Getting started with international SEO is a big undertaking. It requires you to analyze your website's current performance, estimate your business’ international potential, understand your target audiences in different countries, consider technical and legal aspects, and much more.
The development of an internationally targeted site could benefit your business or, done wrong, end up wasting time and resources.
Before implementing an international SEO strategy, you will have to do initial research to estimate your SEO and audit your international SEO potential. Below, we will explain what you must take into consideration before beginning international SEO, and how you can use SEMrush to:
- Evaluate your website’s current SEO and its potential for other markets;
- Estimate your competitors’ international web presence; and
- Track your rankings for each country.
1) Audit Your International SEO Potential
To understand whether or not you should consider investing in international SEO, many SEO consultants advise that you first look at your site traffic coming from different countries.
You can verify your current audiences' countries and languages via your Google Analytics account by going to Audience → Geo → Language or Location.
You can also go to SEMrush, and generate an Overview report for your domain.
As an example, we took a look at www.baby-walz.fr — a French online store that sells and delivers baby products within France, as well as Corsica and Monaco. This website provides information only in French.
To estimate the website’s international SEO potential, we checked the Overview report for the Google.fr database (1), and found the number of keywords in the top 20 organic search results, as well as estimations of its monthly traffic (2).
Moreover, the Organic Keywords widget (3) shows you the percentage distribution of keywords that the website has in different Google databases.
As we can see, the website has 4,800 organic keywords and 44,900 expected visitors per month.
The Organic Keywords widget shows that the online store has the most keywords in the Google.fr and Google.nl databases.
By switching from one regional database to another, we were able to get the same data for different countries (4).
And we got the following results:
|Database||Number of keywords||Expected organic traffic|
As we can see, besides the Google.fr and Google.nl regional databases, the analyzed website has a fair amount of keywords in search results in Canada and Belgium. The fact that these two countries are partially French-speaking explains why the evaluated website is ranking well for these territories.
A non-French-speaking country for which the website has the most keywords, is the Netherlands. To find out exactly which keywords of the online store has in Google.nl, we used the Organic Positions report. It showed that all found search queries (5) were performed in French. Therefore, we must admit that users weren’t Dutch-speaking.
As for other countries, such as Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Germany, the number of organic keywords is insignificant.
Initial conclusion: Analyzing the website’s number of keywords and expected organic traffic in different regions, we found out that the given online store has a fair amount of international potential in such French-speaking countries as Belgium and Canada.
If the online store’s owner were ready to deliver products to these countries, its international SEO strategy might include the development of the website in the Belgian and Canadian dialects of French language. Optimizing content with keywords that are used by target audiences in Belgium and Canada may be an indispensable activity for driving more traffic from these countries.
Moreover, according the Paid Search Positions report, the online store has been promoted via text ads in Google.fr since 2010 (6), and it gets a lot of paid traffic coming from text ads (7). That’s why AdWords campaigns launched in other countries may be a powerful tool for attracting more attention to the website. In this case, researching keywords for text ads would be necessary.
Launching Google Shopping campaigns might be an advantage to competitors in new markets.
By the way, what about competitors?
2) Check Your Competitors’ Online Presences in Different Countries
If an audit of your international potential shows that your website has only minimum organic search visibility and traffic in other countries is insignificant, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t take new markets into consideration.
Researching your competitors’ international search engine visibility can help you identify the top countries and language markets in which they are currently the most visible so that you can potentially target them as well.
To analyze it, you need to first define your strongest competitors within your country. The SEMrush Organic Competitors report will provide you with a full list of national competitors in organic search (8).
We analyzed the first twenty competitors for baby-lux.com in Google.fr in order to answer the following questions:
- Do they get high organic visibility in other countries?
- Have the created different versions of their website for other countries?
- Which type of targeting are they using: country or language targeting?
For this purpose, we checked each competitor’s domain’s organic traffic in different Google databases with the Organic Positions report (9), discovered whether or not a competitor had a site version targeting a specific country or language, and which type of targeting they used.
After this research, we concluded that only 5 out 20 of the analyzed competitors' websites — Bebeconfort, Vertbaudet, Orchestra, Dram, Aubert — were adapted for users coming from other countries, and gained substantial traffic from them.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
1) The top five countries where Bebeconfort.com’s organic search visibility is very high are France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Switzerland:
This chart was built using SEMrush data, April 2015.
When you arrive at the website for the first time, you are prompted to choose your country:
It is obvious that this website uses the country-focused approach, which is implemented in the following ways:
- Sub-directories. For some websites, each language is separated into a folder:
http://www.bebeconfort.be/be-fr/ http://www.bebeconfort.be/be-nl/ http://www.bebeconfort.com/fr-fr/ http://www.bebeconfort.com/es-es/ http://www.bebeconfort.com/it-it/ http://www.bebeconfort.com/ch-fr/ http://www.bebeconfort.com/cl-es/ http://www.bebeconfort.com/pt-pt/
- ccTLDs with a sub-directory. For the Brazilian version, a Country Code Top-Level Domain method was chosen:
2) The online store Vertbaudet is well presented in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and, of course, France:
This chart was built using SEMrush data, April 2015.
The website uses both a country- and language-targeted strategy:
- Country targeting is applied via ccTLDs, or ccTLD with sub-directories, if a website has versions in a few different languages.
http://vertbaudet.fr/ http://www.vertbaudet.de/ http://www.vertbaudet.co.uk/ http://www.vertbaudet.pt/ http://www.vertbaudet.es/ http://www.vertbaudet.ch/de/ http://www.vertbaudet.ch/fr/
- Language targeting is used via ccTLDs with sub-directories for the international version.
http://www.vertbaudet.com/En/ http://www.vertbaudet.com/es/ http://www.vertbaudet.com/fr/
3) Orchestra.fr has the highest presence in France, Belgium and Spain:
This chart was built using SEMrush data, April 2015.
Orchestra.fr redirects to fr.shop-orchestra.com, which uses a country-focused approach and proposes website versions for France, Belgium (French and Flemish languages), Switzerland (in French), Spain, Greece, Germany, Italy, and China. It also has an international version in English.
- French and Belgian versions are distinguished with sub-domains or sub-domains with sub-directories for different languages:
http://fr.shop-orchestra.com/ http://be.shop-orchestra.com/fr/ http://be.shop-orchestra.com/nl/
- The website’s corporate version uses sub-directories:
http://corporate.orchestra.fr/ch/ http://corporate.orchestra.fr/es/ http://corporate.orchestra.fr/el/ http://corporate.orchestra.fr/de/ http://corporate.orchestra.fr/it/ http://corporate.orchestra.fr/en/
- And there is a separate website for Asia:
Conclusion: By getting estimates of your competitors’ organic traffic in different regions and understanding whether they are targeting them by country or language, you will get the list of countries where your products or services can be also in demand.
For a better understanding of your competitors’ international strategies, you can check whether or not they have launched AdWords or Google Shopping campaigns, and how much they might spend on ads. For this, use Advertising and PLA Research reports.
Making the final decision to expand your website and its SEO in new languages and countries will require deeper research of each market, its target audience’s behavior, level of local competition as well as analyses of your online business model's adequacy for this market and calculation of a potential ROI.
3) If You Decide Not to Attempt International SEO…
If you see that you don’t have enough international SEO potential, or you find that delivering your products or providing your services in other countries might not be beneficial, you can still consider expanding your website internationally later.
Regularly check your organic visibility outside the main country of your business using your Google Analytics account or SEMrush. Also, keep an eye on your online rivals’ international activities.
Once you feel confident enough, prioritize new markets, define your starting point, and start developing your international SEO strategy.
4) If You Start Doing International SEO…
You will need to take into consideration a lot of steps:
1. Select countries to target and prioritize your international SEO process
You can launch several website versions at once, or start with one or just few regions to better understand the process of international targeting and use this experience for other projects later.
2. Decide whether to target a country or a language
Language targeting is the best option for attracting audiences from many countries that share a language.
However, country targeting is considered to be an ideal tactic because it allows you to specifically adapt each website version for a targeted audience. Also, if location is a critical factor for your business, you should choose the country-focused approach.
If you are not sure that building a site version that targets a specific country is worth the investment, you can start with language targeting and move to a country-targeted approach to better connect with the audience that brings you enough traffic and conversions.
You will have to take some technical aspects into account:
- Choose ccTLDs, sub-domains, or sub-directories for site versions
- Decide whether you will host each country's version on a local IP address
- Place appropriate hreflang tags to show search engines which language a specific page is using
- If you create a version in Arabic, Chinese, or Cyrillic languages, you will need to ensure correct displaying of the content in a right-to-left layout and special characters by properly encoding your website, to set enough space for characters to fit, etc.
- If you are using a payment system, make sure it is available in countries you are targeting.
4. Localize content
Know that localization takes time and requires:
- Translation of all webpages, including URLs, title and meta tags, etc. - Localization of images - Adaptation of market-specific elements such as: currency, time, address, phone number, etc. - Integration and proofreading of localized content
Localization is not a one-time task. Every time your original content changes or gets updated, it should be reflected on the localized version. Therefore, you should plan regular maintenance as well.
Conduct International Keyword Research
To become findable by users, your localized website first needs to first be visible to search engines, which in not possible without content search engine optimization with the right keywords. If you don’t speak the language of the country you are targeting, you’ll need native language support.
You and your SEO consultants can use SEMrush to discover keywords in 16 languages and for 25 countries. Click the button below to view a complete list of countries and languages SEMrush covers:
You can get a list of competitors’ best-performing keywords (10) by generating the Organic Positions report.
By clicking a particular keyword, you’ll be transferred to the Keyword Overview report (11), which will show you:
- Cost-per-click, CPC Distribution by regional databases, Competition, Number of results, Trend for each keyword
- Top phrase matches and related keywords
- Top domains and their landing pages that pop up for each keyword in organic search results
- Top AdWords ads
- Top product listing ads
- Ads History widget
With this data, you can find not only search terms for search engine ptimization but also define keywords to bid on for AdWords text ads. If you have an e-commerce website, you will be able to see a keyword’s value for PLAs.
When entering a new market, you should also use low-competition keywords.
Taking local search engines such as Yandex in Russia or Baidu in China into consideration is also crucial for attracting your targeted audience.
Develop International Link Building Strategy
Having backlinks from local websites is one of the most important factors of your international SEO success. Competitive backlink analysis of competitors’ sites that are already performing well in each country can help you spot backlink opportunities.
Use the SEMrush Backlink checker tool (12) to get a side-by-side comparison of competitors’ backlinks, and their distribution per country. You can also compare the number of links per domain, evaluate their quality, and identify backlink opportunities on trustworthy domains, as well as on educational and governmental ones.
Track Your Performance in Different Countries
Once your localized versions are completed and live, you need to track their performance for each country. Your Google Analytics account data will show you visits and conversions by country.
With the SEMrush keyword rank checker, you can set up a tracking campaign for any location (13).
You can launch campaigns for multiple locations, monitor different websites’ organic search visibilities (14) and get daily updates on rankings they are getting with targeted keywords (15).
Since your competitors in different countries or languages won’t be the same, you will have to research your local competitive landscape. This task is easily manageable with the Competitors Discovery report (16), which shows your local competitors according to the selected location.
We hope we provided you with enough information on how to estimate your international potential, where to start, and how to track your multi-country and multilingual SEO campaigns. Should you start doing international SEO? Find out with SEMrush!