SEO localization strategy: Increasing organic search visibility worldwide
A catchy or memorable URL is simply not enough to generate significant traffic to your business’ website. And if you’re expanding into a new region where you don’t have any name recognition yet, this is especially true.
In order to attract new visitors, your multilingual site needs to rise up to the top ranks of locally relevant search engines. But how?
This is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play. When launching into a new market, you should have a solid SEO localization strategy, to ensure your site isn’t just at the top in your home country, but also at the top of widely used search engines in your target locales.
What is SEO localization?
SEO is the set of practices used to improve a site’s ranking on search engines like Google. SEO localization is the process of translating and localizing a website with these practices in mind.
Localization helps deliver a culturally relevant user experience to prospective clients in new language markets by adapting the content and ensuring that the layout, design and imagery adhere to local preferences..
SEO localization narrows this a bit further, by focusing on your multilingual website’s local search engine rankings.
Even within the same language, there are regional differences that can prevent a site from ranking highly in a different region. Take, for instance, a United States-based ecommerce company looking to expand into the United Kingdom. The US site might use keywords like “sneakers” and “pants,” but those aren’t likely to rank very highly in the UK, as users there are more likely to search for “trainers” and “trousers.”
Tweaking these regionalisms to match the local dialect can make a big difference. Besides improving the overall customer experience for users who speak UK English, these changes can improve your site’s ranking for search keywords in the target region.
Thus, translation and localization are essential aspects of any international SEO strategy.
Why international SEO localization gives you a competitive edge
People are most likely to find a new website through a search engine. If people in your target market don’t yet know your brand, search engine localization allows potential customers to find your business easily and organically.
Moreover, people are also most likely to conduct searches in their native language. Producing optimized content in the target language increases your site’s visibility on local search engines.
SEO also tends to be less competitive in languages other than English. When localizing a site for a French-speaking audience, following SEO best practices can have an immediate impact, thanks in part to the fact that there are less French-speaking internet users than English speakers.
SEO localization tips & best practices
Here are a few SEO localization guidelines to help you attract visitors to your multilingual website:
Analyze your SEO and content strategy
When developing your SEO localization and content strategies, consider the different topics you’ll be covering – both in the target and the source language. This will help you map out exactly what needs to be localized, and when.
Moving forward, you have a couple of options, depending on your setup. With a bigger team, you may be able to commission original content in each of the languages you plan to work in. If that doesn’t seem practical for your team, you can start with content in one language, to be translated later on.
Find out what queries your audience is searching for
One of the main components of a successful international SEO strategy is understanding what words people are searching for in your target markets. Here are a few ways to kickstart your keyword research:
- Identify frequently used keywords using tools like Semrush, which allow you to focus on a set of keywords to optimize your content strategy
- Filter your searches by locale and language, to get a sense of what keywords are common in your target markets
- Consult your localization partner to help you identify slang, idioms and other nuances that might not be as easy to identify with software alone
Your approach may also vary depending on the size of your team:
- Larger teams with leads located in different countries can typically conduct keyword research at the language level. Team members located in the target locale should be more attuned to the local language, allowing them to identify more effective keywords
- On the other hand, teams with just a single language content strategy or SEO localization lead will want to conduct keyword research in the source language, before preparing content briefs and keyword lists that can then be translated before sending them over to content creators
Geotargeting refers to the process of tracking your audience’s location to serve them localized content specific to their region. Some search engines – Google, for instance – pick up on geotargeting and rank localized content more highly.
You can work with your web development team to devise a geotargeting strategy, which will involve creating a country-specific URL structure and “hreflang” tags to help search engines index your content for the locales you’re targeting.
Make sure important site elements are translated
Double-check that all of your content and site elements are translated – even seemingly minor details that might be overlooked by most users.
Image alt tags, for instance, aren’t particularly visible on your site but they play a big role in SEO localization, as they help search engines and accessibility software understand what is exactly contained in an image.
Understand quirks and preferences for different regional search engines
While Google reigns supreme in the United States, that’s not the case everywhere. In China, Baidu is the predominant search engine, while Russian users also search via Yandex in addition to Google.
Each search engine ranks sites a bit differently, so you’ll want to research the most prevalent search engines in the region you’re targeting and how they rank search results. Take, for example the way Baidu, Google and Yandex weigh backlinking, which is when one website includes a link to a page on another:
- Baidu places heavier weight on backlinks from websites hosted in China than those outside of China
- Google emphasizes backlinking from high-authority domains, regardless of region
- Yandex prefers backlinks from sites within the same industry or niche – backlinks from unrelated sites may even have a negative effect on a site’s ranking
With the evolution of SEO practices over the years, what once worked well on Google (e.g., keyword stuffing) are now considered spammy. However, these practices – generally to be avoided for English-speaking regions – may work in other locales.
Baidu vs. Google: A few key differences
Baidu is focused mainly on attracting a Chinese audience – as such, sites that are hosted in China and have frequent backlinks from other Chinese sites tend to be the most successful there. Additionally, China’s tight internet regulations mean it takes longer for Baidu to index your site than Google.
When localizing for a Chinese audience, you’ll want to focus closely on image alt tags – Baidu doesn’t have AI image recognition software like Google, so it relies on these tags to know what’s in your images. Additionally, be careful of having duplicate content, as Baidu penalizes this, unlike Google, which simply ignores it.
Yandex vs. Google
While Yandex is also used in China, it’s most popular by far in Russia.
Russian users conduct searches on both Yandex and Google – prior to the current conflict in Ukraine, Yandex made up about 44% of the market share and Google made up 53% (Google’s share has since gone down as international tech companies have since reduced their presence in Russia). Like Google, Yandex includes other features beyond just internet search, such as maps, online advertising, email hosting and more.
The search engine has its own equivalent of Google’s Search Console: Webmaster Tools. Yandex recommends using its Webmaster Tools to set a “regional binding,” which makes sure that your search engine results pages (SERPs) pop up for users in the geographical location you’ve targeted. Plus, Webmaster Tools allows you to look at the analytics of your site, view performance metrics, and other statistics, much like the Google Search Console.
Yandex places more emphasis on user behavior measurements like bounce rate, time on page and click-through rate. The search engine even has an invaluable feature called “Site Quality Indicators,” which provide an explicit report on a site’s quality, based on user behavior. These are impacted by factors such as audience size, estimated user satisfaction and inferred “experience authority trust” signals.
Lastly, Yandex allows you to see if your site is eligible for rich features on their SERPs, whereas this is somewhat of a guessing game on Google.
An informed SEO localization strategy is essential for any business expanding into new markets. Done right, it helps you grow organic search traffic globally, connect with customers, and drive revenue in new markets.
Acclaro’s international SEO and global marketing experts can help your site top the ranks of search engines the world over, from Google to Yandex to Baidu and more.
Contact us today to learn more about how our SEO localization services can aid in your brand’s global growth.