Expanding your ecommerce website into the global marketplace comes with several considerations and adaptations that need to be made. One crucial investment is in your ecommerce website’s international SEO strategy.
International SEO involves optimising your website for more than one country or language, allowing search engines to determine which countries your website is relevant to. International SEO differs from regular SEO as it involves tailoring your approach and website content to multiple countries, rather than just one region or language. Investing in international SEO can help to increase your brand awareness in new markets and expose your website to more traffic which can in turn lead to increased sales and revenue.
Any business looking to start offering international sales should be investing in optimising their website for international search engines and new demographics.
Depending on whether your ecommerce business is looking to target specific countries or certain languages will dictate some elements of your international SEO. Nevertheless, there are some key aspects to consider when optimising an ecommerce website for international sales.
The type of URL structure your ecommerce website chooses to implement will depend on the resources available to invest in international SEO and whether your site is designed to target specific locations or specific languages. Without a different URL structure depending on the language/country being targeted, it will be difficult for a search engine to understand which content is being targeted to which audience.
Common URL structures for international SEO include;
Country code top level domain (ccTLD): a two letter code at the end of a URL to indicate to visitors and search engines where the domain is registered. ‘.com’ is a universal ccTLD and can be used for any country, however using specific ccTLD can help your site to achieve higher rankings on international search engine results pages. If your website is looking to target different countries, consider using a different ccTLD depending on the country being targeted.
Subdomains: These prompt search engines to register each country-specific version of your website as a new site. Subdomains can be more complicated to implement and use, but they can be useful for targeting specific countries, without needing to register a new domain name.
Subdirectories: This method places international website content in a specific folder within your main website, for example an ‘/eu’ subfolder would contain content for European website visitors. Subdirectories are useful for targeting both countries and languages and can be particularly useful if you do not have an established global brand.
Generic top level domains (gTLDs) with language parameters: This URL structure includes a generic domain such as a .com or .net, with the additional parameter for language such as “/lang=en-us”. gTLD are good for language specific targeting.
Hreflang is a tag included in the HTML of a website to indicate to search engines that your website has copy in different languages and which languages these are.
By indicating this to search engines, it avoids the creation of duplicate content which can be detrimental to your search engine rankings. Not all search engines will recognise hreflang tags, however as Google is globally the most popular search engine it is worth including. For other search engines check how best to indicate that your website has multiple languages to avoid duplicate content.
Targeting users based on their geographic location is called ‘geo-targeting’. It is good practise to avoid rigid geolocation options on your website, instead give your visitors the option to switch between different versions of your website should they need to. For example, a visitor may be accessing your website from Australia, but they actually live in South Africa and want to view your South African site so they can pay in their preferred way and choose the right delivery options.
Tailoring content by region
Web content that performs well on your UK site and for UK based searches, may not be relevant to all of your locations. Consider the demographics of each country or language that you are targeting, taking into account cultural holidays and ensure that you do not include any content that would be considered offensive to other cultures, on your international websites. Tailoring your content makes your products more relevant to international shoppers and can allow you to include search terms and keywords that are more popular in specific regions. Additionally, when tailoring content, also adjust your currencies. Offering local currencies can make the checkout process easier for international customers, and can mean they avoid paying processing fees for currency conversions on their credit cards.
Optimising for popular search engines
While Google is the world’s most popular search engine, and most SEO practices are focused on optimising for Google, there are other search engines that are more popular than Google in some countries. For example, Baidu in China and Yandex in Russia are more popular choices than Google. When optimising your website for different countries, research other popular search engines and their optimisation principles so you can ensure that your website continues to rank highly on all search engine results pages.
Translate web copy
When tailoring your web copy to different countries or languages you will also need to ensure that it is correctly translated so your international visitors can easily navigate around your online store. Avoid using auto translation services where possible as these are not always accurate and heavy reliance on these tools could lead to poor translations and navigation issues across your website. When translating copy, consider differences in dialect between different regions, for example English is spoken in the UK and USA but often different terms of phrase are used, this also applies to France and French Canadian speakers.
Optimise website speed using a Content Distribution Network (CDN)
It is often the case that website speeds can reduce the further away a visitor is from your main server. This can create website speed issues for your international customers. Not only does Google take into account website load speeds when ranking search results, but customers can also become frustrated by slow websites and leave in favour of a faster one. To overcome this, consider using a content distribution network (CDN). This system directs visitor requests to their closest server so your website can load faster on their browser.
International keyword research
Different keywords and phrases will have different search volume across different countries, there is no one size fits all for keywords. To ensure that your website is appearing on search engine results pages for popular keywords in different countries, you will need to undertake some international keyword research. Once you have compiled these, optimise your landing pages for each country with these keywords.
Investing time in international SEO can have a range of benefits for your ecommerce business. Appearing higher on search engine results pages gives your brand greater visibility and therefore access to a greater potential customer base. With more visitors on your website, there is an increased likelihood of making more sales and therefore generating revenue. Many SEO best practices can also improve your user’s experience and navigation across your website. If you are looking to expand your ecommerce store into the international market, international SEO is a crucial investment to help your business become more visible and start generating sales.
If international SEO is important to you then it’s vital you implement a strategy which is right for your business, incorporating both the technical aspects and making efforts to customize your content and search experience for your customers needs. The steps above will help get you started with this and see your business reap the benefits, notably being; improved visibility on search engines, therefore attracting a wider customer base and an increase in sales.