Blog

SEO Internationalization Best Practices & QA Checklist

February 17, 2021
by
Tory Gray
Tory Gray

When adding different languages and targeting different countries on your website, it's critical to keep in mind that not only are you addressing international markets and audiences in a language that likely isn’t your own - you also need to help search engines, like Google, Bing, and the rest, understand what the heck you’re up to. 

We’ve helped several of our clients through SEO International projects like this, through strategy to planning and execution, and based on our research and experiences, these are the most important aspects to take into consideration.

BEFORE YOU START DEFINING REQUIREMENTS HERE please see our guide on SEO Internationalization Tech Specs and Business Decision Insights. Which domain setup you select should be a direct result of your goals for this project. Don't make the - incredibly common! - mistake of choosing a solution prior to understanding which solutions work for which goals!

Make Sure It Works (Literally!)

Make Sure ALL Content is Translated Into the Same Language

Don't send conflicting signals. Make sure all of the page copy including the main navigation, footer, images, advertisements, metadata, (everything!) is fully translated/localized to the language version/region version you are targeting. Oversights will stick out immediately, so take the time to get it right.

Localize Your Copy, Don't Just Translate It.

Regional differences matter to the people in those regions! Google Translate is fine for individual words and short, simple phrases, but if you have anything even remotely complex, reach out to your network and see if you know anyone who speaks the language, or just bite the bullet and hire a translation service (or native speaker of the local language.)

“Pepsi once translated its “...brings you back to life” slogan into Mandarin, and mistakenly wound up with “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” Whoops!”    

For obvious reasons, avoid that mistake.

Make Sure Your Language Switcher Actually Works

Otherwise known as: Quality Assurance Testing. Do yourself an enormous favor and find out what devices your target audience uses (mobile as well as desktop)in this new market - and what operating systems and browsers they’re using. Once your implementation is complete, go back and view every page, click every link, and go through every use case scenario you can think of using all of those devices and browsers. Even better, hire someone unfamiliar with the project to do it as well. They’re almost guaranteed to find things you didn’t.

These checklist items apply to internationalization specifically, but you need to keep regular QA, and SEO QA in mind as well.

Make Sure It Follows Normal SEO Best Practices

 The SEO “Duh” List:

Don’t Enforce Redirects To a Specific Language/Region Page Based on IP Addresses

It’s considered best practice to allow users to self-select into a language, and allow them to change that language/region when they want to.

Why shouldn't you redirect users automatically? Well, here’s the obvious example: Googlebot is based out of California. If you enforce a redirect on Googlebot that sends it to your US/English page, it won’t be able to crawl to other language or regional variations, in order to crawl them or (eventually) index them. 

“Avoid automatic redirection based on the user’s perceived language. These redirections could prevent users (and search engines) from viewing all the versions of your site.”    — GSC Help

Ensure There's a Crawl Path to the New Pages

Make Sure it Follows SEO Internationalization Best Practices

Choose an Optimal Organizational Structure

Your technical team will have a lot of say in the structural setup of internationalization, which will take into account technical complexity, cost, and maintainability, among other things.

The general options for URL structure for geotargeting include:

  • A new top-level domain: website.co.uk (for this use case, we are typically talking about a cctld - or a "country code top-level domain" that's matches the country you aim to market to.)
  • A subdomain: de.website.com
  • A subfolder (also called a subdirectory): website.com/canada/
  • URL parameters: example.com/?lang=spanish, example.com/?country=australia
  • A brand new domain: website-french.com, www.brand-in-spain.com

The subdomain or subdirectory options are generally preferable for SEO - at least when taking technical complexity into account (e.g. a cctld, as referenced above - can also be desirable for SEO, but that's often more work and more maintenance, and therefore more cost. For this reason, gtlds (generic top-level domains) are more commonly used).

Even though there is a huge list of considerations when choosing which domain strategy to adopt, we somewhat prefer the subdirectory option for SEO, because you can then leverage the site's overall link profile vs. starting from scratch. That said, all of these options work. 

Caveat: we really can't recommend going the parameter route. Google specifically recommends against it. 

gsc-advice-for-international-domains-and-seo.png

Via GSC Help

Utilize “Hreflang” Tags

NOTE: We can't recommend creating different pages in English for different markets (e.g. a US vs. a UK version.) This used to be a critical step, but these days Google is more likely to show whichever version is the strongest (e.g. most links, highest domain authority, etc.)

Don't fight against the tide! 

Don’t Mess Up Canonicalization: 

One common mistake is canonicalizing international variations to one primary language. However, each language/region is a valid variation in-and-of-itself, and therefore each version should self-canonicalize. If you don’t set it up this way, you risk accidentally deindexing the pages you are attempting to rank in the first place!

Don't Forget About Other Search Engines:

When you are focused on a US audience, it's easy to focus on Google alone. But some specific countries predominantly (or exclusively!) use other search engines instead: namely, Yandex in Russia, and Baidu in China. The tactics for ranking can and do vary, so don't forget to explore these needs if you are targeting these audiences.

Other Tips: 

  • If you do have a different website for a language/region (subdomain, top-level domain, new website entirely), consider hosting that site in that target country.
  • Get local backlinks/link to local & locally relevant content 
  • Consider setting up separate tracking phone numbers to quantify the results of your work
  • Don't forget that international audiences may have different expectations for the usability, user experience (UX) & functionality of your core offering. They may even expect an entirely different brand/design relative to your original site. Much like you should localize your website copy, you can and should meet the expectations of the users - visually speaking - in the new areas you are looking to grow in.

Make Sure You Are Set Up To Monitor the Results of your SEO efforts

Setup Language Variations as Properties in Google Search Console (GSC, formerly Webmaster Tools)

gsc-international-targeting-legacy-tool.png

  • If you've used an obvious organizational structure to keep your international variations together by language/region - usually a subdomain (es.website.com), top-level domain (website.co.uk), or a subfolder (website.com/es) - claim a property in GSC for that variation. 
  • Then set country targeting in that account (you'll find this in the old GSC, via the Legacy Tools & Reports)
  • Verify that your hreflang tags are working via the language tab
  • Monitor your international results over time in this profile, since this setup enables you to segment your data to just this section of your site. 
  • Review the Coverage report for opportunities for technical improvement. 
  • Review the Performance report for opportunities for strategic improvement
  • Ideally, create a language/region-specific XML sitemap, and submit the correct one to each GSC property variation. Also, as always, keep an eye out for the GSC errors.
international-language-country-targeting-gsc.png

Don't Forget To Invest In Growing Your International SEO Results Over Time!

In other words: don't launch & forget it!

Emerging into foreign markets is a daunting process even under the best circumstances, and as usual, the devil’s in the details. Fortunately though, our team has seen and done it all, and we’re here to help no matter the size of your project.

Contact us for help with your International SEO Strategy today!

Work With Us
We’ll help teach, mastermind, and carry out SEO roadmaps that check all the boxes.
CONNECT THE DOTS WITH US