Learn International SEO from this SEO Cape Town Guide
Tips and approaches that will allow effective international SEO deliverables in 11 min
International SEO Cape Town Guide:
In this guide, we will show you how to rank for international SEO depending on your specific situation. There are different approaches for different scenarios and they depend on certain factors, but before exploring the factors let’s catch up with certain definitions and concepts that are crucial to understanding to the International SEO Cape Town Guide.
Before discussing the three approaches below we should quickly understand certain challenges affect International SEO strategies:
Server location affects international SEO in two specific ways:
1. Signal of target audience IP location. Google relies on this signal less these days but where your server is located is a strong signal to Google who should see your content.
2. User experience from a page load speed in the age of Mobile-First. It will count against you in terms of the how far your server is related from your target audience geographically due to the latency of drop in speed of page load speed of distance.
Both of these signals are part of Google’s localisation element of their search algorithm.
International SEO Cape Town Guide: Multilocation vs multilingual challenges vs combination of both challenges
Some websites will be multi-location where the content and language is unique per location. Here one URL with various subdirectories per country could be used, but also a sub-domain with its own pros and cons and then even for companies with large resources, one website per country.
In international SEO, What makes it complicated is when you are targeting various locations and they speak different languages within each country and you would like to target their individual language preferences per too. An example would be targeting multiple countries such as Canada for both French and English, French especially being regional in its unique Canadian French character.
Then sometimes, a company may want to cater for large language variations across the globe, basically just targeting languages as geographic locations are largely assumed or not considered as important. Think of international brands with product resources looking at their SEO.
In this International SEO Cape Town Guide, we look at how to solve these challenges. There are three main approaches and their unique domain formatting and information hierarchy setup that we discuss below.
We discuss three approaches in this International SEO Cape Town Guide and their relative domain setup:
One country specific domain per location
In this instance, we use a ccTLD. What is that?
A country code top-level domain or ccld is one of the strongest factors to signal Google as to who should view your content. This basically uses a country code that is accepted globally in the domain after .co. part of the domain identifier.
The only issue is that the overwhelming signal to Google is that country then. Also, the domain authority accrued from backlinks will only be within each country and thus backlinks will have to be built uniquely per country, huge amount of effort and cost.
This approach best suits a high level of resources that will allow for a unique website and content strategy per country.
According to John Mueller’s(Google Webmaster Analyst)
ccTLDs (country-code top-level domain names): These are tied to a specific country (for example .de for Germany, .cn for China). Users and search engines use this as a strong sign that your website is explicitly for a certain country.
• Strong signal
• Server location and target audience in same geographic areas
• Only one version ranked and not competing with other versions
• Resource intensive for multiple sites
International SEO Cape Town Guide: One generic site for multiple geographic locations
This approach uses a gTLD.
Generic top-level domain or gTLD, means that Google does not associate any specific region to a domain. This is best used if you take a single global website approach, where resources are limited.
Here a new folder or sub-directory is created and targeted per region. The benefit of this approach is that the authority or page rank from backlinks per country is all targeted on one domain, so overall ranking may be easier due to stronger authority.
Example.com/fr/ for targeting France
Example.com/de/ for targeting Germany
• Domain authority consolidated from backlinks per region as sum of all parts and thus offers stronger ranking from backlinks
• Far easier on company resources in terms of operational staff
• One CMS or backend system operated for all subfolders, cheaper from a development point of view.
• May be interpreted as less authentic by locals or natives who are looking for the trust of their ccTLD, true local results
• Only one server location, therefore countries targeted afar will suffer limitations of latency as described earlier
International SEO Cape Town Guide: One domain with subfolders and multilingual targeting
This is almost identical in setup and benefits to the approach above but it is more detailed or extended in targeting. This usually occurs when there are different national languages per country. Here hreflang tags must be used in addition to rel canonicalisation.
Hreflang tags are used to tell Google explicitly what the language of the page is about. Hreflang tags may be implemented per page per header, per http header request or set in the xml sitemap of your site.
International SEO Cape Town Guide: Subdomains
The third approach is to go the subdomain route. The benefit would be that you could indeed house the subdomain on a server within the targeted country.
An example of sub-domain targeting Germany would be:
The key benefit is making use of the server location signal, due to your sub-domain site being able to be hosted in the target country.
Unfortunately, however, the sub-domains are interpreted as different sites largely by Google and thus domain authority is not consolidated or passed to either of the domains as PageRank.
PageRank is a metric Google uses that is calculated by the number of links of other sites to yours and of sites to theirs, where the number of links per page becomes the denominator.
Domain authority is roughly a metric based on the sum of links from other sites to yours, invented as a way to measure an interpretation of the very real metric Google uses called PageRank by Moz. The point is that your main domain could potentially and most probably not share authority to the subdomain and vice versa.
• Hosted on a server in the target location, strong signal to Google as which geographic locale should see your content.
• Link equity or PageRank is not consolidated for maximum domain authority.
The disadvantage here is that backlinks to this sub-domain do not pass authority to the primary domain example.com. Therefore, backlinking work and costs are not benefiting one primary domain but only the subdomain.
The marketing and operational questions that you should be asking yourself to know what approach discussed is best suited, are looked at below:
1. Firstly, do you have the budget to have one website per country which ultimately is the most powerful signal to Google where you want to rank or can you only afford one website in terms of development budget?
2. Would your budget be able to fund multiple content teams and their content output? Remember each locale would ideally need its own unique content suited to local customs.
3. Would your budget be suited to have enough SEO companies or internal SEOs, either centrally or decentralised to run the SEO strategy of multiple websites?
If you can afford the operational resources and workload related to running multiple websites, one per country you are targeting skip down to the one country, one website section of this guide, below. This decision should not be taken lightly, however, the growth of the size of each website should also be taken into consideration in terms of the long term outlook of your organization’s future and capacity.
If you can only afford one website the next step would be to review the scenarios below:
• Are you targeting different countries with different languages?• Are you targeting different countries with different languages within singular countries. (example you are targeting French and English speaking people in Canada but your company is based in the UK)?
• Are you targeting different countries with the same languages e.g. UK and US markets?
• Are you targeting different languages internationally where the specific country is not such an issue due to the specificity of certain languages spoken strictly in certain regions or related to your product or service assortment? All German speakers worldwide. (Think of an online product resource or manual.)
International SEO Cape Town Guide: Single Website Multiple Subfolder Strategy
Now for all the above scenarios, a subfolder is highly recommended rather than using a sub-domain. Although Google says it can see s subdomain as part of a site, many leading SEOs believe that PageRank is not passed to the main site, as each sub-domain is essentially seen as a separate site as mentioned earlier.
Using IP detection to display certain content is also not recommended as this may interfere with Google’s ability to index portions of a website efficiently as Google’s crawler bot IP address may not be in one of the targeted locations and thus certain versions of the content will not be shown. The same goes for the url parameter content display.
If you are targeting different countries where different languages are spoken
These are called multi-regional and multilingual sites.
In this instance, you need to create sub-folder on your domain set up as xyz.com/us/ and xyz.com/fr/ as an example of targeting USA and French territories. In this instance, we assume only one language per country and thus would simply create a subfolder on the site, almost like a micro-site, targeting one language. The content will be completely unique to this region and would not be translated as it fundamentally is unique to the one region.
In other words, you may be selling similar products but your weekly content deals with region-specific themes and you create unique product descriptions rather than machine copied translations (Google strongly recommends avoiding this).
First and foremost you would need a generic tld such as .com or .digital as an example. Google doesn’t see any region signals in these tlds. Therefore with subfolders, you could target Google will then see those signals.
If your you have country code TLD, Google would overwhelmingly be signaled that the country code related country was primarily where you hoped to target. It Goes to say that you cannot create an international SEO strategy with a tld like .co.uk as an example or that at least it would be confusing to say the least to Google.
IP address of your hosting server would be taken into less account in these instances with a generic top-level domain. It would be important to build backlinks in each country localised to each country sub-folder of the site.
Google search console should also be set up per folder or sub-directory as a separate web property. Then targeting should be set to each country as an additional signal.
Are you targeting different countries with different languages within each singular countries?
In this situation, you would set up the content on your websites in sub-folders specifically targeting specific countries as we advised the situation above this, read it now if you skipped down to this section in the guide, before continuing.
The difference would primarily be the addition of hreflang or with larger sites tags and re canonicalization. You say what?
Hreflang tags are language tags that explicitly inform Google of who to target in terms of language settings in the user’s browser.
The issue is having multiple language translations can sometimes allow for duplicate content. Google states that you should have a human translate the content and strongly recommends not having the content machine translated.
Where this is not possible Google suggests using canconicalisation which is a fancy word for using one of the pages of content as the primary or example versions representing all other close or near-duplicate versions. This allows Google to count only one version as the version and understand that these other versions are indeed mere translations.
Using the combination for hreflang tags and rel canconicalisation and country-specific subfolders allows for multiple signals telling Google clearly for who and where the content must rank.
There are view ways to install hreflang tags. You can install them in the header section of each page, this will obviously cause more header requests. Or you could install them in the xml sitemap.
The benefit of the xml sitemap version is that there will not be multiple header requests per page allowing for a fasting loading site with a better user experience, ultimately what Google prefers.
The idea is still to uniquely translate content for each region but use the rel canonicalisation as a backup if the content is inherently similar, like product descriptions.
Are you targeting different countries with the same languages such as English in Australia, USA, and the United Kingdom.
In this scenario, hreflang tags will be completely necessary, used in conjunction with country specific sub-folders.
The differences between Australian English and UK English are very slight. Here duplicate content could be a real issue when taking website service or product informational pages into account.
Again it is strongly advised to have a manual or uniquely translate or rewrite the content to be as unique as possible.
The best way is to include the href lang tags in the xml sitemap, this way, as discussed above, the browser won’t send multiple header requests thus creating a slower user experience.
Are you only targeting an international audience through language.
In this scenario, no country-specific subfolders would be necessary, just language sub-folders.
Here you would only be targeting the user’s language settings in their browser. This is fine because you use this ranking strategy to provide content related to your business in the language that is preferred by the user and not relative to their specific geo-location.
This is the ultimate in targeting but extremely heavy on resources due to the sheer amount of content and work from an operations perspective per country. Also, the domain authority accrued per site would never be as powerful as a singular multi-region singular site.
Your website would be hosted int eh country that you are targeting. Now Google says officially that they look at many signals and have evolved to not count on this signal alone but ironically in their own guide on webmasters it states that it is a con that a site is not hosted in the same country.
We believe IP address is still heavily relied on by Google on tests we have run. That said, you may successfully rank in foreign countries even if hosted in another country altogether. The signals should then be in place like having backlinks in place from local associated websites to the locale you are targeting.
Let’s look at extra tips related to geotargeting in this international SEO Cape Town Guide:
The issue is loadspeed and user experience are more in inversely proportional the further your hosting is away from your target audience. Google came out in 2018 and stated officially that loadpseed was indeed a factor for ranking. Your site visitors have a better user experience. Read more about their article on loadspeed.
Therefore, if you take the one country one website approach, you should house your website on a local server so that users accessing the site will have a fast enough load time to ensure a good user experience.
The way you can get around this is by using a CDN. A CDN or content delivery network is a network of servers that carries a cached version of your site so that the searcher accessing it will see a version that is cached from a node on their network that is closest to the searcher.
All the scenarios benefit from a CDN in terms of loadspeed and user experience. Google knows that there is a positive relationship between loadspeed and bounce rates. The slower the page takes to load the more people hit the back button, thus higher the bounce rate. Google needs to deliver results with a good user experience.
With one country targeting, you usually have a website that loads quickly enough.
Localisation and NAP details for international SEO.
The best approach with NAP (Name, Address, Phone) details is to have separate contact page per country within the framework of the site i.e. within the sub-folder. If you have a cc-tld then use of Schema mark-up would be a great idea here, to explicitly tell Google where you are targeting as an additional signal.
Also, link out from anchor text containing the regional keyword to a regional site page that carries authority. An example would be the local chamber of commerce. Google also looks at where you link out to or reference to give your content meaning.
Ensure you select high-quality regional websites that would garner a lot of local industry backlinks.
This should be done from the contact page per each region per subfolder on your site.
The last language tip:
Always have the option of swapping the version to different languages on the footer, just in case, your internal SEO strategy has brought someone incorrectly to the wrong version. This may especially happen with hreflang tags and rel canonicalisation.