International SEO: Think global, act local

Expanding your ecommerce operation on a global scale can seem like a high stakes game – riddled with risk and rewards. But preparation – and the right SEO know-how – can minimise the risks.

As international markets become increasingly accessible, many ecommerce brands are setting their sights on the seemingly limitless growth opportunities abroad. But achieving global growth requires a multi-pronged marketing masterplan, with a carefully conceived approach to international SEO and a global content strategy for multi-language websites. To succeed in new markets, your SEO localisation will require a lot more than merely slotting the relevant keywords into Google translate and hoping for the best.

Getting to know your competition

Any successful SEO strategy will zone in on critical keywords and phrases with high volume searches, enabling brands or retailers to rank well by generating the most relevant content. As part of any localisation strategy, this process must be carefully repeated for each individual market because search engine algorithms, your competition and their content will inevitably vary from one region to the next.

Once your site is live and optimised, your authority and visibility can be further improved by inserting market-specific anchor texts in your local backlink building campaigns. Supplement your generic keywords with a selection of effective, long tail key phrases, strengthened with specific regional terms and locality identifiers: attention to detail is key. In some instances, your existing content may be easily localised for other markets with the inclusion of these keywords, but don’t try fitting a square peg into a round hole: it’s important to recognise when your content needs to be transcreated or even created from scratch.

Navigating cultural nuance

Languages, cultural differences and consumer expectations will influence the approach in different locations, so simply replicating an existing UK or US site is rarely a satisfactory solution. As Vogue points out, popular products and key trends can vary greatly between countries, so having local market expertise in your SEO and content teams is essential. Consumers in different markets can also expect to find out about products in different ways: in some countries, lengthier product descriptions are the norm, in others, shoppers may set more store by video content or user reviews.

Taking an interest in local issues and providing content that touches on regional themes or events will help to make your brand’s presence in the new market feel more genuine. That even applies to cultural and lexical differences between countries that ostensibly speak the same language (e.g. British versus American or Australian English). Fortunately, similar content, adapted for each market, can now be included on language variants of the same website, without the risk of duplicate content penalties.

The bottom line is that consumers expect to get product information that is both relevant and emotionally resonant for them, and if they don’t find it on your website, they’ll simply go elsewhere.

Optimising for local search engines

Even within the parameters of Google, every region’s Google ccTLD (e.g.,, functions as its own market with its own economy of publishers. Popular search terms in one market may generate limited searches in another, with competition over keywords also varying between markets. But forget about cutting corners: local market keyword research, with in-market subject matter experts is absolutely essential.

The good news is that beyond Google, your keyword research and Google strategies will typically still apply for rival search engines such as Bing, or Yahoo, with only minor tweaks required. Regrettably, the same cannot be said of SEO in China and Russia,  where Baidu and Yandex command 56% and 74% of domestic search traffic, respectively.

Baidu ranks sites more highly if their servers are located in China, if the website has bought an Internet Content Provider license from the Chinese government or if their content is written in Chinese languages, a tendency referred to as “The Great Firewall.” More stringent internet regulations in China mean that Baidu usually takes several days longer than Google to index a site.

Yandex, on the other hand, places a far greater priority on geo-targeting than Google, splitting queries into geo-independent and geo-dependent searches. For the latter, only websites from a particular region are shown, so people in different cities searching for the same thing can expect entirely different results – making optimisation for Yandex, particularly for businesses that span multiple regions, more time-consuming. The search engine also emphasises the importance of user behaviours, like session duration and conversions, more than back links, requiring different types of content to achieve search authority.

Technical elements

Beyond content, technical SEO requirements can play a critical role in international search success. Your URLs and metatags must also be based on local keyword research, and adopting an optimal, international domain approach can have a significant impact. That’s before you even consider the different emphasis each search engine will place on various technical SEO strategies.

Think global, act local

To succeed in your international expansion aims, merely translating your content and keywords will not suffice. A local market SEO strategy, that is based on each market’s search landscape and prioritises high-quality content for individual target audiences, will be key to success. A winning approach will often combine the efficiency gains of localising existing content that proves to be relevant to new markets, with content transcreation and even origination for that market.

How does your site measure up?

To assess how well your own content is optimised for search in a specific location, get in touch to request a free Quill Quality Score audit.

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