SEO best practices should be the same for any website. However, when it comes to international SEO, we often find that best practices that work well with one site aren’t enough for another.
Why do even experienced SEO pros struggle to optimize and manage global websites? What makes it so challenging?
There are numerous reasons for this, and each site experiences different issues. In this article, you’ll explore four of the most common issues that keep international website owners (and the marketers who help them) awake at night.
For ease of explanation, I’ll refer to a site that was initially created for a country where the company HQ is located the “original” site and other global sites “local” sites.
1. Local Sites are Not Localized and Optimized
This may sound silly, as all sites are supposed to be localized and optimized.
Unfortunately, local sites go live half-baked more often than they should. For example, perhaps there wasn’t enough time to fully translate the local sites prior to the site launch.
Once it’s launched, new content is added to the local as a copied version of the same content on the original site.
The sites and pages are eventually translated into the local language, but no further localization or optimization work is done… because the original site was optimized.
Why This is a Problem
When copied pages go live without being translated on the local sites, they become duplicate content on the site. This is a problem even if the local sites are on different domains.
- The translated or localized pages may not be optimized for the right keywords.
- The local sites may not be optimized as well as the original content was due to different grammar structures, or the edits made by the translators to make sentences or paragraphs easier to read for the local audience.
- Sometimes, they need to change the header text to make translated version fit in the space removing keywords.
If possible, launch the website or pages after the translation or localization work is done.
Also, add quick local keyword research and optimization efforts into the site and a content launch process for the local sites.
The optimization process should not be complicated, especially if the local sites use the same website and template designs.
The local teams’ budget is usually much smaller. As a company, the HQ team may need to help them with the translation costs to the best output.
2. Local Sites are Not Created for Local Audiences
No matter what industry your business is in, your target audience may have different interests and needs from country to country and from market to market.
What is performing well for the original site designed for one country doesn’t necessarily work for others.
Why This is a Problem
Assuming the audience and market have the same interests and needs across all countries around the world is one of the biggest mistakes companies make, online and off.
When you do not understand the local audience, including how they search and what they search for, your SEO efforts may focus on the wrong content, topics, etc.
In that case, even if you rank number one for all tracked keywords, your business won’t grow in local markets.
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Research, study, and learn each target country’s audience.
It may not be realistic to research all local markets at once due to resource constraints. In that case, prioritize countries by the business size.
Many companies already have countries broken down by priority tiers. Using the words the local audience use on your content alone would make a big impact on visibility and conversions.
Moving those items popular among the local audience to the top of the list would be another way to improve conversions.
3. SEO Projects Don’t Take Multiple Sites Into Account
Global websites have similar, if not the same, structures and content from the original site on the local sites.
When this is the case, following SEO best practices designed for one site isn’t enough. You now need to consider how multiple sites can exist without interfering with each other.
Why This is a Problem:
Having global websites means you immediately create duplicate content across multiple sites.
Even if all your global sites are targeting different languages, as I mentioned in reason one, local sites are often launched without being fully translated and localized.
I’ve seen Chinese websites with half of the content still in English. Sometimes, pages are left partially translated for a long time.
When your local sites are half-baked, there’s a good chance that the original site pages outrank in the local market, especially for branded phrases, cannibalizing performance from the local sites.
Another common issue with global sites is that it takes forever to load local sites’ webpages, resulting in the search engines substituting them for the faster original site.
Not many companies test the load speed and other website performance metrics on all global sites. They just test the original site and assume all local sites are also doing well.
Don’t make that mistake.
You can check the location of organic search traffic to each site in most analytics tools.
For example, if you find many visits from Australia or Japan to your US website instead of the appropriate local sites, you may have both a speed as well as a geo-targeting issue.
The product names and part numbers are the best keywords to test if a correct page is ranking or not in a specific country since those are usually not translated.
There are a number of ways to help the geo-targeting but implementing Hreflang elements would be the most effective way to help get the local site to rank.
If you test page load speed in all target countries, you may find that it takes 15 seconds or longer to load a page in some countries while it takes only 2 seconds to load in the US. In the worst cases, the pages don’t even load and time out.
One way to solve this issue is to use local hosting to decrease the load time for local users. There are many companies offering local CDN hosting services that will automatically route local visitors to the best server.
4. Local Sites are Kept Free-Range
By using the same website structures, webpage template designs, content, etc. on all global sites, you can maintain consistent SEO efforts and quality relatively easily.
When all sites use the same webpage template design, you only need to optimize it for the original site and push it out to all local sites.
If they all use the same template and pull in the same fields with localized elements, you do not need to optimize it multiple times for each global site.
However, the local teams can get very creative, and create local versions of the templates, content, and micro-sites to accommodate their local needs.
As time goes by, the HQ team loses optimization control over local sites, little by little.
Why This is a Problem
Each of the example scenarios mentioned above could lead to a considerably large and complicated problem of duplication, update challenges, and wasted resources.
These locally created webpages, content, and microsites are probably not optimized well according to the company’s SEO best practices.
They may be using outdated designs, messages, etc., as new templates are not pushed out to the local sites.
This is especially challenging if they create a microsite with similar content, as they now have duplicate or closely duplicate content.
The local teams may fall for some outdated tactics or gimmicks that go against the company’s best practice, which could damage the local sites’ performance.
When local teams feel the need to create their own pages and websites, it is usually because they feel that the global websites are not designed to grow their local businesses.
When website management and SEO actions are implemented by the HQ team, it is important to communicate with the local teams to understand their needs.
Take steps to understand the reasons why they feel that the current site is not adequate for them and make accommodations, where possible.
Create global SEO best practice guides and standards for all local teams to follow. Educate them about basic SEO standards, and why they are needed.
t is also important to let the local teams know that their deviations from these standards can create critical issues not only for the local site but for all sites.
In some cases, the local teams may still want to create microsites.
In that case, provide a list of “dos” and “don’ts” for microsites.
Giving a special template or content area on the site where the local team can create local-only content is one way to solve the problem and meet them halfway.
Perhaps one of the important solutions is to include the local teams in the planning discussions, so that they have a chance to express their concerns, understand the goals, and be better prepared for upcoming changes on the website.
There are a number of reasons international SEO can fail, but also a number of solutions to prevent and improve global and local site performance.
When you launch global websites, anticipate facing some of these issues unique to international SEO, and develop a plan to minimize as many points of failure as possible.