Last Updated: September 26, 2019 2:13PM
This is the sixth in a 10-part blog series on “Going Global.” Over a ten week globalization-intensive session, we offer tips and tricks gleaned from 20 years in the business. Today: once you’ve decided to go global, you need to make sure customers in all your target markets can find you. Enter global SEO.
Your company is moving full-steam ahead to go global. So far, you’ve:
- Identified what it really means to globalize
- Learned why it’s important to go global by design rather than by default
- Crafted your terminology toolkit
- Identified the market(s) your company should target first
- Analyzed the competition, learning from both successes and failures.
You have your roadmap; you know where you’re going. Now you need to make sure your customers can find you.
Enter Global SEO.
As you strive to globalize, you can save yourself time, resources, and a fair few headaches by considering global search engine optimization (SEO) a crucial part of your process. How can you create an SEO strategy that works as you globalize?
First: a step back. What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization is, ultimately, exactly what it sounds like. It’s the process of optimizing the content and structure of your site so people can find it via a search engine. Search engines have three main functions (crawl, index, and rank). That final part—ranking—is what determines how far up the page your site appears in search results.
What contributes to higher rankings?
SEO isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Multiple factors affect rankings: user-friendly web designs, inbound links from reputable sites, click and bounce rates, location—all contribute. For multilingual websites, properly localized content is perhaps the most powerful driver of all.
Good global SEO should be as simple as translating high-performing keywords into the new target language, right?
No—nothing could be further from the truth. Just as word-for-word translation will lose some of a source material’s meaning and intent, simply translating keywords word-for-word does not yield an optimal global SEO strategy.
Just as an inherent understanding of a target language’s vernacular, culture, and values underpins effective localization, so does that same level of understanding produce effective global SEO.
How to develop a strategic approach to global SEO: 3 steps to success
Step 1: Understand how people in the new market are searching
Central to a cogent global SEO strategy is understanding how people in your new target market search. Physically: what search engines do they use? In the U.S. (and many places worldwide), Google still leads the pack. In other markets, though, different search engines take priority: Baidu in China, for example, or Yandex in Russia. Each search engine’s algorithm weighs parameters slightly differently when computing rankings. Before you try to optimize for a particular engine, make sure it’s the engine your audience uses.
Likewise, understand how most people in your audience conduct a search. Do they use their desktop computers? Their mobile phones? Do they mostly type queries, or speak them into a smart device? The way your customers query should affect your SEO approach.
Finally, you need to understand the way your audience speaks when they search. What colloquialisms do they use? How do their search terms differ from the keywords that rank highly in the original language? Answer these questions as you frame your approach to global SEO.
Step 2: Be thorough
You’re not finished optimizing your site once you’ve optimized the on-page copy. As you form your global SEO approach, ensure you have a strategy in place that allows for continuous optimization of all your site’s content—both structured and unstructured.
That means every element of your site needs to apply SEO best practices in your target language—from headers and body copy to images, alt tags, meta descriptions, hrefs, and more.
Step 3: Choose an optimal URL structure
Best-in-class SEO considers more than words. To architect your site as well as possible, you need to create a solid foundation with an optimal URL structure.
Ultimately, you have three options for structuring your multilingual websites: you can use country code top-level domains (ccTTLDs: e.g., www.mywebsite.fr), subdomains (e.g., fr.mysebsite.com), or subdirectories (e.g., www.mywebsite.com/fr).
Each presents different pros and cons when it comes to global SEO. Again, optimizing your multilingual sites is not one-size-fits-all. The best URL structure choice for your company will depend on your budget, resources, and bandwidth.
When should you start thinking about global SEO?
As with most important things, companies that effectively optimize their multilingual websites for search engine traffic are those that do not treat SEO as an afterthought. Strategically considering how, where, and why customers in a new market—who speak a different language—will search for your company will enable you to more readily ensure they find it.