An increasing number of clients have come to 4Ps for help with their international SEO. Our planners often hear complaints of traffic drops, loss of visibility, plummeting conversion rates and other search-related issues since the launch of their multi-location version of their website. Often there can be more detailed issues which arise from infrastructure-related problems or an incorrect analytics implementation which doesn’t segment data or have the right tracking code executed for a multilingual (or transactional multi-currency) website, but a lot of the time the issues are surprisingly simple.
Here are some of the most common problems we come across. If you’re struggling with an international search presence post-implementation, think of this as a good starting point when addressing your list of possible causes:
Hreflang not implemented correctly (or at all) – when rel alternate tagging for hreflang is implemented, we often find that people forget these need to self-reference, so putting rel alt tags on your UK English page, for example, still needs to include <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-gb” href=”URL” />.
“What is hreflang” is another common question from clients, along with “how hard is it to implement/will my developers charged a lot?” Only your developers can answer the second one as implementation depends heavily on your CMS and technical setup, but any search agency worth its salt should be able to explain rel alternate hreflang.
Translating without translocating – don’t forget to localise your language as well as translate it. Conduct local keyword research to make sure you’re targeting the right phrases for your products or services in your target locations. A courgette, zucchini, eggplant and aubergine is technically the same squash but can you identify which of these terms are used in which parts of the world?
Use the right domain structure – generally we suggest keeping everything in subfolders of a generic top level domain (like .com or .net), for example /fr-fr/ for “French for France” or /en-gb/ for “English for the UK,” but for some sectors and markets like high-end software services in Germany or luxury retail in France a local TLD like a .de or an .fr is seen as a sign of legitimacy and customers will be less willing to convert from a subfolder -so make sure this is taken into account.
Location vs Language
Focusing on location rather than language – this is a quintessential problem, especially when entering multicultural environments like the USA where a significant proportion of the population speak (and search in) Spanish. Make sure you aim for what your audience is likely to be searching in, not just what their location suggests their “official” language is.
Duplicating your content and offsite strategy for each new country or language – this is madness, as every location (and language) will have its own key influencers and relevant topics which will affect it as a marketplace for your customers.
Everything about your international strategy – content, outreach, social media, PR, everything – should be localised and adapted to be unique per language and territory. Steer clear of automatic translators – use in-house resource if you have it, or find a reputable translation agency.
Think sensibly when listing branches or local offices/locations – do UK users need to see the addresses of your New York boutique, or just the UK list?
How to handle separate mobile sites – these will need translating and setting up for international capabilities in the same way a desktop/other website would. Think about it; would you want a customer overseas to be able to interact with your brand in their own language on one device but not another? Don’t neglect your rel=”alt” setup as well as hreflang when dealing with this situation, though!
Automatic IP redirection – we generally advise against this as it causes search crawler issues which affects overall visibility as well as international targeting. What then do you display on your .com homepage – your “default” or UK version, a sitemap of countries? Well, that depends on how you’d like people to perceive your brand in the market so needs a wider discussion.
The best way to get your international SEO off on the right foot is to get search expertise involved early so the technical and strategic aspects are built into your move globally at a ground level. This inevitably works out far better than trying to launch and then hammer in SEO considerations later on.