International SEO is one of the most difficult marketing strategies to pull off – both on a technical and creative level. With each target market you add, the complexities of managing an international search presence multiply, increasing the risk of critical errors that can hurt your ranking.
Technical hiccups are almost inevitable with international SEO but it’s how you overcome them that really counts. It helps to understand the most common issues so you can put measures in place to avoid them and fix them should they arise.
Here are five reasons why your international SEO strategy might not be working.
#1: Technical mixups
Technical SEO can be challenging at the best of times but you’ve really got your work cut out for you with an international website. Basically, you’re dealing with multiple websites (roughly one per location/language) and linking them together while making sure the correct version of each page shows for every user.
- Poor domain structure
- Poor URL structure
- XML sitemap conflicts
- Incorrect use of tags
- Mixed hreflang signals
- IP, cookie, CloudFlare or VPN conflicts
- Duplicate content
- Over-aggressive canonisation
- Internal linking/navigational problems
Poor domain and URL structures are two of the most common international SEO problems that lead to a whole host of technical issues. The worst part is, you can’t really reverse these decisions and you box yourself into critical issues that are incredibly expensive to fix.
For example, Netflix ran into major indexing problems in 2017 because its domain structure caused issues with delivering content to different markets.
#2: You haven’t localised your content strategy
While the technical aspects of international SEO are complex, they are at least widely talked about. One area that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, though, is the concept of localising content strategies for audiences in each language and location.
The needs and interests of audiences in different markets vary greatly, even within the same language (eg: UK vs US), and you have to cater to these in your content if you want each audience to take action.
This will also solve a lot of your potential duplicate content problems.
#3: Loading times are holding you back
Loading times are becoming even more important for SEO as Google rolls out new performance signals and international sites are especially vulnerable. Loading times only get longer as the distance between users and your server locations increase, leaving little margin for error.
Here are the key essentials to cover:
- Use the best hosting service possible
- Use local servers for ccTLD domains, if possible
- Use a content delivery network (CDN)
- Reduce server requests
- Avoid redirects where possible
- Compress code files
- Optimise images and media files
- Allow browser caching
- Optimise loading times
According to a page speed report from Unbounce in 2019, only 3% of marketers said loading times were their top priority, despite 81% saying they understand page speed impacts conversions.
As crazy as that statistic is, it highlights how much of an opportunity there is for brands that take loading times seriously.
#4: Too much faith in geo-targeting
Geo-targeting is a great way to send users to the correct version of your website, even if they type in a different URL (eg: yoursite.com > yoursite.de). However, it’s important to understand the limitations of this strategy and the scenarios where it might fail.
People go on holidays, work overseas, live in foreign countries or use VPNs to mask their location. Some people simply don’t speak the national language of the country they reside in or live in a country with multiple national languages.
So you need to back up geo-targeting with an accessible UI for changing location, language and currency settings where relevant – and consider the fact users may need to change these settings without understanding the default language.
#5: You’ve got the wrong idea about translation
With hundreds of WordPress themes and dozens of website builders boasting that they can translate your website into multiple languages, you could be forgiven for having the wrong idea about website translation.
First of all, translation isn’t the go-to solution for creating multilingual pages. In the second section of this article, we talked about localising your content strategy and this requires you to create original content in each target language. You can’t do this by translating the same piece of content into multiple languages – not when it takes a different message to get the response you need.
In some cases, the same or similar content will work with multiple audiences and this is where translation springs into action. But you’re not going to rely on a WordPress theme or Google Translate to convert your highly-crafted content into other languages.
You’re going to get professional translators who help you capture the right message and achieve the same level of content quality (quite important for SEO) in each language.