Launching your company’s web presence into new markets can be a daunting and difficult task. Regulations and logistics aside, your website must be able to gain market share in new territories while avoiding unintended consequences to your existing site in the process.
Before you hit the go-button and celebrate, stop and consider your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. If you take the following steps—preferably early on in the design phase of your multilingual website project—you’ll set yourself up for success.
Step 1: Research
You’ve likely already performed extensive research to determine if your business is ready for a new target market. But have you done a competitive analysis of that market? While you may have great rankings in your current markets, achieving similar results in others can be more difficult—especially if competitors in those regions have been around for years and have a mature SEO strategy.
Fortunately, there are tools you can use, such as SEMrush, to check who is ranking for targeted terms and to explore other keywords they’re ranking for, which you may not have considered. If there doesn’t seem to be a clear leader for the keywords you plan to target, a well-developed localization and SEO strategy could yield quick results. If you see the same competitor(s) ranking consistently for keywords, don’t be discouraged, but set realistic goals for your SEO channel.
It’s also important to remember that Google isn’t the only search engine used in the world. You’ll want to optimize for others like Yandex, which is used in Russia and Baidu, found in China.
Step 2: Language Considerations
When setting up your web presence for global expansion, focus on countries and languages you can support with localized and translated content. A non-localized website won’t rank well in search engines and will fail to meet user expectations.
Also, don’t forget that people speak multiple languages in many countries like Canada, for example, where you’ll find both English- and French-speaking audiences. Provide users the ability to easily switch between their desired region and language, but don’t force them to a specific language with redirections. Doing so could prevent them from accessing their desired language, as well as block search engine crawls from indexing your site.
Step 3: Architecture Options
There are three ways to set up your website for international use.
- Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLD)
- Example: yourcompany.com and yourcompany.de
ccTLDs are great when you need a definitive separation of sites, as they provide clear geo-targeting for both users and search engines. However, this option is often the most expensive because it requires additional infrastructure and your domain name may already be registered in other countries. Furthermore, the authority and links that your website has generated over the years won’t pass over to your other ccTLDs. This means you’re essentially starting out from scratch for new websites.
- Example: de.yourcompany.com and fr.yourcompany.com
Subdomains are easy to set up, allowing you to geo-target in Google Search Console and easily separate your sites. One drawback, however, is that users might not recognize the country code in front of the domain. For instance, users in some countries may prefer websites that end in their local ccTLD, such as .mx for websites in Mexico. And just like ccTLDs, subdomains don’t inherit the value of the root domain, so you’re starting your authority-building from ground zero.
Example: yourcomany.com/de and yourcompany.com/fr
Like subdomains, subfolders are easy to set up, allowing you to geo-target in Search Console and require minimal maintenance because they use your existing website architecture. Also like subdomains, however, users may not trust clicking on an unfamiliar ccTLD. That said, subfolders have become a popular choice for international SEO because all the links your business has built over the years stay intact.
When choosing a route for your website’s architecture, remember that it’s important to consider what your competitors are doing and what works best for your company.
Step 4: Platform Considerations
One hurdle to a successful international SEO strategy can be the platform the website is hosted on. If it’s too difficult or expensive to implement the proper tags to be successful in new markets, it may be time to consider an alternative one.
If you’re starting from scratch or need to find a new content management system (CMS), check out Acclaro’s blog on How to Choose a Multilingual CMS. Be sure to research your options and consider the pros and cons to determine which platform will work best for your organization.
Selling your products or services online? Make sure your eCommerce platform is also translation ready and tailored for different languages, currencies and seasonal trends.
Step 5: Technical SEO Setup
Once your website is set up and configured, you’ll want to provide a method for Google and other search engines to easily find your content and send clear signals as to which content targets each region. Failure to do so can hurt both your international and regional SEO efforts.The best way to deliver the correct content is to use hreflang tags in the html head of your web pages or via a sitemap.
Hreflang tags help resolve duplicate content issues and ensure that users in each country are getting the version of your website that you want them to get. These helpful tags go inside the <head> section of your website and should annotate all versions of the page that are similar. Be sure to include the code on all multilingual versions of the page.
Example Code: (For https://www.yoursite.com/uk/page.html)
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-gb” href=”https://www.yoursite.com/uk/page.html” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-us” href=”https://www.yoursite.com/us/page.html” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”de-de” href=”https://www.yoursite.com/de/page.html” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x-default” href=”https://www.yoursite.com/us/page.html” />
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.yoursite.com/uk/page.html”>
Common Errors with hreflang Tag Implementation
- Using underscore instead of hyphen
- Position of language and country code (en-gb vs gb-en)
- Using country code without language code
- Using invalid country or language code
- Missing the self-referencing URL
- Not placing on all pages
For help with generating canonical tags or examples, use Aleyda Solis’s hreflang tag generator.
In many instances, building and supporting hreflang tags is a huge endeavour that marketing teams simply don’t have the time to do. Submitting an hreflang sitemap is an easy and effective alternative.
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
With hreflang sitemaps, each URL must have its own record with accompanying language versions for each site. If your site is large, create separate sitemap files for each language. Don’t forget to include this file in your sitemap index, add to robots.txt and submit to Google Search Console.
Creating language sitemaps can seem daunting, but Erudite has a handy tool to help generate them with ease.
Set Up Google Search Console for Each Region
Regardless of the site structure you implemented, you can create Google Search Console properties for each language and region. This allows you to get more granular reporting information on technical errors, sitemap coverage and keywords.
While keyword tracking isn’t what it once was, it’s still an important piece of SEO that provides insight into your ranking and opportunities. After all, you can’t effectively track your progress if you’re not checking your rankings on a weekly or monthly basis.
Using tools like SEMRush, MOZ or AWR Cloud gives you the ability to track your keywords across different search engines and devices. Depending on your niche, you may decide to track only desktop, mobile or both. From there, expand the search engines you monitor to the markets that matter most to you.
To make analysis easier, place similar keywords into buckets so you can see your overall ranking across the group, device types and countries.
Step 6: Localizing Content, Images and Currency
Think putting your text through Google Translate will provide an accurate and meaningful translation? Think again. Much of the content on your website is too valuable for a raw machine translation solution. A professional translation and localization agency with in-country linguists can help maintain the tone and accuracy of your content.
In most cases, you’ll want to use human translation services to ensure your brand comes through clearly and resonates with your target audience. However, there are times when machine translation with human post-editing is both cost and time effective. Acclaro can help you determine which route is best.
Finally, don’t forget to localize any accompanying imagery, graphics, metrics, charts and currency to ensure the best user experience.
Go Far with Acclaro
It’s a big world, but our localization team can help you navigate it. When you’re ready to put your global strategy into action, Acclaro can show you how to harness the power of international SEO to succeed across cultures. Contact us today to learn how.