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International websites: what you need to know for SEO

How do you open new markets with an international website? Create a localized experience with your website.

Garnering a strong search engine ranking and creating a good customer experience requires far more than just duplicating your site for different countries. Companies create international sites to increase international business, but critical SEO mistakes in that process have the opposite effect: not ranking at all.

1. Don’t have more than one version of your site for each language

A common mistake companies make with their international website is creating multiple versions of their sites for each language.

For example, companies we work with have US, UK, EU and AU versions of the website all in English. Although these companies are trying to create a better experience for each segment of their audience, it inadvertently creates a bad experience for massive search engines like Google. Unless the content is substantially different on each of the websites, search engines see it as the same. Something simple like trying to accommodate the slight spelling differences in US and UK english can result in duplicate content penalties from Google.

2. Make it easier for Google to serve the right content in each country

The search suffix like .fr, .de, or .es are the primary indicator for where in world sites should rank. However, if you’re planning on having an international presence, .com still reigns supreme.

Use the hreflang tag to help search engines find the right version of the site for the right county.

3. Have the right CMS

The right CMS (content management system) can make expanding your website internationally significantly easier and more scalable.

With a small-to-mid-size marketing site, multiple WordPress installs on one server are the best way to go. Large sites with multinational content and their own marketing teams should have a separate domain for each local site. As long as the content is mostly unique, the benefits of multiple sites far outway the costs.

As for the CMS itself, WordPress is typically the best choice for international marketing sites. It’s open source, scalable, and most front-end developers in the world will work on it. Many of the challenges and customisations that businesses need are ready-made with plugins.

For instance, WPML is a plugin that is perfect for running multilingual sites with WordPress, making it easy to translate content within the platform.

4. Make realistic projections based on available resources

An international site translated into more than one language is like a puppy, it takes significant time, resources and money to care for and grow for years to come.

When planning an international localisation, be realistic about the internal and external resources that you need to maintain the site. International sites require IT (information technology), SEO (search engine optimisation), marketing, translation and content specialists to be successful.

To leverage your site’s inbound traffic into sales, every new promotion, page or customer-facing initiative will need to be translated into several languages. Some companies take the middle path: Translate the primary marketing pages for markets they’re trying to reach, but leave their blog and resources in their primary language. This method can help spur international sales without draining marketing team’s resources or budget.

But, like any marketing initiative, an international web presence will be more successful the more time and energy you devote to it.

5. Stay Organised with agile marketing

International localisation requires coordinated effort between multiple teams. It requires that you manage content, translation processes, SEO and server side tasks and more. It’s easy to have critical tasks lost in long email threads and long delays because of the back and forth.

The fastest way to launch an international website is to hire a translation firm to translate the site into several languages. However, the ideal solution would be to have internal, international marketing teams creating unique content and marketing tailored for that country’s audience.

Create an agile marketing system where everyone knows the priorities, content gets approved quickly and no tasks get lost in email threads. Agile marketing allows your team to create benchmarks and success metrics so you know when your international localisation project is a success.

  • Bhumika

    I loved this tutorial of international seo : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-A_x3tAGV2g

  • Lisa Monroe

    Really good article about International SEO of websites. You are right that everything starts with unique and engaging content that attracts targeted traffic and sales. I’m really one of the site owners who prefers to get content done by more competent writers (save a lot of time and resources) and then to expose it to maximum to the right interested people. Just to help a bit, I recently found these writers http://uniquenichearticlepacks.com/ and manage to increase my traffic with more than 18% just by targeted niche content.

  • Thanks Meagan for a great insightful article. Never thought about duplicating a website on various domains depending on your target market. I would also like to do a little punt as well on an alternative CMS called Joomla which is robust, fast and secure. In addition your pages and page content can be configured for SEO and SEF optimally, but like you said get the right person to undertake this task!

  • @Memeburn Just a heads up. I would like to tweet this article but the tweet button is unresponsive on the iPhone 5s!

  • Thanks @disqus_4IAFdXkLWo:disqus , @disqus_v27KdEDEWY:disqus and @paulvdmerwe:disqus for your thoughtful suggestions on international SEO : )

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  • Very nice article, so informative for me. Thanks for sharing…

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