Ideally, for a truly global website, you would optimise your website to target every country individually...
Which countries should you target?
Just like with everything else in your digital marketing, it’s important to be data-led here.
Use your analytics software to identify which countries are already generating traffic for your business, and see which languages your visitors in those countries are speaking. Look at trends over time to see which appear to be growing and which are stable.
You can also compare the different conversion rates among those countries and languages, to help you prioritise the most valuable opportunities first.
If you have an eCommerce business, it’s important to check that it’s legal and viable to sell to those countries - there’s no point targeting a country only to later find out that they can’t buy anything from you!
You can even see which specific keywords are generating traffic and conversions in different countries by looking at your Google Search Console data.
Once you’ve decided on which countries you want to try and target, it’s time to decide how you’re going to target them.
How to structure your URLs to target different countries
There are a couple of different URL targeting techniques that you have at your disposal (with some definitely better than others). Let’s say your business is example.com, and you want to start targeting the UK. Your options are:
- ccTLDs (country code top-level domain) - e.g. example.co.uk
- Subdomains - e.g. uk.example.com
- Subdirectories (or subfolders) - e.g. example.com/uk/
- Parameterised gTLD - e.g. example.com?loc=uk
- Different domains - exampleuk.com
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International Search Engine
some introduction needed...
Regardless of which geotargeting approach you take, it’s important to also use hreflang tags. These are tags you add to the HTML of your pages to let search engines know which languages you’re set up to handle, and which URLs correspond to which languages. They’re an essential addition to your International SEO strategy.
This would let search engines know that the content for English-speaking users in Great Britain is available at the URL provided (and the equivalent for English-speaking users in the USA).
It’s important to remember that with hreflang tags, you can specify a page for a language or a language-location combination. You cannot use hreflang tags to specify a page for a location as a whole.
You can add the x-default hreflang tag to act as a “fallback” specification for any languages that you don’t have a set translation for.
Another technique that you can (and should) implement is to use sitemaps to identify the different pages for each locale that you are targeting. You can use your robots.txt file to point to these various sitemaps, and also submit them in Google Search Console.
You can either have one sitemap per locale (in combination with using hreflang tags in the pages’ code to point to their alternatives), or you can combine your sitemaps together and add the hreflang alternative URLs directly in there.
Translating your content for an international audience
It’s essential to get your content translated by real humans, preferably native users. While machine translation has come a long way in recent years, it’s still not there yet. Native-speaking users will always be able to tell when your content has been translated by a machine. There will be cultural nuances and idiosyncrasies that a machine won’t know.
In addition, there will be some cases where simply translating the words is not enough. For example, you’ll want the information you provide to be as useful for your readers as possible. This means using local currency, local time zones, the relevant units (imperial vs metric, for example). If you’re providing addresses or telephone numbers, you’ll want them to be targeted too, wherever applicable.
This is especially true for eCommerce businesses - if you expect your users to trust your site enough to purchase from you, it should at the very least sound like it was written by a human. However even if your business is not an eCommerce business, we would still always recommend human translation. International SEO might take some up-front investment, but it definitely pays off.
Get Started with International SEO
If you’d like help optimising your website for a global audience, Modillon is here to help. From an initial international audit, to opportunity analysis, to actually implementing everything you need to reach the countries you want to reach, get in touch today and find out which package is right for you.