How To Do International SEO And Link Building

The internet offers small and medium businesses the incredible opportunity of reaching an international audience, and many website owners find that a lot of their visitors come from other countries, even if they were originally just targeting a local audience.

Website structure for a multilingual site

The first question for a multilingual or international site is whether to use multiple top-level domains, sub-domains or sub-folders to distinguish between different languages.

All three options are valid.  The most important point is that while you can use cookies to determine the currency, it’s essential that you have a separate URL for each language.  This is because Google can’t differentiate between different pages with different languages using the same URL (e.g. example.com/page-1) if only cookies are used to control the language, meaning that only one version of your site will appear in Google’s search results.

From the other three options, my personal favorite is separate domain names (e.g. amazon.co.uk, amazon.fr, amazon.de). This is because:

  • With major CMS systems (Drupal, WordPress, PrestaShop, etc.) it’s relatively simple to configure a site to use multiple domains with a shared database.
  • It’s better for branding. If you have a .co.uk domain name, visitors immediately know you’re in the UK, if you have a .fr domain name, visitors immediately know you’re in France (or that your site is about France).
  • If you’re targeting a niche market, you can include a keyword in your domain name in the relevant language (this isn’t so important with Google’s recent algorithms, but is better than an English keyword which might not mean anything to potential site visitors). 

If you have an international site in one language, then having a single international domain name (.com, .net, .org, etc.) and using a cookie to control the currency (if applicable) works well where the content is very similar for different countries, e.g. an e-commerce store with a product range available regardless of the country.  This is because incoming links to your site are an important part of SEO (as explained later in this article) and if you have a single site, you only need to build links to one site, rather than having to build links to multiple sites.

How does Google know where my target audience is?

Google do not use the location of your hosting account to determine where a site is based, rather it determines who your target audience is from the following information:

  • The language the site is written in
  • Addresses that appear on the website
  • The Hreflang tag, which allows you to specify both the location and language
  • If you set a country using International Targeting (formerly called geotargeting), a tool specifically designed to tell Google your target country. You can do this via the Search Console, as per the image below.

  • Where links to your site come from (for example, if you have a lot of high-quality links from other UK websites, but none from the USA, you will rank higher on Google.co.uk than Google.com)

That said, hosting is still a factor for user-experience, which indirectly influences SEO since if you have a host in Europe, your website will be faster for European visitors.

Which parts of my site should I translate?

Google and other search engines aim to give visitors as rich an experience as possible, therefore it’s unlikely you will rank well if you just translate a single page of your site. The ideal solution is to translate everything, however, this might be economically restrictive, as an automatic translation will read poorly and won’t rank anywhere near as well as a translation by a professional translator.

Websites often have pages and pages of blogs, and it can be tempting to simply skip these pages when translating a website.  However, I would instead recommend running traffic reports using Google Analytics or other SEO software to determine which pages receive the most traffic to your site, and select pages to be translated accordingly.

If your blog contains in-depth guides on a highly relevant topic, then they’re likely to also generate significant traffic resulting in sales, and it’s definitely worth translating these pages.  If you find that none is actually reading your blog, not only is it not worth translating, it’s also worth rethinking what you’re writing in English.

For e-commerce sites, it’s also important to translate the checkout page and any emails and newsletters.  Wishing site visitors a Merry Christmas in their native language will be a lot more meaningful to them.

International Link Building

Links have been shown to be just as important for a high rank with Google as on-page content. However, gone are the days when any old link will benefit your site. These days, building high volumes of poor quality links will hinder rather than help your SEO efforts.

The first rule of thumb when deciding on a link building strategy is, therefore, to ask yourself, “Does this link make sense from a human perspective?”

If you can answer “Yes” to this question, odds are it will also help improve your SEO.

Google treats high quality links as a vote of confidence, so a link to your site from a guest post (like the one you are reading now) in a major relevant publication will give you far more value than a link from a French baker’s website if you happen to be selling board games in Germany!

Link Building Tools

For English language links, AHrefs is my favourite tool for finding backlinks to competitors’ websites. At Indigoextra, we offer SEO throughout Europe and I find that SEMRush has a more user-friendly interface when it comes to targeting a specific country for your link building.

Another good link building tool is Google itself!  If you enter a target keyword (perhaps with “article”, “blog”, “guest post”, or other similar words) and a site appears high in the search results, then clearly a link from that site will be valuable.

Measure the quality of each link

There are several different ways to measure the quality of a link:

  • Domain Authority – Moz’s measure of how authoritative a site is overall on a scale from 1 to 100. Generally, for English links, domain authority 30 or higher is good, for foreign language links, 25 or higher will be sufficient, as foreign language sites tend to have lower domain authority, simply because there are fewer of them.
  • Trust Flow – Majestic’s measure of how trustworthy a site is, again on a scale from 1 to 100. Majestic also provides a trust flow for a wide range of different categories, so you have some idea of how relevant a site is to your site.
  • Alexa rank – A ranking of the top several million websites in the world, where 1 (which Google and Facebook both fight for) is the most visited site in the world, 2 is the second most visited, etc. The larger the Alexa rank the less accurate this measure tends to be, however for sites ranking in the top million, it’s accurate enough to be useful.
  • SEMRush rank – Few SEO companies use this, but it’s a good measure of organic traffic to a site. Like the Alexa rank, but based on which keywords a particular site appears for.

For international links, SEMRush is particularly useful as it gives an estimate of the traffic from each country.  To use the tool visit https://www.semrush.com/dashboard/ and enter the address of the website that you want to check (note, if you enter the address with the http or https, it will show you the details for a specific page, not the site as a whole, therefore it’s best if you simply enter the address, e.g. for Pickaweb, enter pickaweb.co.uk).

Once you see the results, click the 2 letter abbreviation to view traffic for a specific country (FR for France, DE for Germany, etc.)

Even without an account SEMRush also shows you the keywords that generate the most traffic for each site, and this is another way of identifying how relevant a specific website is – if the keywords are in the same industry as those you’re targeting, then this is ideal for SEO.

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