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How to avoid international SEO mistakes

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International SEO has long been a hot topic for enterprise-level brands and global companies. But, the increased ease of connecting with people around the world means these tactics are becoming vital for a growing number of businesses.

International search experts Clayton Warwick and Gary Reilly of Wordbank and Jeramie Heflin of Safeguard Global recently presented a webinar that highlighted some of the most common pitfalls, and their solutions, when it comes to optimizing for searchers who live in different countries or speak different languages.

Here are three important tactics from the panel about how marketers can prevent international SEO mistakes.

Put together a persona-based international strategy

“As marketers, the most important thing we can do is to understand who our customers are and when and how they buy,” said Heflin. “Going into new international markets, you’ll most likely develop targeted personas.”

“It’s okay if those personas are different than they are in your core markets; in fact, they probably will be,” she added.

Most of these new customers are not ready to purchase from the get-go, so marketers need to guide them through relevant content and experiences before pushing for conversions. To help with this process, Heflin recommends leveraging customer personas when reaching out to international markets. This can help marketers better understand their new audience’s needs.

However, to ensure these personas accurately reflect audiences, marketers need to pay attention to international search data to quantify the market opportunity for their brands.

“We found that a good tool to quantify this is Google’s Keyword Planner,” said Reilly. “It’s fantastic for measuring interest within a market. We recommend using the Planner to research keywords both at national and regional levels within these new markets.”

Optimize the international user experience

“As much as we consider user experience domestically, it’s often overlooked in other markets,” said Warwick. “We’ve customized our UX based on what Americans like, and having that level of consideration of what users in new markets want their journey to be is critical.”

Warwick recommends marketers consider the market device usage for their product or service. Mobile, in particular, accounts for a large portion of the organic search market (61% as of the second quarter of 2021). And while there are certain industry sectors where more people search via desktop, marketers would be savvy to optimize for these devices.

“There’s been a number of updates from Google that focus on the importance of mobile user experience and the impact it can have on brands that don’t prioritize it,” said Reilly.

One way to optimize UX is adhering to Google’s Page Experience guidelines. The Page Experience update, which began rolling out in June of last year, rewards sites with high-quality user experience signals, such as reliable security, optimized pagespeed, mobile-friendliness and more. Marketers can review the Page Experience report in Google Search Console to ensure their content provides good experiences for international users.

Beyond that, Reilly says marketers need to focus on optimizing for desired actions among their international audience: “For low-funnel content or conversion content, it’s a good idea to be testing a range of cultural UX considerations on key landing pages, especially when it’s a new market and you’re not 100% sure of the best type of design elements that you should use based on the target audience.”

Paying attention to the text styles, color palettes, types of images and the languages used on your landing pages can help ensure your content resonates with these new audience groups.

optimizing user experience with languages for international audiences
An example of a hospitality business that optimized its user experience for international audiences. Source: Clayton Warwick

Ensure the technical elements are aligned

Marketers should work closely with developers when optimizing their content for international audiences as overlooked technical issues can often derail campaigns.

“Start combing through your site to see areas where you could improve your technical setup,” said Warwick. “Fill that list for your developers so they can start knocking the items out.”

To get more specific, he pointed to the importance of in-market page load speed: “We all know how important page speed is to both SEO and paid efforts. We’re not going to want to waste media dollars sending someone to a site where they’ll inevitably bounce.”

Tools such as PageSpeed Insights (shown below) can help marketers gauge their site’s performance based on Google’s Core Web Vitals and recommended loading times.

PageSpeed Insights dashboard
Google’s PageSpeed Insights report

Pagespeed isn’t the only factor marketers should consider. When looking at international markets, the CMS and multilingual plugins have the potential to either make or break campaigns. These technological frameworks should be able to adapt to the searcher’s region and language to prevent poor experiences.

“CMS and localization plugins can have a big impact on how effective search campaigns are,” Reilly said, “They can impact the number of things you can optimize and test.”

“Depending on how the CMS and the translation tools are built, you might not be able to fully optimize the technical aspects, and this might impact search performance,” he added.

At a minimum, marketers should use a CMS that allows them to set the language and region information in the hreflang tag. This helps search engines understand the linguistic and geographical context and, ultimately, serve up the most relevant results to your international audience.

Our world is more connected than ever, and an increasing number of brands must ensure their content meets the needs of searchers outside of their local markets. Ignoring international SEO considerations could mean wasted search efforts and missed opportunities.

Watch this webinar presentation at Digital Marketing Depot.


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About The Author

Corey Patterson is an Editor for MarTech and Search Engine Land. With a background in SEO, content marketing, and journalism, he covers SEO and PPC industry news to help marketers improve their campaigns.

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