Not Ranking Well Abroad? 11 Tips to Fix International SEO Rankings
Are you scratching your head, wondering why your website’s international SEO rankings seem all over the map? You’ve put in the effort to expand your online presence to new countries, but instead of the expected boost in visibility and traffic, you’re facing a confusing jigsaw puzzle of ranking variations. You’re not alone: it’s a common puzzle for many clients who come to me seeking answers.
Luckily, we’ve got a handy toolkit of 11 tactics that can shed light on these disparities and help you take charge of your international SEO game. From battling fierce competition to wrangling with tricky technicalities, our journey through these 11-point checklist will empower you to transform your website’s performance on the global stage. Let’s ge to it.
1: Evaluate the competitive landscape
Challenge: Expanding into new countries heightens competition for customers, keywords, and traffic exponentially. International SEO means confronting not just local contenders, but also massive corporations and popular regional brands with strong SEO authority.
Solution: Start by comparing the competition in your target market with your home market. Analyse techniques used by local rivals, their link profiles, and tailor the user experience to suit the local audience. Are local competitors using techniques you’re not? Do they have better link profiles? Are they offering a user experience that’s more tailored to the local market?
2: Optimise your URL structure
Challenge: The structure of your website’s URLs influences how search engines crawl and index your pages. Multilingual sites can have various structures like ccTLDs, subdirectories, subdomains, and separate domains, each with its advantages and drawbacks.
Solution: Opt for subdirectories (example.com/fr/) to inherit SEO benefits from the main domain for uniform international SEO rankings, as opposed to maintaining separate domains with ccTLDs.
While ccTLDs have long been thought to send stronger signals to Google than other structures, Google’s John Mueller has busted this myth on Twitter. He explains that whenever content in the ccTLD is duplicate to the primary domain, the former will likely lose the automatic boost in rankings from matching the searcher’s location.
3: Address hosting impact on international SEO rankings
Challenge: Server location plays a part in your international SEO performance – the latency caused by distance from server to user can affect your site’s speed. Under Google’s latest algorithm updates, great content is of little use for good international SEO rankings if users can’t access it quickly. In other words, a slow loading page will instantly kill your chances of appearing in the top positions – no matter how good your content is.
Solution: Select a hosting provider with global servers for implementing a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that caches static content across various servers, leading to faster loading times.
4: Target the right keywords
Challenge: Direct translations of keywords across languages won’t suffice, as search behaviour varies. Effective keyword research is crucial.
Solution: Invest in multilingual keyword research to discover terms used in each target market, and integrate these keywords into content for precise targeting with the help of specialist SEO translators.
For example: Imagine you’re in charge of a clothing brand specialising in women’s clothing. Now, let’s say you want to expand your brand’s reach to different parts of the world, targeting diverse cultural preferences. A woman in a country where modesty is highly emphasized might be searching for burkas or hijabs – clothing that reflects her cultural values and the societal norms she follows. On the other hand, someone in a more liberal culture could be on the lookout for something entirely different, like a “microbikini,” embracing a style that aligns with local fashion trends.
5: Implement hreflang tags
Challenge: Search engines can become confused when dealing with multiple language versions of the same page if you don’t tell it what to do with them or what language each version is in.
Solution: Add hreflang tags to indicate language and target market. This helps boost international SEO rankings by making sure you don’t have duplicate content issues, and that you’re targeting each language version correctly.
6: Craft a local link profile
Challenge: Localised keyword research, the right tags, and good speed aren’t going to fix all your issues – you also need to acquire worthy, authoritative backlinks from websites with the same language, culture, and geographical region as your target market. And this can be difficult to achieve when you’re operating from abroad.
Solution: Engage in local outreach to build relationships and earn authoritative links from local publishers, bloggers, and institutions. Avoid any shortcuts or dodgy SEO techniques such as buying links (you can earn yourself a Google penalty faster than you can say “SEO”).
7: Develop a tailored content strategy
Challenge: Translating the same content from one language to another and expecting maximum, long-term, sustainable success is wishful thinking. Content should be localised – adapted to each target market, taking into account its unique culture, language, and sensibilities.
Having said that, going all-in and creating completely new content from scratch for each language version can be expensive, time-consuming, and is not always necessary.
Solution: When you’re testing the waters in a foreign market, it’s OK to start by simply making your product available in other languages through regular translation (even post-edited machine translation might work for non-critical content). You can also choose to only translate the most critical pages. This can lead to significant traffic and revenue growth as searchers in that new language find your site.
As you gauge the level of interest, you can incrementally adapt content to make it more relevant for each market. The end goal should be a resource-saving mix-and-match: Writing a few articles or blog posts from scratch for each market and reusing some of the same material across all countries with tweaks here and there to better fit local needs.
8: Enhance user experience and design
Challenge: Even if you’ve done all the right things technically, a poor user experience (UX) can be a major roadblock for international success. What makes this tricky is that UX is heavily culturised—usability conventions, design elements, fonts, colours, and even the way users interact with your content may vary from one country to another.
For example, website design in high-context cultures like China tends to be more elaborate and cluttered than in low-context cultures like the US or Australia. Websites act as a communication medium between a brand and its users, so high-context cultures typically expect denser, more ornamented designs with information-rich layouts.
Solution: Make sure you check out competitor websites in each target market and assess the difference between their designs and yours. Use market research to better understand the needs of your target audience, adapt your site to better fit local UX conventions, and test different designs.
9: Remember local social signals nurture international SEO rankings
Challenge: Search engines look at social signals to gauge how authoritative and relevant a website is. These signals include the number of shares, social media followers, and engagement within social networks (e.g., retweets, likes, comments).
Solution: You must be active on local social networks to improve international search engine rankings in each target market – invest time in local community engagement, create local accounts, and post content in the language of the target market.
10: Optimise your meta tags
Challenge: Even if everything else is on point and your international SEO rankings are doing well in each target market, sometimes the click-through rate (i.e., the percentage of people who click on your page when it appears in search engine results pages) can be lower in some countries.
Solution: Tweak the meta tags (meta title and meta description) of each page in each target market to make them more attractive and appealing to local users. This may involve a great deal of transcreation – adapting the message to focus on resonance rather than equivalence.
11: Drive local activation campaigns
Challenge: Related to improving local social signals is the need to increase brand awareness and drive more traffic to your international website through local activation marketing events.
Solution: A “boots on the ground” approach to marketing is often the best way to make an impact in a new market. Consider pledging support to local community initiatives, investing in magazine advertising or billboards, sponsoring events, and even conducting workshops or seminars. Website traffic will naturally increase locally as people become more aware of your brand.
Conquer international SEO rankings today
The challenge of going global is a big one. But with the right research, technical setup, marketing activation, and – most importantly – the right partner, you can have your brand rocking its way to international success in no time.
We can help. We’re a boutique team of marketing and SEO translation specialists helping brands of all sizes conquer Google-land across borders, with the flexibility and customised approach of a small team and the resources of a big agency. Get in touch today!
Author: Maria Scheibengraf
Maria Scheibengraf is an English-to-Spanish marketing and SEO translator specialised in software (SaaS, martech, fintech), and Operations Manager at Crisol Translation Services, which she co-founded in 2016. With a solid background in programming and marketing, Maria has an in-depth understanding of the technical intricacies involved in software programs, websites, and digital platforms. Maria is also the author of The SEO Translation Bible.