If you already run an international website or have international expansion on your road map, there are several common SEO issues which can hold back your success.
In this article we’ll look at six international SEO mistakes that you could be making, to help you look out for and avoid them on your site.Domains
One mistake we see with people taking their first step into an international market is not considering the current domain they have.
If you have a .co.uk domain name, for example, you will need to consider getting a new domain for each market you go into, as a .co.uk won’t perform as well in international search engines as it is a UK-focused ccTLD.IP serving
This is something which, from a development point of view, sounds like the perfect fix. Automatically redirecting people to the correct international version of your website based on their IP address, and so location, does sound really useful.
In its truest form, IP serving cannot be overwritten and a user in a specific country will always be redirected to the site for that country. There are, however, a number of reasons why this isn’t always the right approach to take.
Firstly, you can’t assume that all users in a particular location are from that country. If your IP serving can’t be overwritten by a user, this will mean that anyone in a particular country will be forced to use the site in that language/currency, which doesn’t then take into consideration someone who is travelling or not native to the country in question. This isn’t a great user experience.
The second issue of IP serving is that it will affect your SEO, as search engines aren’t able to crawl your site from every country you may cover. As a result, you will find that your international sites won’t perform as well in the search engines as you would expect.
On many occasions I’ve seen websites with IP serving being used which have real issues in their visibility, with the wrong website appearing in the search results. Google in particular, has real issues with this and I’ve seen local and US sites swapping in the search results on a weekly basis.
I’ve also seen brands who use IP serving, having to buy local language ads in a market to make up for the fact that their local language site doesn’t show up in the search results.
Below is an example of the US Calvin Klein website showing as the top search result for a brand search in Sweden. This is because they use IP serving, and Google is following this to the US site only.
Assuming English is OK
Another big issue for people taking the first steps into an international market is assuming English is OK for certain markets. Common assumptions in this area include assuming that English is OK for the Scandinavian countries, because they all speak English right?
Depending on what the purpose of your website is, this approach might not work. For example, B2B brands looking to encourage people to make a large financial commitment, or high-end retailers, might want to avoid doing this. Generally, the more people are spending the more they will want to see content in their own language, they are investing in you, so you should invest in them.
The other issue with this assumption is that the users in your international markets are more likely to be searching in their local language and not in English, so even if they are comfortable purchasing from you in English, they might not find your site as they will be searching for your products or services in their local language.
Moving on from using English, some people think the easiest way to implement translation on a website is to use some form of automated translation tool. This is not recommended.
Firstly, these translations, while often dictionary perfect, don’t necessarily reflect how people in any given market speak, they may also miss the nuances of search behavior which could result in you losing out on using words on your website which potential customers are using.
For example, the dictionary correct German word for tickets (such as attraction tickets) is ‘Karten’ but we find there is often more search volume around this topic using the English word ‘Ticket’ in the German market.
Another note on Google Translate as a plugin on your site; although the Google translate tool is super useful it doesn’t change anything on your website which Google the search engine will see.
This means that the translated content it creates in every possible language, isn’t indexed in Google’s results and so does not help you to become findable in the search results when someone searches for you in Brazilian Portuguese, for example.Getting the language wrong
This is the worst-case scenario, and thankfully something I’ve only seen a handful of times to it’s worst extent. This is the process of completely missing the language you should be using.
A few years back I was reviewing a website which was looking to promote its business into Hong Kong. The website was well put together, and all their SEO was in place and working well. The images were showing local people and the content was all in Chinese.
The issue was that the content was all in Simplified Chinese. Simplified Chinese is used in mainland China. For Hong Kong, the target market of this website, the language should have been Traditional Chinese.
Smaller less dramatic examples of this are forgetting that sometimes users are separated by a common language. Everyone knows the trite “differences” between English for the US and the UK (use of S or Z in some words and whether or not there is a U present in other words).
There are other differences which you need to be aware of depending on the products you are selling. For example, Egg Plants vs Aubergines and Football vs Soccer.Hreflang tags
This is one of the biggest areas where people experience problems with their international website strategy. In fact, John Mueller from Google said in February that Hreflang tags are hard!
I’ve seen some humorous attempts at getting the tags right in my time, including people making up countries (Arabia for example) or trying to target an English language .eu domain to every country in Europe with something like 23 individual tags!
There are number of things to watch out for with these tags, mainly around making sure you format the code correctly, don’t make up language and country combinations and that you aren’t linking through to pages which are different from those in your canonical tag, or broken pages!
These are just some of the biggest fails I’ve seen over the years, but hopefully enough to give you a clue as to what you should be avoiding with your website.
Like all SEO, when going international it’s important to make sure that things are right from day one but to keep an eye on things to make sure no issues creep in over time. Your international websites can help your brand grow and get more business, but only if they are set up correctly and nurtured.
Emily Mace is International Head of SEO at Oban International.
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