The continued digital momentum towards local and hyperlocal search engine optimization (SEO), driven in no small part with the adoption of voice search and home assistants (including personal search speakers), has led to a shift in focus towards the local digital landscape, and in many cases with the complete exclusion of the more traditional international SEO opportunity.
In this post, I explore some of the most effective SEO strategies and practical tactics that you can deploy as we progress into 2018 so that your business can operate on the global scale online regardless of physical locations and other perceived restrictions that may be in place.
Duplicating Content is not a Shortcut to International Search Success
One of the most common initial pitfalls that companies fall into when it comes to online expansion into international waters, is assuming that you can simply create a duplicate content Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD), sub-domain, or new country targeted folder on the current website domain, and geo-target that same content towards the countries and regions you intend to rank in.
Whilst, this is a step you will likely need to take (creating new website entities for the new market focus), this is by no means any form of comprehensive digital strategy for effective global reach, plus you will need to invest much more energy into content re-pitching and tailored audience targeting.
Duplicating the existing content is a shortcut towards getting a new territory based set of pages live, but this is not a shortcut to global SEO success.
Your International SEO approach needs to factor in the regional and country-based search behaviour and query (often longtail) nuances which will enable more effective niche expansion within new business regions.
Effective International Audience Targeting Tips
As you would with any single country SEO strategy, you need to factor in specific actions (notably in the planning and data analysis stages) that enable you to understand the opportunity, gage the market/location specific threats and opportunities, and create bespoke action plans that incorporate key refinement and review elements, to reflect on what has or has not worked as expected.
Some of my key international audience targeting tips include:
- Identifying the opportunity – what countries/cities/regions are showing the most natural value without any additional focus? Where else (apart from your actual business location(s)) is your current organic search traffic coming from? Are there positive anomalies with above-expected performance in areas like impressions, traffic, time on page/site, click through rates (CTRs), inquiries/sales, or bounce rates?
- Business relevancy to market – when you invest resource into new markets, a fundamental step should include an objective assessment of whether there is a relevancy for your business to operate in the area. Whilst websites can function globally, realistically, you need to prioritize your international target countries, and create effective routes to market, that can provide tried and tested frameworks for next phases of digital expansion. Relevancy should be a leading business indicator towards priority targets identified and acted upon.
- Seeing the scales of economy – Without any doubt, international SEO requires lots of investment of time and often money. Prior to investing you need to be confident that the regional market exists to a scale required to return that investment of time and money. While there may be an untapped country opportunity, in many cases, being the perceived first to market may be a trailing indicator that there is no (or a very small) market actually looking for your products/services in that region.
- Fulfilling audience needs – What keywords/topics/clustering can you see within the markets you intend to target? What content types are they digesting? Who are the main influencers in the location tied to your core topics (both service competing and information competing influencers)? From this type of self-analysis, you can decide the feasibility and timescales of the business competing within established market sectors, and look at gap analysis to support shorter-term gains.
- Awareness of international trends – If you are aware of international business trends, you can proactively take advantage of them for business positioning and service delivery. For example in the UK musical instrument exports are expected to increase by 25% in 2018, this type of insight can help with audience prioritization and targeting.
- Reinforcing your differentiator – This becomes even more important when you are looking to break into a new audience. From building new brand awareness, through to enticing users to click on your organic adverts, the greater the anticipated value and uniqueness of your offering, the more likely you will be able to take advantage of quicker international SEO wins. This differentiation needs to be led by audience value and reinforced at every opportunity (including website copy, social media updates, organic adverts, and more).
Building Country Specific Trust Signals
Every ‘new location happy customer’ needs to be seen as a country-specific trust signal that can be leveraged to encourage herd mentality and support genuine business authority and trust tied to the location.
A series of experiments concluded that when people didn’t have a strong opinion about the choices presented to them, they simply mimicked the people around them. Rather than asking questions, or spending time learning about products, people deferred to the “social default.”
I would recommend starting your trust signal improvements by targeting Google My Business (GMB) reviews initially with actions like:
- Putting in place a framework and incentive scheme so that frontline staff are actively seeking 5 star Google My Business (GMB) reviews
- Tying in GMB reviews within your drip feed marketing campaigns as well as at the end of the purchase funnel
- Ensuring your GMB account is fully complete and that you are answering GMB location questions, and posting content to the GMB ‘post’ feature
- Encouraging people to leave reviews on social media and forum engagement
- Adding ‘leave a review’ direct links to relevant staff email signatures
- Tying in review leaving with offline activities including events and competitions
Removing Technical Barriers towards Global Reach
Technical SEO falls in and out of favor in the search industry, but I know from researching over 1 billion search results that any website that has poor technical website health underperforms, attracts fewer natural links, and derives less traffic compared to a website that is technically sound.
When you are creating new target locations the need to benchmark, understand, and improve your websites technical performance increases. Specific to International SEO you will want to ensure that your website is technically able including:
- Geotargeted to the correct locations in Google Search Console (GSC)
- Incorporating hreflang attributes are set to the intended language or regional URL
- Free from crawling and indexation errors (like broken pages/content)
- Able to deliver an all device experience (mobile friendly)
- Submitted to country specific search engines
- Use of meta language tag where applicable (Bing)
- Updated website template pages and internal links so that they point to the correct website variation
- Filtered data sets for individual country analysis and metric measurement
- Inclusion in expected business entity and niche country specific directories
- Limited content duplication and use of canonical tags where applicable to handle authority page identification
- Individual website/entity robots.txt file, XML sitemap and supporting search engine content discovery
Value-Based Content Strategy
One of the first unique, country/region content areas you should consider for building new visibility and audience value is question and answer/user needs based content. By analyzing the core intent areas of the audience (consider locational, informational, and transactional intent at this stage), and building new layers of value into existing service pages and longer form content types, you can start to create a value-based international content offering.
This type of content can form part of your monthly marketing mix of content types driven by the latest search behavior and user queries – the following example shows a sample of transactional intent questions within the furniture industry – this type of intent targeting can then be updated to tie this into location/region/more:
Local SEO and hyperlocal SEO has been at the forefront of many 2017 search and digital approaches, however, there is a very real international SEO opportunity that you can prioritize and progress through 2018 and beyond.
While global marketing may seem daunting, there are many practical ways to assess the opportunity and build trust and authority in these new markets to derive new business and competitive advantage.
[Feature image from Pexels]