Your website needs a major overhaul to support the international growth of your business. The original site was created several years ago, and since then your product sales have expanded globally. Analytics show that visitors come to your website from around the world. You recognize that you need to expand your online presence beyond English-speaking markets and address the needs of potential customers from other regions, but where do you start?
It may be convenient to assume that international users of your website will search for the same things as English-speaking users, but in their own language. For example, you may map out a structure for your French website that’s a mirror of your existing English site, with the same menu and page titles. In reality, however, this symmetry is rarely ideal, and to create a site that’s genuinely useful for French users, you need to invest time in finding out what they search for and how they do it.
So how do you go global with your website and achieve your company’s search traffic goals across multiple markets? Our guide highlights five key points to remember when designing a website for an international audience.
Start by researching your market
Before you start making decisions about website taxonomy, page structure and keywords, you need to understand the users in your website’s target market.
- What’s the competitive landscape? Who are the existing market leaders in that country, and how are they addressing their users’ needs? Remember that your global competitors won’t always be your local competitors, so it’s really important to gain knowledge of individual markets.
- Is it a highly competitive environment? How many companies are already in the local market? Have the market leaders all invested in locally focused websites?
- Is demand already there for your services in your target country? Entering a crowded market will pose distinct challenges, but on the other hand, if none of your international competitors have invested in a localized web presence in a country, it might indicate a lack of demand.
- How do users in the country access the web? What is the extent of smartphone penetration in the country? If most users are likely to access your website through mobile devices, you’ll need to know this so that you can design a site that best meets their needs.
Decide on your domain and URL structure
Many companies use a subfolder structure to create separate multilingual content. For example, if randomcompany.com wants to expand into the Russian market, they would choose the subfolder name randomcompany.com/ru as their Russian landing page as opposed to registering a new domain, randomcompany.ru.
In the past, using country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) was the favored way to do things These are the domain names that have suffixes such as .fr (France), .br (Brazil) or .jp (Japan). However, creating and maintaining separate ccTLDs can cost a lot of time and money. You will have several entirely separate domains to maintain, and you’ll have to allocate resources to make sure that the content on all your country-level sites remains consistent when updates are made. Not only that, but in some countries, you’re required to have a physical presence in order to register a ccTLD; this might include an address (Germany) or a tax reference number (Italy).
As a result, ccTLDs are no longer widely considered the best solution for providing a global web presence.
Don’t just translate your existing keywords
While you’re likely to be fully aware of your most valuable keywords for your home market, it would be a mistake to think that merely translating them would provide you with the best corresponding keywords for other markets.
Let’s consider an American online travel company that’s expanding into the German market. As a US-based operator, you may feature a selection of European hotels on your website, and it’s likely that your American users will view these properties while planning their annual vacation. Users from Germany might be interested in the same properties, but they might be searching for a two-night weekend getaway, or a place to stay overnight while on a short business trip. The product may be the same but how users will search for it can be very different.
Consider the keywords in the example above. Could the keywords that work for American users simply be translated into German to give you the results you want? Even if you accurately translate them, there’s no guarantee that these keywords represent the users’ searches in the target language. Besides, keywords used by English speakers might consist of colloquialisms or local phrases that don’t readily translate.
Hinde Lamrani, International Search Subject Matter Expert at RWS Moravia, explains further: “To identify the most relevant keywords in another language, you need to understand the demand patterns of users in that market. Think about conducting research with native speakers and identifying how they would search for your products. What phrases do they use? Is voice search popular? Consider how users talk about your products in those markets, and also the language used by competitors who are targeting the same users. You may find that the equivalent English term is used more commonly than the local one, or products are referred to using hybrid words or slang.”
Look into long-tail keywords
While it’s important to know what the most popular keywords are for any market, your SEO strategy should also include the long-tail keywords. This is the larger group of keywords that might account for a low number of searches but are collectively significant. Not only will these long-tail keywords attract a lot of traffic, they also help give your page more authority with search engines. Plus, the most popular keywords will be highly competitive, and if you’re entering a new market, you might struggle to compete against the established players, even if you allocate a decent budget to them. Relevant long-tail keywords can prove very useful and cost-effective to bring in traffic.
Search engines matter, but don’t neglect your users
Finally, it’s essential to bear in mind that for a website to be successful from an SEO perspective, it must be useful to its users. You should never focus on keywords at the expense of functionality and relevance, since this will ultimately impact both the way users experience your site and how search engines crawl and index the pages.
Think about your internal linking structure and how users will navigate to find the information they’re looking for. Bear in mind, too, that the more clicks needed to reach a page, the less important search engines will consider it to be.
Hinde has a final word of caution to those who think global SEO is a quick and easy fix: “In addition to having a sound website from a Technical SEO standpoint, you must focus on your users’ needs with suitable local content that matches their search expectations, providing the best user experience on the site on all devices.”