Podcast: The beginner's guide to international SEO

By Doug Bolton

Podcast: The beginner's guide to international SEO

If you're a B2B company trying to win business via your online presence, you've probably spent a good amount of time and money optimising your site for search. If you're lucky, all your SEO efforts have worked, and you've found that your audience is finding their way to your site and converting. However, the world wide web is worldwide, and your optimised site probably won't work quite as well on search in another country where you want to do business. That's where international SEO comes in.

International SEO is the practice of optimising your site for top performance on search engines in another country, or in another language. To find out more about how to succeed with it, Daniel Falk returned to guest in this week's episode. He's Zooma's very own SEO expert and has plenty of knowledge about succeeding with SEO across borders.

We touched on a few different aspects to pay attention to when you're trying to optimise your site internationally:

  • The content itself - How you approach translation and even content creation for your new market is instrumental in determining your international SEO success. You just need to read the stories about the incorrect translations that could be seen during the launch of Amazon's Swedish site to understand that just because you've translated your content, no one will find it if you haven't used the correct terms.
  • The technical side - Even with the right translations in place, factors like the way you set up the domain for the foreign site or how you mark up your content have a major effect on your ranking in Google and other search engines.
  • The tools you can use - SEO tools like Google Keyword Planner (or the other tools that use its data) are great for English content, but they often perform worse when you're doing keyword research in other languages. Fortunately, Daniel has some tips for other tools that work better.

I think this turned into a great episode - it's certainly very relevant for any B2B company with an international presence that wants to be found just as easily in all their markets. Hopefully, our discussion comes in handy next time your company branches out into a new market.

As usual, you can find all the relevant links to listen to The Onlinification Pod on your favourite podcast app below. A full transcript of our discussion is also available further down.

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DB: [00:00:00.21] Hi, Daniel.

DF: [00:00:01.56] Hi.

DB: [00:00:02.64] Welcome back to The Onlinfication Pod. How are you doing?

DF: [00:00:05.25] Thank you. I'm fine, thanks.

DB: [00:00:08.00] Well, you're back, and obviously, since you're the guest today, it's going to be more SEO talk, since you're Zooma's resident SEO guy. You've been on a couple of episodes before. There was one, we spoke about, just kind of the basics of SEO, I think. And, then we got a little bit more specialized and talked about content and, you know, whether you can have too much SEO content and stuff like that. Today I thought this would be even more specific and we'd talk about international SEO. And this was a topic I've shamelessly copied from other people, I saw HubSpot was writing an article about it and you know, I've seen the term pop up in a few places online. And it's definitely interesting for us and probably a lot of our customers as well since, since, you know, they're active in lots of different countries.

DF: [00:01:06.82] Yeah, it's a very common question actually on how to handle the international SEO, because we are also working with customers working towards different markets. And it's, it's a very interesting question on how to handle this.

DB: [00:01:24.87] So what is international SEO then, if we just start there, basically?

DF: [00:01:28.95] Yeah, basically it's about acquiring traffic from markets other than your home markets and doing that by having good positions or rankings on the local version of Google. So for example, if we want to be visible in Germany, we want to show up on google.de for example. To do that you need to optimize your website, or have it in German. And then there are some other things that you need to address that we will talk about today. So yeah, it's general about acquiring organic search traffic from different languages and different countries.

DB: [00:02:17.70] Yeah. And I was thinking, just all the, all the changes that have happened in how Google ranks search results in the last, not even a few years, but probably much longer than that because formerly it used to be just a lot of, based on keywords really on the page. Whereas now, you know, you get results that are based on your location and what language you're browsing in and your past behaviour and stuff. And I would guess that's made it harder for maybe like a company in Sweden then to reach, you know, someone who's Googling in Germany or England or wherever.

DF: [00:02:55.56] Yeah, yeah. It probably became harder, and I say probably because we are talking about Google, and you never know exactly. But I would say, yeah, it is harder because Google are always improving their search results and they're trying to kind of keep the websites from faking things. They need to look at more signals to really understand which country this website focusing towards. So yeah, definitely. And I think that previously they looked at like basic signals, like do you have a local domain or a domain connected to that country, for example? But today I think they're also looking at signals that are hard to fake, like looking at phone numbers. Do you have a local or a phone number connected to that country, and do you have an office with an address in that country? Do you have links from websites that are located in that country, etc.? So these are some signals that I think they are using. But also Google has really the last year improved their language comprehension. So they are better at understanding the small differences in the languages and they use that to understand quality. Like, how good is the quality of this local content because they are now better understanding that because of machine learning and, and everything that they use. So yeah, in that sense I think it's been harder now to put up content that it's translated just from English content without that review of local or native people. So yeah, you really need to do your job on that to be able to compete today.

DB: [00:05:00.44] And I was going to ask that with that in mind, what do you think is the best way that a company can, you know, work with international SEO? Because, like you said, I think certainly at a lot of B2B companies, the case is that there's kind of master English content that's made, you know, at the head office, and then that's sent out to be translated by marketers, maybe if there's, you know, subsidiaries in different countries, which often, you know, works alright. But certainly, from an SEO perspective, they might not have the same amount of knowledge about SEO or, even the terms that are important in their industry, in their country.

DF: [00:05:38.77] Mm-hmm, yeah. Yeah, exactly. So actually, I would start with saying, think about the user first when you're kind of making this local version of your website because there are always differences, in the language that you need to address. And I saw some research that a large proportion of people won't buy a product if it's not presented in their local language on the website. So and it's not, as you said, you should not just translate the content, you need to localize it as well because it's quite easy for someone to spot this. Like if you are using all the translated content or if you use a translation agency without the local knowledge, the language will not be exactly local. So, therefore, I think it's very important to involve native-speaking people in that process, and they need to be involved from the start and in the best of worlds, they need to be involved when kind of deciding the topics. If you're able to start at that level, they should be involved in the keyword research because looking at your international content, they can probably find keywords that are related to that specific content and used in their language. And that information should then be used by the translator or the translation agency so that they really involve these local ways of saying things.

DB: [00:07:41.87] I think that's quite important. And, I was even thinking you could go one step further, and, I mean, even if you have your English content and you have really, really good, you know, local translators who know a lot about search, but also about the industry and stuff, maybe even better than that would be to have different content for the different countries. Like it's not always the case that just an A-B direct translation of the content, even if it's really good, is enough, really. Because in that different market there might be a totally different environment, you know.

DF: [00:08:15.44] Yeah, exactly. That's, definitely something that we see with some clients, but a topic that works well in English, for example, that is not always easy to take that content and expect the same result on a local market because the topic could be less searched for, or there are really no good keywords to find for it. So yeah, if you have the possibility to have that kind of process where you create the content more based on the local market, that's the optimal way of doing it because then you will base it on the search volumes and the demand that is there. So yeah, but of course, that needs some more resources and so on, so yeah, it's harder to do.

DB: [00:09:09.11] It just reminds me a little bit of when Amazon launched in Sweden and they got loads of headlines on the first day, because they just machine translated everything and yeah, just some completely insane translations that, you know, if you were going to search for those products you would never, ever find in million years.

DF: [00:09:25.97] No, no. Exactly. Yeah, they were definitely not reviewed by a local.

DB: [00:09:31.01] There was one in particular, it was the video game called 'Need for Speed: Payback', like a driving game, and on Amazon Sweden, the name of the game was, 'Behöver Du Hastighet?: Återbetalning'.

DF: [00:09:46.58] Yeah.

DB: [00:09:48.26] Which if you don't speak Swedish, you'll have to take our word for it that it's very funny.

DF: [00:09:52.34] Um, no, exactly. And you will lose all the traffic for people searching for 'Need for Speed', so.

DB: [00:10:00.20] So we spoke a bit about content now and what you actually have on the page, but I think the technical side of things is quite interesting too. And it's not something I know a lot about really. I've looked around and it seems like domains can be quite important in SEO internationally, like, for our own site, even. Now, our non-English sites aren't super SEO-optimized, but like the German site, for example, is zooma.agency/de, before we changed the URL it was zooma.se/de, instead of zooma.de. Is that kind of thing something you need to think about?

Speaker2: [00:10:42.40] Yeah, yeah. It affects things, and as I said previously, it's one of the signals that Google is using to decide how local your website is. So there are some theories on like the different ways of structuring your website. And I would say that most people agree that having a local domain connected to that language is the best or the strongest signal because there are more efforts involved in kind of having a local domain, you need for some countries, you need to have a company presence in that country to have this domain. But it's also, yeah, you need to pay for an extra domain, etc. So yeah, and that's why Google sees that as a stronger signal. And so therefore that is probably the preferred way. If you are serious about your local SEO, then the next best thing is probably having a separate subfolder or subsection of the websites in our example. I think that's how we are structured today. Like  zooma.agency/de is the German content. And then it's important that under that part of the website it's only the German content present, so it's not mixed up.

DF: [00:12:12.97] And then another way of structuring it that's quite common is to have subdomains for that content. In our case, or an example, that would be de.zooma.agency, and that subdomain holds all the German content, and that could be a little less strong signal because when you are having a subdomain, the website is kind of disconnected a bit more from the main domain. It's more seen as its own entity. So I would say that if you can't get a country-connected domain like .de, the one with the subfolder for your content, it's a good solution. But sometimes there are like you need to go with the subdomain thing because that is easier to maintain. For example, you can have a different server connected to a subdomain in easier way than with a subfolder. So sometimes you are forced into having that solution. But yeah, if I would rank them that that's how I do. And then of course there are other technical things that can give you a boost.

DB: [00:13:29.50] I was gonna ask about that, because just based on that we've ourselves have been doing some kind of experiments about, Schema and markup and stuff. People can Google that if they have any questions, but, you know, like trying to kind of add code, you know, in the background of like our articles, for example, to make it easier for Google to understand that this is an article and it is about this, and this is the author, you know, kind of structuring the data on the page in that way. Is, is there something similar for language maybe?

DF: [00:14:04.17] Google may use that information for when they are deciding. But if you look at Google's documentation on international SEO, they say that they are actually not using any tags in the background to decide the language of a website, they are using or analyzing the content that the user sees. That's their standpoint at the moment. But there is a lot of things happening in this markup, and also as it's Google, we never know for sure. But I mean, it's quite easy to set up a Schema markup for the article. So I think you definitely should do it, but not only for the local SEO, but there are other things that are important. Like if you have the possibility, a local IP connected to that market could be a signal. And also, of course, linking to local content, showing that you are in that market and you link to sources that are in that language, that's also a signal they probably use. And a very important signal is probably inbound links to a website from other websites in that language or in that market. That's quite hard, to acquire these links you need to have like focus on local link building in that case. So therefore I think that's a quite strong signal when Google decides, yeah, your kind of trust, etc. So that's important. But also worth mentioning is that Google has introduced a couple of tags that you can use in your content.

DF: [00:15:51.00] Some themes are already supporting it. I think HubSpot, for example, and they have a tag called Hreflang, and that's used to tell Google, for example, if you have an international website with English content, you can tell Google with this tag that here is the Swedish version of this content located and here is the German content located. And Google used that information to find or kind of structure the content so that they really can use that to understand the structure we would set, and the structure in the language that they're using. And that one is also important because if you have English content and then you may have or you may focus on the Australian market, then there could be issues with duplicate content because they are so similar, like British English and Australian English for example. But then you can use this tag to tell Google that this is the Australian content or version of this content, and this is the American version, and this is the British version. And then Google understands that you are not trying to kind of create content that is duplicated because yeah, it's really focusing towards different markets. So therefore it's important to use that tag. And there is also, except that tag, you can also do a similar thing in your sitemap, with the XML sitemap that Google can read. And there you can also specify which market this content belongs to make it easy for Google.

DB: [00:17:38.43] Sure. Well, that's good, and I mean, I guess that would even be good for companies, it doesn't even have to be, you know, UK and Australia, it could be, maybe not big B2B companies, but I see a lot of companies that have, you know, ten European sites for different countries but they're all in English.

DF: [00:17:58.78] Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

DB: [00:18:00.62] It seems there you would definitely have issues with duplicate content and stuff, if you didn't classify it in the right way.

DF: [00:18:05.81] And then it's very important to use this tag to not be kind of penalized for having duplicate content. So, yeah, that's important.

DB: [00:18:15.14] I was thinking, again, this is also technical but kind of like an experience, which is, of course, related to SEO as well. But I was wondering about redirects because that's something you come across quite a lot, especially if you're googling in English, you find a result, end up on a US site, and then either you get redirected to the European site or you get some kind of pop up or you know, something happens because you're not in the right country for that site and it can be a bit jarring as a user.

DF: [00:18:53.25] Yeah, the website could, for example, use the browser language to try to understand which content you may be interested in, that kind of redirect could hurt your ranking. So I would recommend actually also from a user perspective that if you identify a Swedish user on your English or a global website, for example, don't redirect them automatically, but instead show a pop-up or a non-intrusive bar or something at the top informing them that 'It looks like you're from Sweden. Do you want to visit the Swedish part of our website instead?' Then that's better for Google, but it's also a better user experience because maybe I want to browse the website in English. So yeah, I would say that's a good way of handling it.

DB: [00:19:54.67] Okay. And finally, I was going to ask if there's any tools you could recommend maybe for, you know, a kind of marketing person at a head office who, you know, wants some kind of tools that would help them get better SEO in their different countries. Because, we've come up against that problem before when we've written Swedish content or something, a lot of the tools that you can find are really focused on the English language and it can be difficult to find the same results in Swedish.

DF: [00:20:27.50] Mm-hmm. Yeah, it definitely, it's always a challenge because a lot of SEO is done in English and a lot of the tools developed, are developed for the English market. So yeah, that's always a problem. But, important of course is taking the search volumes for the keyword that you think are interesting but also of course using some tools to get these suggestions on keywords, and depending on the search volumes, these tools could be more or less useful. I'm using, for example, a range of tools to try to cover all the needs that we have. There are tools like SEMRush, for example, that is an international tool. They have the possibility to find content or keyword suggestions in a lot of different languages. But often they don't cover smaller languages as well as English. So that is of course an issue, and you don't always get the same number of suggestions from that kind of tool. And therefore, I think it's important to use, for example, Google and like ask the source directly, they have their suggestion functionality where you start to write the keyword and then you get some suggestions on related subjects or what people are searching for related to their the initial keyword. They often produce results for local languages of course. So there are some tools that can do that automatically for you. So you can just Google for a Google suggestion scraper or a Google suggestion SEO tool or something, because then you can kind of set that tool to the local language and then you can use it effectively.

DF: [00:22:45.44] You need to have some kind of starting list of keywords which you probably can put together with help from some local people. And then you can kind of extend the list using these tools. And then some of these tools show volumes directly for the keywords that you are given. But you can also use it with keyword planner. If you have access to a Google Ads account then you can just get the search volume for the market, and also yeah, Google Search Console, we should mention that as well because I mean, if you have a website already alive and focusing on that market, you probably have a lot of valuable information in Google Search Console to extract as well if you want to build or optimize your content, because there you can find the keywords which people today are finding your websites on Google with. So yeah, that's also a very important tool. But to get some data there, you need to have a website online already and that you're at least ranking somewhere between position one and 100 to get some data from it. But that could be very useful if you don't have a good position today, maybe you're ranking from 50 to 100 or something.

DB: [00:24:18.18] You still get data from that tool and that can be very valuable when you're extending markets and building more confidence, etc. And also important to mention that if you want to follow up your efforts you need, you can check, of course, Search Console for which positions you have there. But there are also tools that you can use to check your rankings. In these tools, you can specify which market, of course, or which version of Google you want to check. And you can also actually decide if you want to check some geographical position specifically, that could be valuable if you are focusing on a market where they speak different languages in different parts of the country. So then you can decide, I want to check for in this specific town, how am I ranking there? So yeah, having that kind of tool to check your ranking, there are multiple tools. Maybe that's something that we can cover in an upcoming episode. But yeah, you need to find something that you feel works for you. But most of them are supporting like checking local rankings. I think that's important, just to follow that your efforts are really paying off, that you'll start to receive better rankings. It's important to know that. And then you can use these tools for that.

DB: [00:25:48.33] Great. Good. Well, thanks for joining us again today, Daniel. It was interesting to speak a bit more about this. It sounds like it's a bit of a minefield, but it's an interesting challenge if you're at a company that has lots of different countries to take care of.

DF: [00:26:02.40] Yeah, exactly. Definitely. And yeah, you can always pay a lot of money for paid search traffic and that's easy to target the specific country that way. But I mean, international SEO is a long-term project usually. But when you succeed, you will receive a lot of relevant and free traffic from that country. So yeah, it's important.

DB: [00:26:30.98] Nice. Well, thanks again, Daniel. And yeah, we'll have you back on fairly soon, I'm sure.

DF: [00:26:35.96] Yeah, looking forward to that.

Doug Bolton
Doug has been a Content Producer at Zooma since 2021. Originally English, he now lives in Sweden.
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