Dealing with international SEO issues can be both daunting and time consuming. The payoff for getting your international presence on a good footing, however, can lead to massive increases in sales and revenue as you expand your brand to its fullest global potential. It’s worth taking the time to avoid the most common and egregious errors, as you expand your international reach. Below are the 13 of the biggest and most common mistakes I have seen in my experience with international marketing.
Bigger picture mistakes with International SEO
1) Ignoring teams who work outside the U.S.
This is probably the biggest hurdle to any international strategy that isn’t directly SEO related. As it deals with humans instead of robots, it is one of the most nuanced and difficult to solve. That also makes it easy to ignore when first starting out – especially for U.S.-based companies. One instance of this that I was directly involved in played out like this:
Canadian marketing manager:
“We’re having a problem with the U.S. version of the site, sitting on the .com root domain, showing up in google.ca search engine results pages. Can we either implement hreflang, move the U.S. site onto its own subfolder, or both?”
U.S. marketing manager:
“Well, we get plenty of traffic from Canadian visitors landing on the U.S. site and they seem to be doing fine, not to mention we drive the overwhelming percentage of sales globally. So let’s keep it the way it is.”
The site remained unchanged.
Due to arrogance and inability to see the bigger picture, the larger markets, like the U.S., have a tendency to ignore best practice and shrug off smaller markets.
It is important to think strategically in order to formulate the best plan to grow your business. Constant communication, education and a heavy reliance on data are great ways to keep your SEO efforts — and the business as a whole — on track.
2) Forgetting to research local laws
In general, the European Union has much tighter regulations on what companies can say and do online than the U.S. There are large practical considerations here as well, such as where your servers are, which can impact privacy laws and data sharing.
There are numerous smaller issues to keep in mind when you are breaching a new market, such as rules around the types of language you can and can’t use. In the United Kingdom, for example, it is much more difficult, especially in certain categories, to position a product as “best.” Properly researching rules for specific countries and markets will avoid headaches, lawsuits and fines down the road.
3) Not thinking through product availability in foreign markets
Product and shipping complications are a much bigger issue than SEO, but once they are figured out, at a company level, you will need to plan how your new warehouse situation that will be reflected on your website.
Will you serve a 200 status code with a “not available in your area” message?
Will you redirect to a generic “not available in your area” page, and will that return a 404 status code?
Will you automatically redirect users to a different product based on IP settings?
Getting this correct from the beginning will provide a seamless user experience and increase your conversions across the globe.
4) Assuming Google is the only search engine to optimize toward
Each search engine places a different emphasis on ranking signals, so be sure to do your research before diving in.
Yandex accounts for 58 percent of search engine market share in Russia and it only recently reintroduced links into its ranking algorithm.
Baidu has 55 percent market share in China and the country’s next biggest search engine isn’t Google either.
Yahoo frequently flips places with Google as the biggest search engine in Japan.
Naver is South Korea’s biggest search engine, and non-Naver owned properties rarely show up on the first page of its search results.
Optimizing toward Naver’s cafés and various social media outlets, while simultaneously adapting strategy in China to attract first page rankings in a more rigid environment, would be things to consider if your international growth strategy includes those markets.
Targeting Google and Bing will be enough across most of the globe, but if a company wants to be truly successful in some of the biggest markets, it will have to understand how various search engines operate.
5) Ignoring local competition
There will undoubtedly be competition in local markets that you have never heard of, as a global brand can easily fail in the search engines.
Local competition may not appear fierce at first glance, but you can be sure that more established brands have great local ranking signals and understand the market better than most.
A thorough competitor analysis should be undertaken in every country you intend to expand to before launch. Understanding who your competitors are, their strengths and weaknesses, and adapting strategies based on that information, will allow you to make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time.
6) Not engaging in local link development
Do not assume that the strength of a brand or root-domain will be enough to propel it to the first page in all international search engines. This will often be left until after the site is in stable condition, but most global search engines use links from local and regional websites as a ranking factor. The sooner localized link development can commence, the better.
Mistakes made regarding language
7) Using the same keyword research for multiple markets
Assuming keywords that work in one market will automatically be relevant to another can be one of the quickest ways to fail when launching a global SEO strategy. Simply translating English keywords to German and Simplified Chinese from English will leave large gaps in your content strategy, putting you a step behind local competition.
This becomes especially true when getting to the finer details between countries that use the same language, such as Chile and Mexico; Germany and Austria; or the U.S. and Australia.
Be sure to organize keyword research not just by language, but also at the country level. As keyword research will be part of the foundation that all international SEO efforts are built upon, it is worth spending the time and money to source in-country SEO or marketing specialists who understand how local nuances impact search behaviors. These country-specific consultants can usually work with your SEO agency of record in the brand’s native country.
8) Translating instead of transcreating
Furthering the theme of in-depth language research, using Google translate, is a sure-fire way to fail. Automated translation software, and frequently even paid translation services, won’t be adequate in foreign markets.
According to the Common Sense Advisory, transcreation refers to “marketing and advertising content that must resonate in local markets in order to deliver the same impact as the original.”
It fundamentally differs from translating copy like-for-like in that it only uses the source’s original idea before localizing it for the biggest in-market impact.
Focusing on taking an original idea and creating quality content that has been re-created by a local language speaker and marketing specialist can mean the difference between success and failure in your content efforts.
9) Not branching out with content creation
Relying entirely on transcreated content might not be enough. There will be new content needs that don’t have a source material, as they will be specific to a local market. Germany, for example, rarely uses credit or debit cards to make face-to-face and online transactions. Transcreating a great piece on the ease of your online checkout might not resonate with that audience as much as it does in the U.K.
Creating content specifically for local markets is a great way to target users further up in the search funnel who wouldn’t normally find their way to your website. Have a sound ongoing strategy in place for your authors once the initial transcreation work has been completed.
Mistakes made regarding technical aspects of a website
10) Implementing hreflang incorrectly
There are numerous resources on implementing hreflang. Studies have shown that doing it correctly can lead to massive increases in traffic.
If rolling it out in the head, make sure that all pages have a reciprocal link and that the country and language codes are correct.
If it’s in xml format, ensure it is frequently updated to reflect changes in website structure.
One problem I’ve run into specifically with sitemap implementation is ownership. Which global team is in charge of making sure hreflang is correct and will upload new versions? If there are multiple markets making changes, there could be version control issues and countries will suffer as a result.
It is imperative to get the technical items right if the goal is to have visitors land on the correct version, and for all versions to rank well within their country.
11) Forgetting about webmaster settings
Google and Bing allow you to target different regions directly in the webmaster tool and search console settings. This ticked box is an easy one to forget and an easier one to rectify.
12) Inconsistent ccTLD/subdomain/subfolder usage
This usually occurs when a brand has been present across multiple countries for a long amount of time and different offices are in charge of different regions. The United Arab Emirates might be using a subdomain, while France has a ccTLD and China sits on a subfolder of the root .com domain.
Combining these tactics can prove tricky and time consuming, but picking one strategy and sticking with it will create a more seamless experience for the company and the international user navigating around the website.
13) Automatic redirects based on IP address
Redirecting to localized content based on IP is generally considered bad practice, especially in countries that have more than one language in use. Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller stated that auto IP redirects should be avoided, as they frustrate the user and don’t provide the cleanest code for Google’s spiders to crawl.
International SEO can be complicated, but getting it right will give your brand an enormous advantage. Start by avoiding these 13 mistakes, and you’ll have much better “luck” in global eCommerce.