The Big International SEO Guide: Taking Business Global

In this international SEO guide, I’ll cover some of the important sections of global marketing and optimization. You’ll find out the types of businesses that international marketing can help, three ways to know if it’s not something you need, and a 6-question quiz to find out if you’re ready for the big market. I’m excited to share this information with you; international marketing strategies are my favorite!

When we think of international marketing, we often think of shipping, transatlantic package rates, brick and mortar transactions, different languages, and so on. We might also think of faraway places, unreachable unless you run a large, multinational business.

With the World Wide Web, of course, the world has become attainable. From anywhere in the world, you can reach… anywhere in the world. Middle American small business owners rub proverbial shoulders with middle-weights in the Sahara and heavy-weights in the way-down-unders of Australia.

Just because you can reach somewhere, doesn’t mean you can actually sell to that place, however. Reaching is easy. Marketing is a whole other animal.

Who will manage all of your SEO efforts? Keyword research will become a full-blown project with respect to ranking internationally. While your efforts will be global, your company must thoroughly understand how the local SEO process works where you operate. Finally, your company will need to create a link building strategy. Supporting links and local sources will help improve search rank.

International SEO Isn’t Just “More SEO”

International Markets

International SEO can be an excellent way to grow your business and increase revenue, but it can also be a weak spot if not done correctly. Also, keep in mind that borders don’t matter with global products or services. You’re competing on a global playing field.

Your local market already knows and loves you, but what about potential customers in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa or the Middle East? Marketing to another culture is about more than just translating your website and doing a currency conversion, you need to really understand your new customer base.

It’s more than just a few bells and whistles; properly executed international SEO engages people from other cultures in the exact same way you’ve already drawn in people from your home country or locale. Because you understand their sensibilities and taboos, you avoid offending or accidentally causing a snafu with your products or marketing efforts.

In fact, there’s quite a lot that goes into international SEO to ensure your new customers’ needs are met and your site ranks just as well in the new market as it does in the old one. Here are just a few things to consider to make your site a global success:

Evaluating Foreign Markets. 

Just because you’d like to move into France or Canada doesn’t automatically make it a good idea. Market research for your foreign market should include evaluating your ability to provide the customer service and logistics your new customers require. It should also include examining your plan for your earned foreign currency. Of course, other traditional parameters will apply as well, like whether there is other direct competition and if the market is already saturated with a product like yours.

Keyword Research.

Keyword research is incredibly important for any campaign, whether local or global. American English isn’t the most popular language for international SEO — in fact, most visitors prefer sites that are written competently in their own native tongue. In the same vein, the keywords you ultimately use for your SEO campaigns must be in the language and diction of the people who you hope will visit your site. Without the guidance of someone who speaks the language fluently, it’s hard to know if the keywords you choose are going to be natural choices that will play into your organic SEO strategy.

Checking Out the Competition.

Working with other markets is a tricky proposition — even though we’re living in the Internet Age, each cultural group has a different convention for what gets hits and what kind of offers are considered must-haves. Competitive research helps you truly know what standard you’re going to have to live up to in order to capture your market. The most effective SEO in the world won’t help if you’re breaking cultural taboos or not meeting expectations.

The Technical Stuff.

Your website does a lot more than you probably know — in the background, it’s telling the search engines that are crawling it all sorts of things about itself, from the language it uses to the topics it addresses. Just like with other aspects of international SEO, this is less straight-forward for sites targeting markets outside of the United States. For example, if you need multiple language versions of the site for a country that’s multilingual, like Canada, you’ll have to structure the site in such a way that the search engines understand how to juggle each language version.

Convincing the Search Engines That You’re Local.

Geo location is a very simple concept with some very far-reaching implications. It’s all about convincing your search engine of choice that you’re local so it’ll show your site to the international community of your choosing. Geo location is a big piece of your global marketing puzzle and can require things like local hosting, local inbound links and the correct language meta tags to drive the local search engine’s decision-making process.

Types of Businesses That Benefit from International SEO

International Marketing

There are numerous types of companies that can benefit by extending their reach and influence across the globe. The list we provide is an example and by no means exhaustive.

1. Startups and small businesses tend to have limited resources and customers at first. An international SEO marketing strategy is easier to implement at the beginning rather than later on, and can be built to scale with the company’s growth. Small businesses and startups can gain the edge over their competitors from the start.

2. Any online service or SaaS company can benefit from a marketing strategy that places their product before the world. These companies need a strong flow of customers. SaaS companies, by their very nature, have created software products that solve problems. The problems solved are likely those that users around the world need solving.

3. Any company, big or small, that offers a highly specialized service or product can benefit. Niche companies have already moved ahead of the competition. They work with smaller audiences that are sometimes spread out across the globe. However, the relevance of their audience is high. These companies also have more competitive keyword opportunities to attract new business.

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4. Those working in the legal profession often specialize in a particular field. Depending on the firm’s legal reputation, people from around the world may seek their services. Law firms can capitalize on both local and international search.

5. Competing brands are competitive for a reason. These are companies that operate in the same space or provide similar products. SEO is always advantageous because it allows the winners to survive in a highly competitive landscape. There is always an opportunity to improve rank and win in the game, “Get to the Customer First.”

Do You Need International SEO?

We’ve had some companies come to us that thought they needed international SEO, but found out that it wasn’t really necessary at the time. While there is always room to branch out, there is a time and place for everything.

You probably don’t need international SEO if:

  • Less than 10% of your traffic is coming from other countries.
  • You don’t ship overseas.
  • You don’t have the money for expansion. (Yet!)

Are You Ready for the International Marketplace? A Short 6 Question Quiz.

Stepping into the international market can bring a traffic from around the world – not just the countries you’re targeting. Are your company and website prepared for that?

With our technology, there’s absolutely no reason a business has to stay in a single location unless they want to. However, branching out is something that takes serious consideration. It’s not to be taken lightly. Before you ever look at what it will take for you to build a successful campaign, you have to start with these six important questions to ask yourself?

  1. Can your hosting plan handle a large influx of traffic? Depending on your product/services, you could be dealing with over 100,000 visitors per month. Make sure your hosting plan, if it doesn’t currently allow for high traffic, has the ability to quickly scale to higher traffic.
  2. Do you get any visitors from other countries? If so, are any of the countries going to be included in your launch plans? Your analytics program should have some form of geo-location information being recorded. Does your international traffic account for a noticeable percent of traffic?
  3. Are your production floor or service providers ready for the increase in sales? Many times, companies find themselves overwhelmed by the raise in service requests and product sales when SEO is implemented. Imagine this on a global scale. Be ready to scale your employee numbers up to handle the influx.
  4. Do you have multi-lingual customer service representatives? If not, do you have a plan for speaking with individuals in another language? While English is a well-known language, people much prefer speaking in their own. In fact, this is one of the reasons we at Level343 speak as many languages as we do. Not only does it put the customer or client more at ease, but it also reduces the chance of misunderstandings.
  5. Do you have the budget to optimize your site for various languages? We’ve had clients come in that were wanting to launch in multiple geo locations at the same time, only to find out that they had the budget for one country at a time. Make sure your expectations are in line with your optimization budget.
  6. Are you prepared to handle shipping costs and international currency? You need to be aware that your target market will most likely not have the same currency as you. How will you deal with the difference in coin? How will you manage the fees of exchange? Will you charge the customer or yourself?

If you answer “no” to any of them, you aren’t ready for the international marketplace. Revisit, revamp and then come back and take the quiz again. If you don’t know the answers, don’t shrug the question off. Find out!

Marketing Across National Boundaries: International SEO is HYPER Local

person with magnifying glass for hyper local seo

At its simplest level, international marketing involves making one or more marketing mix decisions across national boundaries. At its most complex level, it involves establishing manufacturing facilities overseas and coordinating marketing strategies across the globe. Online marketing to an international audience falls somewhere in the middle, but it, too, has levels of complexity.

First and foremost, you have to remember that international SEO is local SEO times five, or ten, or fifteen – however many cultures, languages and countries you’re targeting. In other words, each country not only has its only language, but it has its own:

Rules and Regulations

Marketing across national boundaries in a physical world requires things such as knowledge of tariffs for individual countries, or which country requires what type of postage. Online, international marketing also has its set of rules.

Most recently, the GDPR (or the EU General Data Protection Regulation) upset the marketing world. In fact, the repercussions are still rolling out; the last time I was in Italy, there were several U.S. sites I couldn’t reach because they didn’t meet GDPR compliance.

Another example: the U.S. requires digital marketers who specifically target children to follow the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. They also require “truth in advertising.”

The UK, however, has particular rules for any marketing that may reach children. An excellent example is the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) ruling of a mobile application.

The AVG Cleaner app–not a problematic application in and of itself–showed a banner ad for a solitaire game. The ad featured suggestively posed women in bikinis. While the ASA ruling was more of a warning than a major fine, it points to the seriousness of making sure your I’s are dotted and T’s crossed if you want to market to the U.K.

Languages and Dialects

One of the common issues we run into with clients who have started international campaigns is understanding the differences in languages. Many believe that just targeting the main language of a country is enough. In some cases, this is true. In others, it’s far off.

The “Chinese language” is an excellent example. There are actually 5 main dialects spoken in the country; many are mutually unintelligible.

“Spoken Chinese is separated into five main dialectical groups, of which Mandarin is only one. Yue (which includes Cantonese), Min, Wu and Hakka make up the other four, covering more than 200 individual dialects. Some of these dialects are limited to very small geographical areas, while others have speakers all across the country and beyond.” – What Are the Different Types of Spoken Chinese?

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“Culture” is loosely defined as “the way we do things around here.” It’s taught, whether on a national, community or business level. It includes everything we’ve learned: all of our values, rituals, traditions and customs, among others. Since these things vary depending on where you live, it’s important to understand the culture of the locale you’re targeting.

For example, November 11th of every year, young Chinese people celebrate Singles’ Day. What does that have to do with marketing? Let’s look at what Forbes had to say about Singles’ Day 2016.

“Alibaba Group just wrapped up its annual November 11 Global Shopping Festival (Singles’ Day sale). What was already the world’s largest 24-hour online sale became even bigger. This year, Singles’ Day rang up an eye-popping $17.8 billion in sales, up from $14.3 billion last year.

To put this in perspective, online sales in just one day in China is more than Brazil’s total projected e-commerce sales for all of 2016.” (emphasis ours)

As an international marketer with China as a target, knowing about this very lucrative holiday could make your bottom line swell appreciatively.

Stanford Business has an excellent article about culture in advertising and how it colors the way we buy.


Educational “norms” don’t exist nationally. Requirements vary widely from nation to nation, and that may affect how you market to the nation. For example, South Sudan has a literacy level of 27%. Somalia has a 37.8%. On the other hand, the U.S. has an 43% literacy rate, while Russia tops the chars with 53%.

Countries with lower literacy rates may be better candidates for visual or audio ads. Countries with higher literacy rates may be the best places for successful content marketing campaigns.

Creating International Marketing Strategies

As you can no doubt guess, creating an international marketing strategy can get complex easily. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, however. When clients come to us because they’re going global, we create the strategies to fit their target market–much like you would in any marketing campaign. The difference is in the number of questions you ask and how deep you look.

For instance, if we’re creating an international marketing strategy for a client, we might have to research the customs and business etiquette of the target country. After all, although we’re in several countries, we’re not in all 196.

Second, we’ll have to find out what the marketing rules are for that particular country. The last thing we want to do is get a client in trouble because of some jurisdictional legalese.

Third, we want to look at the competition. What did they do to break into the target area? Or did they try and fail? Ultimately, we want to figure out what we can do differently to ensure success.

Start With An International SEO Audit

Once your company has reached the decision to optimize for an international audience and different languages, it must be set up properly. Your strategy will make or break the day, so you have to thoroughly understand the changes needed to reach and speak to your various locations.

An international SEO audit looks at the five factors below, among others:

1. Translator Tool or Human?

A translation tool is simply not good enough. This is because a translation tool will never be able to provide words relevant to the context. To ensure your international content and SEO is successful, it is best to use native translators so you deliver the right meaning and purpose of your business ideology.

2. Keyword Research

When thinking about keywords, it’s important to keep in mind the search engine that is most widely used in the specific region. In case of most western countries, the popular search engine is Google, but in Asian countries, Russia and various eastern European coasts, other search engines are utilized. You can easily find out about search engines online. This way, you will be able to adapt your SEO needs according to the demands of most used search engines.

3. Duplication Concerns

The most common concern that people have is whether the written content could be labeled as duplicated content. Rest assured, if the same content is written in different languages, it will not be thought of as duplicate material. Trouble arises when you use the same content, in the same language – say English for example -, and upload it on different websites for different countries. The only difference in this case is that the geographical targeting and website domain has been changed, but the content is the same. You can use rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” to ensure that there is no worry for duplication of any kind.

4. Keeping the Language Pure

Have you ever gone to a site that used a foreign language in spots? For instance, the content might be a different language, but the navigation is still in English. If you’re going to cater to another language, keep it pure. There are ways – and not too difficult ways – to set up a page so the language is used throughout.

5. Knowing the Local Hangouts

SEO content can also be specified for local areas by adding relevant information, that is, information about the certain country or city, like names, addresses, phone numbers, currency etc. in the title, photos, heading and descriptions etc. You can also use Google Search Console for geolocalizing, developing ccTLD, connection to blogs, articles, local media, local link building, use of citations from websites that are local to the area and much more.

Final Thoughts… for Now

I hope this international SEO guide has given you enough to think about, and even some information to get your global marketing strategy moving forward. International SEO and marketing have their benefits, an expanded customer pool being one of them.

Successful campaigns are very possible, but you have to be prepared. In fact, research and preparation are the two most important parts of any international business endeavor. Thoroughly research your expansion market, thoroughly prepare your company, and then jump in with both feet, chocolate in one hand, wine in the other and a wahoo! on your lips!

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