August 5, 2014 - No Comments!

5 Tips to Optimize a Website for International Audiences

internationalseo-webdesignInternational marketing and SEO is important. More people are accessing information through search engines, making it crucial that businesses be found in Google by potential clients or customers. Before designing and developing a new website, it’s important to know the specific SEO steps that will set up the site for future success.

1. Use Country Code Domain Extensions (ccTLDs), or Redirect Them

Google wants to serve the most relevant results for searchers around the world. Often times, the most relevant results will be web pages from the same country as the searcher’s IP address. For example, someone searching from a Canadian IP address will very likely see a list of sites with .CA domain extensions, whereas the same search conducted from a café in France would return a list of sites with .FR domain extensions.

Buy domains with the country code extensions and build country-specific (or language-specific) sites at each domain extension. This will ensure that Google displays sites are localized to your international audience.

It’s important to point out that not all websites have the time or budget to recreate new sites on different domain extensions. If this is the case, it’s still worth buying the country code TLDs and redirecting them to a subdirectory, e.g. http://www.tablexi.com/fr/.

2. Host Localized Sites on Local Servers

Google loves fast websites. When it comes to international SEO, websites that are hosted close to potential site visitors will load very quickly. In other words, if I search for “web design agency Chicago” from my apartment in Chicago, a design agency’s website hosted near Chicago will load much faster than a design agency hosted in, say, Mexico City (even if both agencies are physically located in Chicago).

In Google’s own words:

We … recommend making sure that your website is hosted in a way that will give your users fast access to it (which is often done by choosing hosting near your users).

Translation: the country where a site is hosted is a ranking factor (however small). So set up your international sites on servers in your target audiences’ home countries. For example, if your web design company is based in the USA with a large audience in Japan, the .JP domain should be hosted on a server in Japan.

3. Do Not Automatically Redirect Visitors Based on IP Address

Do not automatically redirect visitors to a website based on their location or browser language. Though you may have heard that many sites do this (including Google), this can lead to a poor user experience.

This is a bit “do as I say, not as I do” on Google’s part; they use IP redirection for their own blogs, such as Webmaster Central. For example, when someone visits the Webmaster Central blog from Spain, they are redirected from http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/ to its Spanish version, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com.es.

However, in Google’s guide to international targeting, they advise against this practice:

We recommend letting users access all country versions, regardless of their location. Avoid automatically redirecting users based on their perceived location. To guide users to the appropriate version of your site, you may wish to show the user a banner or otherwise encourage them to visit a local version of your site.

The problem arises when visitors want to read your content in one language, but your redirect would try to serve them a different language (based on their IP address). Samuel Scott, an international SEO consultant with offices in the USA and Israel, shares his frustration with retargeted IP redirects:

I am not completely fluent in Hebrew, so I prefer to read English-language websites when I do not have a lot of time. Yet too many websites automatically redirect me to their Hebrew versions because they detect that I am located in Tel Aviv. It’s annoying. Rather, give visitors the choice to be redirected to a different version (and not through an obtrusive method such as pop-ups). In an increasingly-globalized world in which people from one country often live in another, such an option is important.

4. Add Cross-Domain Canonical Tags

One great feature of rel=“canonical” element is that it can be used across multiple domains. This allows a site to have identical content on similar country domain extensions, such as .COM and .CO.UK, and specific the correct versions of each using the canonical tag. The benefit: this eliminates any duplicate content issues.

Note that the cross domain canonical is not necessary for different languages. Google does not consider foreign-language translations to be duplicate content. It’s something to keep in mind for using multiple domains with the same content and language.

5. Use the HREFLANG Tag (Not the Language Meta Tag)

Many websites serve users from around the world with content translated or targeted to users in a certain region. Google uses the rel="alternate" hreflang="x" attributes to serve the correct language or regional URL in Search results.

Hreflang annotations are used by Google and to identify the language (and also country) targeting of a page to make sure they always show the right version to the relevant user. Add the hreflang tag to every locale site, designating all the alternate language/location versions of that URL as well. Check out this guide for examples of proper hreflang implementation.

How to use the canonical tag and hreflang tag together

Do not use el=canonical across different language or country versions. However, using it within the same language/country version is fine and one of the recommended ways of handling canonicalization.

NOTE: if you have implemented the rel="alternate" hreflang mark up for a particular page, then the rel="canonical" of that same URL must be self-referential.

Example:

The pages www.thespicehouse.com/spices/ and www.thespicehouse.com/uk/products/ are targeting audiences in the USA and the UK. They have the same content, so we should implement the rel="alternate" hreflang mark up.

In the case of the URL targeting searches in English from the USA :

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-US" href="www.thespicehouse.com/spices/" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-UK" href="http://www. thespicehouse.com /uk/spices/" />

<link rel="canonical" href=" www.thespicehouse.com/spices/" />

In the case of the URL targeting searches in English from the UK:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-UK" href="http://www.thespicehouse.com/uk/spices/" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-US" href="www.thespicehouse.com/spices/" />

<link rel="canonical" href=" www.thespicehouse.com/spices/" />

This is the simplest solution for using hreflang and the canonical tag together.

Conclusion

That covers the basics! These 5 steps are the backbone of a website set up for international SEO. Even if you can’t get them all in place, addressing some of the steps will help your website reach global audiences. To learn more about how to optimize your website for SEO, follow the Digital Third Coast blog.

Published by: Danny Fries in Business

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