10 Multinational SEO Best Practices

If you’re expanding your website to target an international audience, congratulations! Entering the world of global marketing is exciting and potentially very lucrative. It is also quite challenging. Knowing what to do — and what not to do — regarding multinational SEO is critical to succeeding overseas. Follow these 10 steps to establishing powerful and useful international SEO.

Use Hreflang Tags for Multiple Languages

When expanding your site across different languages, use link elements called hreflang tags, which are invisible to users, but indicate to robots the presence of a language variation (the “lang” in hreflang stands for “language”).

When translating content into multiple languages, hreflang tags are the best way to ensure that the correct content will be displayed to the right audience. For example, the following variation will ensure that Canadian audiences and American audiences receive the right version of your content:

  • <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-us” href=”http://www.MyWebSite.com/usa/” /
  • ><link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-ca” href=”http://www.MyWebSite.com/ca/” />

Avoid Duplicate Content with Canonical Tags

When using a canonical link element in conjunction with hreflang tags,  search engines that support canonical tags (like Google) will perform a “soft 301 redirect,” which avoids duplicate content and steers traffic to the primary URL.

Place the canonical link element in the <head> area of your website, as seen in the following example: <link rel=”canonical” href=”http://example.com/wordpress/seo-plugin/”>

Consolidate All Domains into a Single URL

Many victims of Panda penalties have found that improving content, making sites more user-friendly and cleaning up link profiles was not enough to get out of the hole. In some cases, merging domains was the only way to get back in Google’s good graces and regain high search rankings.

Merging two decent sites into one results in a highly concentrated power site. The three-step process of planning, implementing and monitoring site migration/consolidation is not a complicated process, but it is its own article. This checklist is a good place to start.

Take Care with Redirects

When redirecting visitors from an old page to a new page (or an entire site), it is critical to do it right. Failure to use the right redirects can result in 404 errors, distrust from Google, and massive drops in traffic and search rankings.

It is usually appropriate to stick with permanent 301 redirects as opposed to temporary 302 or 307 redirects, as well as slow meta refreshes. Ensure that your site doesn’t have the wrong redirects by conducting an audit with the help of a redirect trace extension tool.

Create a Local Presence with Contact Information

Contact information that is local to the region where you want your website listed tells the search engines that your site is relevant and useful to the local audience. It is highly likely that you have neither the resources nor the need to set up a call center and open an office in multiple countries. But international SEO best practices dictate setting up a P.O. box and a virtual phone number to list on your website, neither of which are complicated or cost prohibitive.

Speak Their Language

It’s no secret that link quality matters in SEO. This standard does not stop being true when you go international. Build “local” links — links to and from sites in the same language and from the same geographical location that is hosting your site.

Coordinate Your Efforts with Google

Configure your geographic and language settings in Google Webmaster Tools. Google will help you manage multilingual versions of your site, target site content to a specific country, build your URL structures and duplicate content on international sites.

Use Local Translations

In the U.K. they toss the rubbish in the dustbin instead of throwing the garbage in the trash can. They watch football instead of soccer, and they go on holiday instead of taking a vacation. The point is that even among closely related English-speaking countries, local dialect can vary wildly.

The only way to ensure you don’t miss the important cultural and linguistic nuances that make a website authentic is to hire a local translator. Automated translation software will not do the trick, but if you use software, at least pay a translator to proofread the results. Try a site that offers translation services on a freelance basis, like OneHourTranslation.com.

Add Keywords in the Target Language

Just as with links, keywords are a critical part of SEO in any language. Keywords don’t usually translate, so a good trick is to type in a search string in the target country’s version of Google without hitting enter. The resulting suggestions will show search strings which locals are entering in real life. From there, use an international keyword research tool.

Track and Measure

Just as with any SEO campaign, international SEO is fruitless without a set of metrics and a standard to measure them. Measure your local traffic and presence using Google Analytics. Ranking tools such as AuthorityLabs can track results in specific countries.

It takes skill to succeed in international marketing. But that skill all comes down to knowing what to do. International SEO is designed to bridge the gap between languages, cultures, and countries. Some elements, like hreflang tags, are unique to global SEO. Others, however — like link building and keyword research — are the backbone of SEO in any language.