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Sam Marsden

Sam Marsden is DeepCrawl's SEO & Content Manager. Sam speaks regularly at marketing conferences, like BrightonSEO, and is a contributor to industry publications such as Search Engine Journal and State of Digital.

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Getting international SEO right is widely considered to be one of the most complex areas of SEO. For DeepCrawl’s September webinar, we were excited to host international SEO consultant and DeepCrawl CAB, Aleyda Solis, to talk us through the steps of researching, planning and implementing a successful international strategy.

Here’s the full recording of the webinar with Aleyda and Jon:

You can also find Aleyda’s presentation here:

International SEO challenges

Aleyda has worked with many top brands, helping them with a broad spectrum of international challenges. Some of the most common internationalisation challenges that Aleyda has seen include:

  • Launching in too many, non-profitable markets
  • Choosing the wrong web structure for international markets
  • Not localising international web presence
  • It’s important to prioritise the markets to target and to select the right web structure, so you can give yourself the platform to better geolocate and localise sites.

    Prioritising the right markets to target

    To start with, you need to prioritise which markets you should target by validating whether or not they are likely to be profitable.

    Identify traffic and conversion-driving countries and languages

    You can do this by identifying which countries and languages are already driving traffic and conversions using Google Analytics Geo reports. It can be easy to assume that you know where traffic and conversions are coming from, but you need to validate your assumptions with actual data.

    You also want to look out for cases where people in specific countries aren’t able to convert on your site. You need to make sure you are enabling people to convert in these locations.

    What markets are my competitors in?

    Secondly, you want to find the markets that your competition and industry leaders are already profiting from, because that can give you an indication of which ones you should prioritise.

    Verify search volume and competition

    Once you’ve assessed your site and your competitors, you should verify potential markets to enter by looking at the existing search volume and competition in the SERPs. How much traffic potential do these markets have and how difficult will it be to rank for terms in those markets?

    Align findings with your own multilingual and international capacity

    After collecting data about competitors and the level of competition in potential markets, you need to weigh this up with your own multilingual and international capacity in order to come to an informed decision about which markets should be prioritised.

    How can you decide how to target a market?

    The next stage after choosing which markets to prioritise is to decide how you are going to target them. Are you going to target a language or country first? The answer will depend on your business model, but Aleyda has a handy flowchart to help, as pictured in the slide below.

    If location is a big factor, then country targeting should probably be prioritised, providing that there is enough traffic and conversion potential for that country version to be profitable. If location isn’t a big factor, then language targeting is probably a better option.

    Ultimately, you need to be confident that entering a new market is going to be profitable, whatever method you choose. For this, Aleyda has created an International SEO ROI Calculator to verify if there’s enough organic search traffic and a high enough conversion rate to warrant going into that market.

    If the traffic potential is greater than the visits and conversions for break-even then you can continue with the international project. If not, it might be too early to target that particular market, but you can put some foundations in place e.g. buy ccTLDs, create custom alerts or create a pilot project prioritising your main pages.

    Selecting the right web structure

    When choosing the best structure for your international SEO project, Aleyda recommends avoiding:

  • The use of scripts or cookies to show international versions with the same URLs.
  • The use of parameters for your international web structure – This isn’t recommended by Google, although they do use parameters themselves probably due to technical restrictions.
  • Choosing the right structure for country targeting

    If you’re country targeting then you should select between:

  • ccTLDs (e.g. www.yourbrand.es/)
  • Subdirectories with gTLDs (e.g. www.yourbrand.com/es-es/)
  • Subdomains with gTLDs (e.g. es-es.yourbrand.com/)
  • Keep in mind that each of the above options have their own pros and cons:

    It is also important to know that you can’t use subdirectories or subdomains to geolocate ccTLDs to other countries, and Google doesn’t support the geo-targeting of regions that aren’t countries, such as. .eu and .asia.

    Choosing the right structure for language targeting

    If you’ve decided to use language targeting for your international SEO project, then you will want to choose between:

  • Subdirectories with gTLDs (e.g. www.yourbrand.com/es-es/)
  • Subdomains with gTLDs (e.g. es-es.yourbrand.com/)
  • Similarly to country targeting, language targeting options also have their own pros and cons:

    If you’re not sure about which option to choose for any of these international targeting methods, Aleyda has another useful flowchart to help you decide:

    Localise your web presence

    The third and final way of expanding your international SEO is to localise your web presence.

    Checking for existing misalignment issues

    Checking for existing misaligned pages is an important first step. Are you already ranking for international versions of pages which are misaligned with the searcher’s location? You can check if this is happening on a site by looking for misaligned pages in Google Search Console, Ahrefs, SEMrush and Sistrix, these pages will have worse rankings, CTRs, UX and conversions in different countries. It can also be helpful to use VPNs or Chrome Dev Tools’ “sensors” to verify that pages are ranking well with the correct web properties.

    Aleyda has a bunch of recommended actions when it comes to localising your web presence:

  • Verify which domain extensions are treated as generic by Google and geolocate if needed.
  • Make sure to register and geolocate each subdirectory and subdomain in GSC.
  • Avoid automatic redirects based on IP location. They are not recommended by Google as the search engine nearly always crawls from the US. Inform users that there might be a more suitable language version, but don’t take them there automatically.
  • Localise every aspect of your web content and get support from native speakers even if your international websites are in the same language.
  • Create a matrix with each page’s alternate version and all the main content elements (titles, descriptions, headings etc.).
  • Hreflang

    Hreflang is an essential part of communicating the language and geographic targeting of a page and it’s alternate versions to search engines.

    When it comes to hreflang Aleyda recommends:

  • Indicating each page’s international targeting with a meta and HTML lang tag.
  • Including the language and country targeting of each page as well as pointing to its other versions.
  • Making sure only self-referencing canonical tags are included.
  • Using ISO 639-1 values for languages and ISO 3166-1 values for countries.
  • Using the x-default attribute for unmatched international versions.
  • Adding hreflang in the HTML head, XML sitemaps or as HTTP headers, depending on which method best suits your business.
  • Unfortunately, errors with hreflang are common but you can avoid them using the following process:

    When it comes to implementing hreflang, Aleyda suggests prioritising adding the tags to pages that are suffering most in terms of misalignment despite already having been localised. You can generate correct hreflang annotations for smaller sites with this free tool and the HREFLang Builder tool is more useful for enterprise environments.

    Before launching any new hreflang implementation, make sure to validate it with a crawler such as DeepCrawl, checking that all URLs have been tagged correctly and are indexable. After the launch, make sure to monitor and fix any remaining issues found in Google Search Console’s International Targeting report.

    Thanks again to Aleyda and Jon for such an insightful webinar, and for all of those that attended and submitted brilliant questions. We’ll be publishing a follow up post on our blog with Aleyda’s answers to all of your international SEO questions in the near future.

    Get on top of internationalisation with our free white paper

    Ultimate guide to international SEO DeepCrawl whitepaper

    If you want to gain an even better understanding of how to implement successful international SEO strategies, then you need to download our comprehensive white paper on the topic by clicking on the link below. Happy reading!

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