International SEO: Best Practices & 3 Common Mistakes

Many business owners focus their efforts exclusively on the English-speaking market. Once they start expanding, they think about localizing their website for local audiences. Sadly, international SEO often results in failed projects with potential left on the table.

Assuming the business has already done market research and found out that internalization makes sense, how can they target potential customers in their local language?

Tweaking a website for the English language is not the same as optimizing it for French, German, or Spanish. The following blog post will show you what needs to be taken into account when it comes to international SEO, including best practices and helpful tips.

What is International SEO?

International SEO is a broad term that is used to describe the activity of optimizing a website for an international audience. Before expanding your operations, you should be aware of the expectations of potential clients, how much time and effort you need to put into the internationalization, and if it’s ultimately worth it.

Most companies decide to localize their services because it will help them grow, become more competitive, and enter new markets. That being said, international SEO doesn’t consist of simply translating the existing offering from English to a new language. Instead, each market needs to be analyzed and an SEO strategy prepared for it.

Deciding if Localization is Worth It

Localizing your website isn’t always the best way to target a new market. If you have any back-end pages like checkout or a client portal, make sure those are localized as well. Keep in mind that someone who visits a German website expects all services/products to be offered in that language as well.

You’ll need to keep the front and back-end translations up to date, post on social media in German as well, and write blog posts in German.

Ask yourself: do potential clients benefit from a localized version, and can you invest the money to continue offering it?

Another thing you might have to do is find opportunities to engage with the community. Speaking of the German market again, a lot of B2B activities are done via Xing, a popular alternative to LinkedIn in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

This creates more work for your team that you need to take into account.

3 International SEO Mistakes Commonly Made

If you’ve decided that localizing your website is worth it, nothing should stop you. Let’s look at a few mistakes a lot of business owners make when they jump into international SEO activity.

1. Not Differentiating Between Countries That Speak the Same Language

What do Mexico, Spain, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador have in common? Their language, of course. With that in mind, many business owners treat the countries mentioned above exactly the same, although the behaviour and expectations of their residents couldn’t be more different.

If you decide to create a Spanish blog, keep in mind that your clients from Spain might enjoy well-known local jokes, but those from Colombia might not be familiar with them. You have to adapt the language to each local market.

2. Using Machine Translation for Blogs and Sites

While machine translation has made tremendous advances in the past few years, neither translation plug-ins nor content copy-pasted into Google translate will set the world on fire.

Translators do not translate your content word-by-word. They take the time to adapt it to the understanding of the new market. A bad translation will not only work against you in the SERPs, but it will also tarnish your reputation among existing and new clients.

3. Not Researching Keywords for New Countries

While Google has developed an algorithm that applies to its entire search engine, SERPs vary on a local level. Searching for a keyword in Germany will give you different results from those in the U.K. Keep the following in mind:

  • check the keyword difficulty and search volume for your main keywords for each country
  • keep in mind that the keyword can have a different meaning in other languages
  • research new keywords that are specific to that language

If you’re unfamiliar with the new language you’re trying to target, you’ll have a tough time developing your keyword strategy. Think about hiring marketing experts such as ourselves who know the German market well enough.

Why You Shouldn’t Launch a Half-baked Site

With the three common mistakes out of the way, there’s another one that many business owners make: they set a deadline for the localized site launch and don’t want to postpone it. This often leads to sites that are far from done going online.

Rushed launches are not always caused by tight deadlines. More often than not, business owners do not take into account that they have to be localized properly, not just translated.

Let’s assume you collaborate with a popular American influencer who promotes your service in a  testimonial on your site. Is that person known outside the U.S.? If not, there’s no point using them for your Spanish site. Try to find someone known to people in Spain, Colombia, etc.

Another techy thing to keep in mind is the mobile-first index. When Google launched its Core Web Vitals update, the company doubled down on its efforts to get business owners to make their websites more mobile-friendly.

That being said, users in some countries spend a lot more time on mobile devices than on desktops. This is especially true in developing parts of the world where desktops have never seen mass adoption.

The users in these countries are used to a mobile-first experience. Your website has to be fast, easily navigable, and frictionless to get their attention.

Best Practices to Peep in Mind

Having talked about international SEO mistakes and launching sites that haven’t been well-thought through, let’s take a look at a few best practices:

  • Use dedicated URLs: The hreflang attribute should be used in combination with a dedicated URL to service localized content.
  • Don’t redirect: It might seem helpful, but redirecting users based on browser settings or IP addresses is annoying for users.
  • Local link building: Keep in mind that your link building strategy needs to be optimized since you need to link to the content in the local language.

The third point is very interesting but also the most difficult to tackle. If you’ve built a good backlink profile in English, you can’t transfer it over to your German site. Germans will want to click on links that lead to content written in German.

Key Takeaway

Launching a global website is not an easy task. The tips detailed in this blog post will hopefully prevent you from making mistakes many business owners made.

Keep in mind that each country has a very different idea of what makes a website great and requires a unique strategy to be successful.

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