What is International SEO?

Posted By on March 27th, 2019 in Search Engine Optimisation

In an age of globalisation and ever-shrinking distance, marketers are constantly looking at ways to expand their reach among the masses, locally and globally. If you own a multinational business and are already aware of the value that the digital world adds to your business, you might want to cater to audiences in all your markets, across borders and of various linguistic backgrounds showing them content on your website that suits them best.

If you have ever wondered if that is possible and how to go about it, then we have the fundamentals of international SEO here, for your understanding.

International SEO is a process of optimizing your website in a manner so that search engines can understand which countries and languages you want to your website to appear in.

To understand whether you need to go that extra step, you would want to decide if you need a multilingual and multinational website. If your website receives a substantial amount of traffic from multiple regions which are also the regions in which you want your website to rank, then we suggest that you develop a multilingual and multinational website. You may want to look at the overall and organic geo-location and geo-language segregation of your traffic on Google Analytics.

Caution: International SEO requires time, investment and maintenance of multiple websites, therefore, you would want to think it through before you begin.

Multilingual Website:
Any website that offers content in more than one language within a region or across the globe is a multilingual website. Example: A website in the UAE that is present in English as well as Arabic.

Multinational Website:
Any website that targets users in different countries, using the same language or multiple languages is a multinational website. Example: A website in Arabic which explicitly targets users from UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Though the concept looks a bit complicated, doing it right can increase your reach multifold and help you expand your business.

Multilingual Websites:

In the Middle East, most websites are available in at least two languages, English and Arabic. If your services are in a region that speaks multiple languages or are the same across the globe then you may focus only on multiple languages. For example, a website with the UAE as an audience may only want their website in two languages, English and Arabic while any social media website majorly focuses only on languages as its services are common across multiple languages.

Multinational Websites:

If you are a business that is multinational and would want users from all regions to have an experience customised to their requirements, then you may want to develop your website accordingly, even if they speak a common language. For example, if your business is based in the USA, the UK and India then you would want to show your users content in English. However, though they speak the same language, they use it differently and you may want all three countries to have the best experience. Also, if your website specifies cost or prices, then you may want to show them in the currency they understand best. For example, e-commerce websites that cater to multiple markets.

You may use either multilingual or multinational or a combination of both based on your audience. However, if you wish to target regions such as the European Union and the Middle East and North Africa, then be warned, you can only explicitly target countries and regions.

If you do plan on internationalising your website, then your strategy’s top-level stages may be:

  1. Country targeting: Specify the country you want to target with an international friendly URL
  2. Language targeting: Identify the languages your site would be in and use hreflang tags (language tags) appropriately
  3. Content: Create content in all languages, specific to audiences from various countries. Avoid using translation tools and ensure the content is user and SEO friendly, the content is what will help you rank.

URL structures for international sites:

As a webmaster, you may employ one of the following ways to target a country:

  1. ccTLD (Country Code Top Leve Domain): Predefined by Google, ccTLDs are two-letter codes that indicate to users and search engines a website’s registered country. Using ccTLDs is the best way to target a specific country as it helps your website rank better locally. Search engines look at all ccTLDs as independent websites and there is a negligible exchange of link equity. Examples: example.ae (or example.ae/ar/ for Arabic), example.in (or example.in/hi/ for Hindi), example.co.uk, etc.
  2. Subdomain: Internationalised content placed on separate subdomains. Subdomains are considered as independent websites as well and aren’t very user-friendly either. Examples: ae.example.com (or ae.example.com/ar/ for Arabic), in.example.com (or in.example.com/hi/ for Hindi) and uk.example.com
  3. Subdirectories with generic TLDs: On the root domain, internationalised content is placed in different subdirectories, or subfolders. Since the root domain is the same for all regions and languages, this method is optimum if you wish to benefit from the link equity of the root domain. Also, it is user-friendly and SEO friendly. If you are a global brand then this method is highly recommended as you can define regions and languages as per your strategy. Examples: example.com/en-ae/, example.com/ar-ae/, example.com/en-in/, example.com/hi-in/, example.com/en-gb/

Once you identified which URL structure suits your SEO strategy best and have the hreflang tags in place you would want users to use your multilingual and multinational website. However, it is highly advised that you do not opt for location-based targeting because it is not a good user experience.

User Experience:

The best way to let users optimally use your website is by showing them the language version of the website based on their browser settings. This means that a British visiting your site in the UAE won’t get hit with an Arabic version of your site if he or she is using a browser in English. You should always ask your users about their language preferences instead of assuming it. It is recommended that you include language options that are readable in other languages. If your website includes content unique to each of your target countries (images, news, culture, prices, etc.), then you may want to have options allowing users to navigate to regional websites and choose languages. If you have an extensive list of countries & languages, then it is best recommended to list down all the countries and languages on one page for users to choose from.

To put it all together, once you have realised that owning a multilingual and a multinational website should be a part of your digital marketing strategy, you would want to approach internationalisation of your website by selecting the audience countries and languages. Choose the URL structure that suits your strategy best and begin with developing content in the chosen languages and for the dedicated countries. Ensure proper use of hreflang tags across the website(s) so that search engines understand your target countries, languages or the combination of both. This, while also making sure that your users can easily see the various options and can navigate from one language/regional version of the website to another.

Once your new website is up and running, hire a professional SEO agency in Dubai to maintain and grow your website. Then you can sit back and watch your business make an impact online!

Senior SEO Executive , Bruce Clay MENA
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