As the internet continues to grow, the world shrinks. We have access to people,
cultures, products, and information from every corner of the globe quite literally at
our fingertips. Where you used to have to travel to Vietnam (or at least to the
library or a bookstore) to learn how to make Pho, you can now find a recipe in less
than 30 seconds without even having to leave your bed or couch.
But obviously we’re not here to talk about Pho or how to make it.
While it’s easy to see how the everyday person benefits from this limitless access,
you might not think of the opportunity this affords businesses of all sizes. Familyowned
businesses without massive marketing budgets are able to reach an
international audience in a way that simply wasn’t possible pre-internet.
With the help of SEO, these businesses are able to increase their visibility and rank
at the top of search results. There are hundreds of how-to’s and entire companies
devoted to SEO, but what about International and multilingual SEO? Having to
navigate different countries and languages (and most often both at the same time!)
can be overwhelming.
Let’s start with international SEO. Simply put, if your business operates
internationally, you need to be optimize and organize your content differently
around the world. You essentially have to ‘teach’ the search engine to identify the
countries you’re targeting and in what language each user in that country would
prefer to read your content. It’s similar to how a small business would want to
target the specific city or town in which they operate. If you offer MOT services in
Oxford, for example, you want to be one of the top results for locals when they’re
searching for testing information. On the other hand, you wouldn’t want to return
results in Sweden where your service is unavailable.
So, how do you target a specific location? Through geotargeting. There are
multiple routes you can take, and you should carefully weigh your options, taking
into consideration the size of your business, your budget, and your
products/services. With each option, the process is similar; you’re telling Google
(or whatever search engine you fancy) where you want your content to go.
The easiest (and most obvious way) to do this is by using a country specific
domain (.com in the US,. co.uk in the UK .de in Germany, etc.). But, you can also
achieve your goal by using local language(s), by hosting your website locally when
possible, by registering your business address and including it on the website, by
getting links from other country-specific websites, and by specifying your location
through Google Search Console. Think of each of these as subtle hints. You’ll
want to use as many as possible to get the point across to the search engine. Once
the search engine understands…voilà! Your rankings will climb in that specific
But what about if you don’t know where you should be targeting your content?
You could have a growing hat shop here in the UK and be curious about whether
or not folks in Japan would have an interest in buying one. To get an idea of what
people around the world are searching for, use a keyword explorer. You’ll be able
to see what keywords were most searched and the volume distribution across
countries. From there, you’ll have a better idea of where you should be telling your
search engine to distribute your content.
Unfortunately, simple international SEO would be easier to achieve if it weren’t
for differences in language. Dealing with multilingual sites can be quite complex.
First you have to consider if the country you’re targeting has multiple national
languages. Consider, for example, Canada. English and French are spoken and it’s
important that the right content is boosted in the right region. Again, it comes
down to ensuring that the search engine understands who you’re targeting.
If you have to write content in multiple languages, it’s best that you use an open
source content manager system (CMS) that allows you to configure a site with
separate domains, sub-domains, or sub-folders, all of which use the same database.
Scratching your head? Basically, the system stores multiple versions of the same
website. Each different version would feature a different language and, because
they’re all attached to the same database, if you change the font or add a post to
one, it will automatically appear across all the websites. If you find yourself having
to translate an existing website, contact a web developer who can make it
While optimizing content internationally is time-consuming, it’s extremely
important if you’re looking to grow a successful business. There’s no special secret
or shortcuts. To reach a larger, international audience, you have to teach search
engines to recognize your target locations. If you follow the tips in this post, you’ll
be well on your way to marketing your business around the world.