple languages, and different consumer cultures. Social media has been a huge help in this regard, giving you a platform to stay connected with everyone. It’s still not easy, though. You have to be lightening quick to respond to user concerns and you need to do it in their language, which means having the necessary social team in place to look after everyone.
It’s also important you can separate your social content by languages. Customers in Germany aren’t going to want to see Hebrew of Thai scribbled all over your social media pages. So get the setup right on your social media accounts too, making sure people only ever see their own language.
We’ve barely even covered the basics of international SEO in today’s post, despite saying so much. The worst mistake you can make when going international is underestimate the technical and logistical side of things. It takes a lot of work to run an international site that engages with every audience on an equal level – and that’s the standard you have to aim for. Pull it off, though, and you can conquer any market you show enough dedication to get on board.