International SEO Strategy Basics: What Is It, and Why Should You Care?

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For any company working in multiple markets or delivering content to more than one area of the world, international search engine optimization (SEO) is becoming increasingly important.

However, as recently as two years ago, search engine algorithms operated very differently to the ways they do now. This makes international SEO increasingly challenging as well, as companies try to navigate relatively new search ranking factors, such as schema markup—not to mention trying to target users across continents.

In a recent Lionbridge webinar, we talked about this in the context of geo-targeting, the differences between international and regular SEO, and general procedures and best practices to apply to an SEO translation strategy. Ken Applin, Director of Search at Lionbridge, brought over 20 years’ experience in digital and online marketing to show us how it’s done.

What makes international SEO so important?

Right now, almost half of the world is online. That number is growing every year, meaning the opportunity to get your content in front of billions of people whose problems you solve with your products or services has never been better.

Yet, within that half, only about 27 percent of online users are native English speakers, and the English content available on the web far outweighs this proportion. Meanwhile, for example, Chinese speakers aren’t getting enough content they need, because a limited amount of web content is translated to Chinese. This creates a huge disparity between what content is out there and the languages that users are actually looking for.

In the U.S., we rarely have this problem. When we perform a search for a product, we get results from .com websites and know the content will be in English. We know the product will likely be available in the U.S. and will be priced in U.S. dollars. If we didn’t see information specific to the U.S. or in a language we speak, we’d simply bounce off the page and look elsewhere.

But in every other country, users experience this every day. This means potential customers in other countries could be served your .com English content, perceive a terrible user experience, and be switched off your brand.

What is geo-targeting?

Geo-targeting is an attempt to fix this problem.

According to Applin, “geo-targeting ensures the right content is served up by the right search engine matching each visitor’s search habits and intent.” In other words, you are targeting users based on their geographic location.

Remember that people use search engines to ask a question or solve a problem. But those questions and problems aren’t always the same in every market, even English-speaking; questions consumers ask in the U.S. might be completely different to those they ask in Australia.

Getting geo-targeting right in every country is crucial for your business, as delivering targeted content lowers bounce rates, increases conversions, and boosts loyalty. Of course, geo-targeting is important to your customers, too. Bottom line: Seeing content in their own language shows the customer you’re making an effort to communicate with them.

How do you get started?

There are five key steps to reaching target audiences through geo-targeting:

  1.     Local market research: Understanding what your local customers are searching and what problems they’re trying to solve is vital. But bear in mind that your U.S. English keywords may not be the preferred terms in other markets, so you also need to familiarize yourself with local dialects.
  2.     Content strategy: Use the data extracted from your market research to drive your content strategy. You may be driving a particular message or campaign, but providing the content your audience is searching for is the only way to grab their attention. Answer their query first, deliver your brand message later.
  3.     Glocalize: The best content strategy is one that globalizes as much as possible, but localizes the most important criteria in each market—hence the term glocalization. Again, your market research will give you an idea of what needs to be localized.
  4.     International SEO: Google represents over 60 percent of searchers and dominates most markets, but that means over 30 percent of the world still prefers a different search engine. To rank higher than your competition, you need to know which search engine to work with in each market.
  5.     Continual measurement: If you can’t measure something, you can’t report success. Optimizing any strategy involves benchmarking important KPIs, analyzing results on a regular basis, and making updates based on that data. Over time, maintenance costs will go down and you’ll get closer and closer to the top of SERPs.

The webinar went into more specific detail, outlining critical considerations and best practices for each step. Applin also ran through a real-world case study, plus the results of our own experiences implementing geo-targeting at Lionbridge. Catch the replay here.

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