Opinion

How to take your brand global with international SEO

Charlie Whitworth

,

01.04.2021

international seo tips

We’re lucky enough to work with a number of global brands at BBI, all of which have their own challenges and KPIs. But one thing they all have in common, is a need to dominate a range of international search engines.

The prudent strategy for this challenge changes from sector to sector and also depends on a number of variables from budget to the strength of the competition; but there are a few factors that rarely change. In our latest thought leadership piece here at the BBI Hub, we take a look at some of the most crucial aspects of the perfect international SEO campaign.

Domain Setup 

Without proper advice, it can be easy to rush into decisions that will impact your digital marketing efforts. One such instance of this is your domain setup when looking to rank in a number of different countries and in a number of different languages.

This is perhaps the best example of when there are a pros and cons to every solution, these being:

ccTLDs

This is where the suffix to your domain is as follows:

  • www.example.us
  • www.example.co.uk
  • www.example.fr

Some believe this is the easiest way to rank locally, but with many of the tools at your disposal these days, that is up for debate. But this requires buying several different domain names, building several websites and managing these as you look to rank in your target territories. Whilst a ccTLD is almost certainly a hint to search engines as the territory you are looking to target, this doesn’t guarantee success.

The key thing to bear in mind here is that every website will be viewed separately by search engines and users, so all your marketing efforts will be siloed and have limited knock on effect between websites. This often means separate budgets for each team and perhaps dedicated teams managing each domain.

There is markup available to tell search engines the relationship between these sites however many signals are diluted, and this is likely to remain the case unless there is a dramatic change to Google’s algorithms. 

A positive of this approach is that you are able to specifically optimise, design and structure each site for its target market and demographic, which could well aid user experience and conversion. 

Subdomains

This is where there is a prefix to your domains, as follows:

  • www.us.example.com
  • www.uk.example.com
  • www.fr.example.com

This is a popular choice, as they can be quite easily managed all within the same server and hosting platform.

The SEO benefits and disadvantages are much the same as ccTLDs in that they may be deemed as separate websites, although this is likely to be to a lesser extent than ccTLDs. But we still see subdomains struggling to gain internal PageRank from each other and these gain limited impact from any external link acquisition or PR efforts.

Subdomains are easier to maintain, but still not the perfect international SEO solution in the majority of cases.

Subdirectories 

This is where each international site lives within a directory on a main hub site, which would usually be the .com version as follows:

  • www.example.com/us/
  • www.example.com/uk/
  • www.example.com/fr/

There are strong advantages to this solution, mainly due to the fact that any SEO authority that is gained by your hub site, should benefit all markets in terms of visibility. This should also be easier to manage as you would invest in just the one website and optimise via each region’s dedicated subdirectory.

As discussed, there have historically be concerns about how strong a signal these subdirectories are to search engines, but with tools such as Google Search Console’s international targeting and hreflang tags, this shouldn’t be a worry.

Drawbacks are mainly related to the difficulty in changing the aesthetics of each directory to suit the region you are looking to target, although this is not impossible. But if you are looking for a solution that is SEO first, then subdirectories are a strong choice and will continue to be until the algorithm changes regarding link equity and the flow of internal PageRank.

SEO Research

In addition to picking the best technical setup for your website, a classic way to get international SEO wrong is to neglect your research phase.

What works here in the UK, may very well be less successful abroad as consumer terminology, habits and budgets are likely to be very different. So don’t be fooled into thinking that you can simply create a translated version of your site, tag it up and look forward to similar results.

SEO research of your target market is crucial as search volume for your keywords will be very different, not just in terms of numbers but also when it comes to terminology. It can be very easy to disregard a keyword, thinking that very few people search for it when it just a cultural difference and different queries are being used.

Compelling & Unique Content 

This leads nicely to our final point, which is to ensure your international website or perhaps set of websites, is populated with well researched, unique and compellingly written content.

Functionality such as Auto Translate may save time and money, but this almost always results in content that gets lost in translation and results in limited organic performance. Add to this the fact that it almost certainly won’t result in significant conversions and you have a recipe for poor international SEO.

Your content, whether this is body copy, video or user generated content such as reviews, is your big chance to speak to your customers and tell them why they should use your brand, so don’t waste it. 

Do not also be fooled into thinking that hreflang tags are a solution for duplicate content, as they aren’t. Although these will tell search engines which international version of your website to rank in which search engine, any thin or duplicate content is still going to have a negative impact how your domain is deemed when it comes E-A-T. Write for each market using your research and showing off your product or service using unique and engaging copy and media.

Is your SEO strategy set to scale?

It’s good practice to give your digital marketing strategy and SEO activity a health check from time to time, especially if your brand has ambitions to reach new audiences or perhaps improve your ROI. Understandably, most organisations don’t have the resource or expertise in-house to carry this out and so working with agency specialists like BBI can bridge that gap. We are an award-winning integrated marketing agency with over a decade of experience in helping brands grow through performance marketing tactics. Contact us today to find out how we can help elevate your SEO strategy – we’d love to help.





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