In 2020, brands are increasingly growing global awareness with international marketing strategies. And, one major way they've driven traffic from different regions to their site is through international SEO.
But, like any marketing campaign, SEO is not always a one-size-fits-all approach. In fact, every country is diverse, uses the internet a little differently, and might have different sets of regulations. Not to mention, audiences in one country might have vastly different interests, cultural backgrounds, and values than audiences in another region.
As a marketer, your biggest goal should be to know your audience. And, according to HubSpot SEO experts, this is no different when it comes to building an SEO strategy for your international or multi-language website.
"When you run a multi-language version of your website and you're serious about delivering best-in-class, high-quality content to audiences around the globe, you should invest in an international SEO strategy that will rely strongly on a proper technical structure and global content strategy that considers local nuances," advises Karolina Bujalska-Exner, HubSpot's international SEO manager.
But how do you create a winning international SEO strategy? First, it's important to identify how SEO, search engine algorithms, and search platforms might vary from region to region.
To help those interested in gaining global online awareness, I spoke with HubSpot's SEO experts to learn how optimization strategies differ around the world. Here are four things to know.
4 Ways SEO Varies Around the World
1. Your search competition might vary in different geographies
When you've only marketed your brand in one country, it will take time to get a social media following, email subscribers, traffic, and other metrics from a new international audience. This is because people around the world are just getting familiar with your brand for the first time.
Although SEO focuses on search, it will similarly take time to grow awareness on another country's Google or Bing domain.
"Every region of the world has its own Google ccTLD (for example, Google.com, Google.es, Google.fr, Google.jp, etc). Each Google domain follows similar -- if not identical -- algorithms, but each one is ultimately its own market with its own economy of publishers," Becker explains.
"A different Google site doesn't necessarily mean you'll be starting with zero domain authority if you were to expand your content to other regions," Becker adds. "But it does mean your brand might not have the same awareness it has on Google.com. Therefore, traffic growth may be a bit of an uphill battle as you establish an audience."
Even though you might be ranking on the U.S. version of Google, keep in mind that audiences on Google.fr in French territories might not know you exist just yet. As you create more content for these markets, they'll get more chances to click on your content and boost your website's authority. However, when you start with no SEO or content strategies catered to this market, it will take time to get traffic needed to rank quickly.
2. A region's language and local nuances can impact your rankings in that territory.
If you've done any research on SEO, you probably know that keyword research is a vital way to create and optimize content so it ranks on Google. This is no different in other regions where English or your website's language might not be as smoothly translated.
"When serving content in different languages, translations or localisations sometimes might not be enough to win rankings or get valuable traffic from another locale," says Bujalska-Exner.
"Why? Even when the most amazing content is optimized for one region, it might not have a similar meaning or wording when translated to another regional language."
To mitigate translation issues, Bujalska-Exner says, "It's important to do your keyword research in the target language so you can find the best regional opportunities for main and long-tail keywords."
"The same goes for search intent. One term might have completely different intent in another country," Bujalska-Exner adds. "The way SERPs look varies across the globe. Some countries have more specific search features present than others. This should always be taken into account when deciding how to structure your content."
As you do international keyword research, Bujalska-Exner advises, "Remember that some SEO tools offer more accurate results for search volumes in specific languages or regions than others. Test several tools before implementing one that provides the most accurate information for your target language."
Aside from doing research, another helpful way to optimize content for one region is by writing it in that locale's language from the start.
When you have a regional creator write your content in their language, the writer can better ensure that content is "optimized, helpful, and engaging" to the regional audiences. They can also use their knowledge of the area and audience to include "local examples and ideas," Bujalska-Exner says.
"There are many ways to set your website for an international audience. The most common are separate ccTlds, subdomains, or language folders." Bujalska-Exner explains. "Each of those has advantages and disadvantages. You should choose your strategy based on what you want to achieve. You have to think of your SEO needs, the resources you have or might invest in, and choose the best option for you."
For a technical comparison of ccTlds and international subdomain options, check out this guide.
3. The top search engines in some regions might not be Google or Bing.
While search engines behave similarly internationally, it's important to know that some of the major sites like Google, Bing, or Yahoo are rarely used or banned in other countries. When marketing web content in these areas, you might need to consider an alternative other than optimizing your site for major search platforms.
"One very clear difference that does exist globally is a search engine's share of voice in various countries," Becker explains. "Most search engines you've heard of -- Bing, Yahoo, Google -- have similar algorithms and ranking factors. Therefore SEO for one engine will benefit you across multiple engines. However. some national markets operate on a completely different set of rules "
As our SEO experts have revealed, you don't have to dramatically change your SEO process, or learn about a whole new list of algorithms to rank on Google in different countries.
But, while the foundation of your keyword research and SEO strategy could be similar from country to country, you'll still need to identify how search behaviors vary internationally, which languages will be key to your SEO, and local topics that certain international markets might be more heavily searching.
"When discussing SEO, we usually think about optimizing for Google. But, there are many countries in the world where Google’s market share is actually very low," Bujalska-Exner explains. "Instead there are other regional alternatives that are used as primary engines. For example, Baidu is primarily used in China."
Although search engines like Baidu, shown below might look similar to Google, they don't necessarily act the same, according to our experts.
Becker, who also points out China as one region with its own search engine, adds, "China is unique in that Google does not have a presence in this country at all. The primary source of information in China is from Baidu, which does not resemble the ranking factors that marketers are familiar with from Google."
4. SEO isn't that different around the globe -- but you still need a strategy for each country.
Because platforms like Google, Bing, and Yahoo are still present around the world, optimizing your website for them won't be that different from country to country. According to Braden Becker, a senior SEO strategist, there are a number of strategies that will work for these search engines in many different countries.
"SEO isn't really something that differs globally, but rather extends globally," says Backer. "In the case of HubSpot, we have an SEO strategy that is both native to each region, but also follows a number of universal SEO techniques that marketers need to know in order to do international SEO successfully."
Yes. If you want to develop audiences in international territories, you'll need to keep in mind that people in other regions will be searching for different phrases in different languages. This instantly will make keyword research and SEO strategies different in each area.
However, the ranking algorithms that major search platforms, like Google, use in one country aren't much different in another. So, if you have SEO specialists in different locations, they might use a similar keyword research and SEO optimization strategy. However, they'll likely discover different lists of keywords and different blog posts to optimize based on what people in their area are looking for.
Navigating International Marketing
Like any other international or audience growth marketing strategy, you'll ultimately need to know your target audience, give them content that they enjoy, and encourage them to visit your website more often. As you gain traffic to your international website, you'll gain brand awareness as well as ranking authority from these markets.
For more international marketing tips, check out this post on social media platforms that weren't founded in the U.S., as well as this list of brilliant international marketing examples.
Want to dive deeper into international SEO? Here's a technical guide on how to optimize your site for global search engines. Or, worried you'll make a major global SEO mistake? Read this post to discover how you could sabotage global SEO.