Many companies, apart from doing business in their home country, are looking for opportunities to exploit the potentials of foreign markets. Thanks to the simplicity of modern methods and – above all else – the Internet, expansion has now become a natural next step in the life of many companies. If you are already running a company or are just setting out on your odyssey to explore new markets, it is imperative to also remember about the myriad of marketing activities that are vital to success. This includes paid advertising (AdWords), mailing, social profiles, as well as SEO among other promo activities. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on SEO.
An SEO Strategy abroad
If you want to start positioning a website abroad, first you should think about how you want your brand to be perceived in that market and what customers you want to reach. Do you want to reach Poles in Germany or perhaps just promote yourself as a Polish company now working in that country? Maybe instead you want to be seen as a completely global brand? It’s worth setting your goals at the very beginning to then determine how you want to reach your target audience.
As a global company, it is still entirely possible to have your website in different language versions (eg http://www2.hm.com/en_eur/index.html, http://www2.hm.com/fr_fr/index.html), but you can also have every service for each country visible under alternative names (eg. https://www.eobuwie.com.pl/, https://www.ecipo.hu/, https://www.eobuv.cz/). Perhaps instead you could have a more advanced combination, involving a globally-focussed company with multiple different language versions (eg. https://www.mascus.com/?language=da, https://www.mascus.com/?language=ro, https: // www. mascus.pl/?language=pt). What you choose will depend on the additional marketing activities undertaken both on and off the website. The right approach will also avoid many of the problems that may arise when positioning your company outside of its border.
To commence effective SEO activities in other markets, start by choosing a domain. Google here provides a fantastic distinction for understanding an important difference:
A multilingual website is any website that offers content in more than one language. Examples of multilingual websites might include a Canadian business with an English and a French version of its site, or a blog on Latin American soccer available in both Spanish and Portuguese.
A multi-regional website is one that explicitly targets users in different countries. Some sites are both multi-regional and multilingual (for example, a site might have different versions for the USA and for Canada, and both French and English versions of the Canadian content).
So if your domain is multilingual it may look like this:
While multi-regional domains would look like this:
So which is better to choose – multilingual or multi-regional? There are many different opinions in the industry, so the best advice is to go back to your strategy and try to identify who you want to reach and how you want to do so. Below are the advantages of both solutions:
– all marketing activities are conducted for just one website
– one domain = one hosting
– lower maintenance costs than for multi-regional domains
– SEO link building for only one domain
– independent optimisation and marketing activities across domains, which can therefore be closely tied to the specificity of a given country’s trends
– the possibility of using the ccTLD domains (country code top-level domain), ie: the two-letter top-level domain reserved for the state or independent territory (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Country_code_top-level_domain) , e.g. www.domain-name.pl
– link building activities can be run on various foreign websites that correspond to the most relevant domain (which is still a natural SEO activity)
– graphic optimisations are done for each language separately, which can be a problematic area for multilingual domains
– if you receive a penalty for actions that do not comply with Google’s guidelines, it will not affect the entire domain (as it would for a multilingual domain); only the domain affected by the penalty will suffer.
Content on particular language versions of a site should be 100% tailored to the users. This means that by directing part of the website to English-speaking users, content should be available in English and not, for example, in Polish. Remember that the more valuable and useful the content on your site is, the greater the chance of a positive reception to what you offer. It can therefore be important to keep in mind the following rules:
- Translate all of the main content elements of a page – i.e. titles, texts, meta description, alt tags, link titles, breadcrumbs (in accordance with the SEO optimisation guidelines), and all keywords assigned to a given page. Keyword analysis is particularly important. It may turn out that in a given language some expressions, products or services are searched for in a completely different way than it may seem. It is always worth knowing the full potential of localised phrases.
- Do not use automatic translations of content – language errors are much more likely to appear. Content created in this way can also be regarded by Google robots as of low quality.
- Translate the content on all the pages of the website, not just the homepage.
- Don’t just strictly concentrate on translating the content. Make sure to include all elements that are visible on the website, such as the menu (navigation), footer, login page, regulations, etc.
- Also translate the URLs of the pages, including all their variable parameters so that, for example, on the version of the German site, these types of invalid pages do not appear: https://www.domena.com/de/klapki-damskie.
Always provide a way (usually in the form of buttons) to change the language on the page for users who are already on the site, e.g.
When it comes to SEO and enabling the proper navigation of a site for users, it is essential to remember to implement the relevant processes for targeting between a site’s language versions. For the correct indication of other language versions the HREFLANG attributes should be used, which are added in the <HEAD> section of each page for which other language versions are available. Thanks to this attribute, we can provide Google’s robots with information on what content should be served to which audience.
For example, with a page in Polish, English and German, the signs should look like this:
- For the Polish version of the site homepage: https://www.domain-name.com
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”pl” href=”https://www.domain-name.com” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en” href=”https://www.domain-name.com/en” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”de” href=”https://www.domain-name.com/de” />
2. For the English version of the site homepage: https://www.domain-name.com/en
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en” href=”https://www.domain-name.com/en” /> <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”pl” href=”https://www. domain-name.com” /> <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”de” href=”https://www. domain-name.com/de” />
3. For the German version of the site homepage: https://www.domain-name.com/de
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”de” href=”https://www.domain-name.com/de” /> <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”pl” href=”https://www.domain-name.com” /> <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en” href=”https://www.domain-name.com/en” />
It is worth remembering that HREFLANGs are operated by Google and Yandex. For Bing, you should also use additional markings:
<meta http-equiv = “content-language” content = “en-us”> or <html lang = “en-us”>, where “en” means the language declaration, and “us” the country in which the language is use.
Important: Every page should also include the relevant HREFLANG for the version of the site you are using. For example, include the Polish HREFLANG on each page of the Polish Version
Source: Own study
HREFLANG attributes can be established within a domain, subdomains, and subdirectories. In addition, it is also possible to specify more specific language versions, such as materials addressed to Belgian residents in French: <link rel = “alternate” hreflang = “fr-be” href = “…” />.
More about this can be found here.
It is really important to remember that each page should contain links to other language versions, because otherwise Google may have a problem recognising the appropriate version of the page to direct at the user. Here, Google Search Console may be of help. In the console, the tab ‘Search related traffic> International routing’ tells you which sites have been forgotten or incorrectly indicated with other language versions on a website:
Source: Own study
If the tool shows up any errors, it is still worth checking them manually and, if confirmed, take steps to improve the attributes.
In the context of different language versions for a single domain, it’s also worth taking care to ensure the proper creation of sitemaps. Make sure to upload these into the right box in the Google Search Console: Indexing> Maps website:
Source: Own study
If we want to generate traffic from search engines in countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States or France – where Bing holds a significant share – it’s a good idea to set up a profile in their Search Console as well. The Bing webmaster tool can also be used, which also benefits users through being able to analyze data and provide relevant messages. If, however, your business is directed to the Russian market, where the Yandex search engine prevails (currently at around a 53% share, it is also worth creating a profile using their tool. Thanks to a wider consideration of search engine usage, we are thus able to respond faster to emerging changes and errors.
A few Pro Tips from a Hosting Specialist
Once the preparation of a website has been conducted appropriately, the next step is to think about the hosting strategy. If our efforts are aimed at making our websites available in different countries and on different continents, the classic hosting packages that are offered by a number of both smaller and larger companies will be insufficient. Considering the fact that “page rank” depends partly on the speed it takes to open a website (I recommend an interesting article on this issue from our blog https://makoblog.com/pl/predkosc-ladowania-strony-w-oczach-googlea/), it becomes important to ensure that customers using the service in different parts of the world will not have to wait several seconds for the page to load. You can, of course, host sites from different operators located in different countries, but such scenarios are first of all expensive, and secondly, quite difficult to implement and centrally manage.
How then should you deal with such situations? A good solution that brings with it many benefits is the use of public cloud services – otherwise called Content Delivery Networks. A CDN is basically nothing but a series of proxies located in various locations, enabled with the mechanisms for the easy creation and management of content services. By using a CDN, the content of our website is stored as widely as possible on a host of proxy servers in varying locations (called PoPs – Points of Presence). Clients do not communicate directly with the centrally hosted resources, but instead with the PoP servers.
The result of this is the fast delivery of content to the client (with content always delivered from the nearest server) and protection of the source server against direct access – all attempts to attack can be terminated on a proxy server.
Speaking of attacks and security, the CDN services currently offered are not just proxies. The service nowadays also covers a number of mechanisms and dependent services that greatly increase the quality and safety of the whole service. These include:
- Application firewall services – WAF (which protects the service at the application layer level)
- Mitosis services for DDoS attacks (a distributed attack aimed at blocking services)
- The service of tunnelling content between PoPs and the source server
- Access control services
- A secure DNS server service with failover functionalities (in the event of a failure from the main source server, the service switches to a backup)
- SSL / TLS acceleration services
- Transmission optimisation service (e.g. content compression on the client end)
In addition to the classic “caching” processes, it is worth considering the services available for multimedia content storage on a public cloud – these can ensure the high speed and reliability of the content being shared. It is important, in this case, to properly prepare the website to enable media to properly interact with cloud resources.
In a Content Delivery Network, it is very important to pay special attention to the proper management of HTTP headers at the stage of a pages creation so that it can be cached. In addition, the implementation of mechanisms for the invalidation of stored content on PoP servers should be resolved – regardless of whether you are using HTTP headers that limit the storage of objects over time, or using the APIs provided by CDN providers that trigger relevant operations on the CDN side.
Last but not least – price. Usually, CDN services (like most cloud services) are billed for the traffic generated. Unit prices depend on the volume of the band used. There are also unit-settled services for supported domains that allow for “upfront” pricing to accurately estimate service costs. However, being aware of the traffic that is generated by a website makes it sometimes better to calculate the settlement for the transfer first.
For more information:
International marketing activities will not seem particularly difficult if you follow the above rules. The key is, first of all, to define your needs, goals and how you want to present your brand to different markets. Do you want to be a Polish producer abroad? Or maybe a global brand? What steps you take at the beginning will determine what further action will be taken in relation to the positioning of the site. This is important because subsequent link building actions may be approached differently for any given language version, e.g. obtaining links on websites in the UK for ‘https://www.domain-name.pl/en’ may be less effective than if directed to https://www.domain-name.co.uk . In addition, it is worth bearing in mind that in different countries the specifics practices of SEO activities may look different. This may involve looking in other places for obtaining links to the website, differing popularities of keywords related to the product or service, as well as overall trends.
So you will have to answer the question of whether you will be able to sustain your SEO activities for several language versions on your domain, where each of them can exist and be optimised separately. A lot also depends on whether your business is mainly in the domestic market and customers from abroad are just an “add-on”; where you might prefer to focus all activities on positioning the site to users on your native search engine.