Going global: A comprehensive guide to international SEO strategies

In our previous article, we have discussed the implications and best practices when it comes to creating a multi-language website. 

Expanding into another country, however, is a whole new process that will require as much support as translating your website.

Fortunately, we broke it down into five steps. This is how you do SEO no matter what country you are based in.

Our international SEO tips to conquer the digital world

1. Reflect the locals’ culture

Respect, appreciation and even inspiration. Nowadays, respecting other people’s culture is a massive topic that generates all sorts of opinions, some of which are quite controversial. 

As ugly as it is to say it, culture affects marketing, and it may even affect the products you are selling. 

The best example of how culture changes the business is probably shown by analysing different Mcdonald’s restaurants around the world.

Did you know that the fast-food giant sells rice bowls in the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong and plenty of other Asian countries?

However, it’s not just about the products: Your copy, your keywords and even what people look for in your website is all going to change. 

What your target audience in the UK finds engaging may be terrible in other countries. 

A great example? Let’s use McDonald’s again. This is what its homepage looks like, in the UK:

And this is what it looks like in its Chinese version:

Every country has expectations and requirements that you will have to research and meet, in order to succeed. People living in China expect websites to look a bit cluttered, which simply wouldn’t work, for a UK audience.

Remember that laws will change too

It’s not rare to hear of companies having legal troubles against specific governments. Make sure that you don’t fall into the same trap.

For example, Google notoriously ran into serious issues with the Chinese Government, back in 2016, over the government’s restriction on speech and permitted material. 

Facebook’s considerable 60 million euro fine in France was caused by violating the local GDPR laws – problems they did not face in the US.

It is wise to hire a local lawyer before you even start your expansion plans. A costly lawsuit may throw your business off the rails for a long, long time or even halt your expansion entirely

2. Change your language

We recently published an article that will teach you everything you need to know about multilingual SEO.

To sum it up, here’s what you should always do:

  • Adapt your URL to the most optimal domain extension (.co.uk, .us, .eu, etc…).
  • Add an hreflang tag in the HTML of your website.

Then, of course, translate the website into the local language you are expanding into. And no, don’t even think about using Google translate!

Forget about Google Translate

Machine Translation is a flawed concept. I am afraid that Google Translate is not quite up to the ability or skills of a human translator just yet.

Will it get there? No doubt. Google Translate actually improved massively, in the past ten years, but it’s still no replacement for a paid translation service.

Maybe in five or ten years. But until then, we have some quality humour on our hands, rather than a quality translation service. A classic example:

3. Localise your content

It is common knowledge that whenever people google for a local business, Google will only show the businesses that are close to the searcher’s geographical location.

The act of improving this part of Google searching is known as local SEO.

Local SEO is a pretty big topic, so here’s what you should know:

  • Change your time zones. If your business operates, for example, 9 til 5, then you should convert that in the local time zone.
  • Use hreflangs to signal where your content is, geographically. We have discussed more on hreflangs in our previous blogs.
  • List your business in a local business listing if appropriate.

Consider language variations

Expanding to Australia or to the US seems like an easy choice for a UK business. After all, we all speak the same language, right?

Yes, but you also need to consider that there are a ton of tiny differences between countries that are the make or break factor when expanding internationally. 

So, if you are a travelling consultant in the UK, you will be a “traveling” consultant in the US (with just one L), and if you sell flip-flops in England, you’ll be selling “thongs” in Australia.

This is also true for many languages that are found in different places across the world. Mexican and European Spanish differ significantly, so do Swiss German and German and many, many other languages.

4. Should you focus on other search engines?

topflight’s SEO services specialise in website optimisation for Google, since it is the most used and well-known search engine worldwide.

However, for some niche businesses that really want to target specific parts of an industry, that may not always be the safest choice.

If you wanted to expand into Russia, for example, you may want to look into SEO for Yandex. China uses Baidu. 

Let’s make it clear: Google is the undiscussed king of search engines, with 84% of the market to its name, but competing for niche industries sometimes require niche strategies.

This is probably the hardest part of any international SEO strategy.

Optimising for Baidu, for example, is essential if you were to enter the Chinese market, but it’s definitely not the easiest service to find – and it’s not a well-known and heavily tested process like Google SEO. 

For example, you’d have to get rid of all JavaScript present on your website in favour of a pure HTML website – which instantly eliminates any chance to expand into the country if you are using WordPress.

Fortunately, it is rare that businesses require international SEO optimisation for any search engine other than Google – and, to a minor extent, Bing

5. Assign a part of your team

Local SEO is often just as important as international SEO. Assigning part of your team to consistently outreach and talk to local clients in their language may be a brilliant way to quickly expand into your designated country.

It does take resources and it does take effort. But it’s worth it because every place you want to expand into will have a dedicated plan that will guarantee success.

There’s no foolproof way to go with this. But, if we wanted to expand into another country, let’s say Germany, for example, we’d do the following:

  • Hire a new team member that speaks German as well as English. 
  • Focus heavily on one major city to start with. For this example, we’ll use Berlin.
  • We’d analyse the competition in Berlin and how the local culture affects business.
  • If we needed brick and mortar locations, we want to make sure that it blends in with the rest of the place. 
    In this case, I’d run a competition to have the walls of the new Berlin location spraypainted by local artists. 
  • Conduct on-site surveys and adapt our marketing effort accordingly.
  • Create a new homepage for the website in German, geotargeted and meant to compete with local businesses.
  • Modify the website’s portfolio to include success stories with notable local businesses or clients.
  • Slowly expand outside Berlin into other major German cities, such as Munich or Cologne.

There’s no set way to expand into another country. Having a person that is well-aware of the place’s culture and habits will certainly help you – you may even avoid some embarrassing mistakes.

Don’t go in without a plan

Marketing yourself in a whole new country is, of course, a brilliant way to rapidly expand your business.

But it’s not as easy as getting brand new contracts through the door. 

Being ill-equipped or not quite ready to work in multiple languages may actually be terrible, and it may even hinder your progress!

Before starting out your international SEO endeavours, here’s what you should prepare:

  • A contingency plan, in case things go wrong
  • Thorough research of the place, and whether or not expanding is financially viable or reasonable: For example, Starbucks has always struggled to expand into Italy due to the locals’ affinity for Espresso, which does not leave much space for frappuccinos.
  • A team trained to deal with multiple languages 
  • An infrastructure ready to handle international phone calls at no cost to the caller.
  • A bigger budget ready to handle refunds, deliveries and even lawsuits – yes, they may happen!

To conclude, let me be honest: expanding internationally is no easy task. Fortunately, online businesses don’t have the same obstacles that brick and mortar businesses do.

Another advantage of online business is that expansion is directly related to the quality and quantity of your marketing – which is why you should be investing in a professional SEO services today.

Reach international SEO waters with topflight

topflight boasts over one hundred businesses just like yours who have received tangible, concrete results that helped them expand and dominate countries such as Spain, Portugal and even the US. 

What stops you from being just like them? Enquire today and receive a free consultation to help you develop your international SEO strategy today.

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