International SEO: a good technical basis in 5 steps
Do you want to appeal to an international target group with your website, or are you looking for ways to further expand your ‘online footprint’? Then it is of course important that search engine bots and the users of search machines find the website. To give you a hand, we are sharing our best practices in the field of international SEO-technology in this article.
In order to ensure that your website is indeed shown to your intended international target group, then it is particularly important that search engines know precisely which country or language you want to target. As every online marketer knows (or should know), the technology of a website is the foundation for an adequate organic findability.
One of the first steps in the process of international SEO is site structure. The discussion often concerns the question: should you make use of local ccTLD’s (such as .nl), a sub-domain, or a sub-folder?
5 tips for an international SEO-strategy
If your site operates on a gTLD (such as .com), then this may have huge advantages for international SEO. Unfortunately, we have also seen things go terribly wrong. Major international e-commerce parties experience major indexation problems, as they make matters unnecessarily difficult for the search engine. This article provides 5 tips that lay the foundation for a good international SEO-strategy.
1. Use sub-folders instead of sub-domains
If a site makes use of one or more sub-domains (for example, nl.webshop.com), then these are sometimes seen as independent websites by search engines. A disadvantage of this is that the various websites do not share the value that they receive from incoming links. If you use sub-domains, then each of these sub-domains will require link-building efforts. If you make use of sub-folders (www.webshop.com/nl/), then the sub-folder will benefit from the link value that the domain has. And so this is a much more efficient approach to international SEO. Which is why we recommend: examine together with your web-designer whether it is (technically) possible to migrate your website to this new site structure.
You can use sub-domains to easily determine which relevant currency you should show in the webshop. The following url-structure is present in such cases;
Distinguishing currency in this way is sometimes a standard technical implementation. By switching to a multi-currency-website, it is still possible in many cases to show the settings in sub-folders. Sub-domains will then no longer be needed. If you switch from sub-domains to sub-folders, then the url’s will turn out as follows:
And so you substitute the sub-domain for the www-version. A migration plan is essential in having this process proceed successfully.
To maintain the value of the old pages, the url’s from the sub-domain structure must be redirected in the correct manner to the identical pages in the sub-folders. By including status code 301 in this redirect, the search engine will know that it concerns a permanent redirect and the value of the former url will be passed on to the new url. In such cases, the redirects will look like:
But what do you link the eu-sub-domain to?
This sub-domain is not directly linked to a country. The only option that you have if a sub-domain is not linked to a country, is to redirect the sub-domain to the www.-version of the site: from eu.webshop.com/* to www.webshop.com. Users will see a ‘splash page’ on the www.-version of the site.
3. Splash page
A what? Yes, a splash page. A splash page is a landing page that users (and Googlebots) reach before the actual homepage of a country-language combination is shown. You can be sure in this way that the user will land on the right page when he or she accesses the www.-version of the website. And so a splash page is an important technical part of a well-thought-out international SEO-strategy. Zara’s splash page is shown as an example below.
Ultimately, the page will be accessed (almost) only through direct traffic. That is, in the organic results, Google gives preference to the homepage of a country-language combination that best suits the user. This is clarified in the example of Zara below. Of course, using Google AdWords and other campaigns, you can access the sub-folders directly.
Perhaps you are thinking: Wouldn’t redirecting directly to the correct country-language combination on the basis of browser language or the IP-address be just as effective? The answer is no. Search engines do not crawl websites from every country and if you fail to precisely exclude all of the bots from all of the search engines from the automatic redirecting process, then the spiders will not reach all of the url’s.
This can lead to tedious indexation problems such as the problems that Puma is currently experiencing. In such cases, search engines do not know which version of the website is to be shown to a certain target group.
Once a user has indicated a preference for a language, he or she can be immediately redirected to the right language next time around. It is essential in that respect that the choice of language of the user is stored with a cookie. An example of a redirect, upon accessing www.-version a second time after selecting a language:
4. Make use of alternate url’s
Search engines use the features rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” in order to display the correct country-language combination of your website in the SERP. The alternate url also informs search engines of the relationship between the various language variations of your web pages. If a site is available in multiple languages, then each language page must identify all of the different language versions in the code. Including the language version of the page itself.
You then need to define the splash page as ‘x-default’:
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://webshop.com/” hreflang=”x-default” />.
More information on the implementation of alternate URL’s is available in Google’s Search Console Help!
5. Set the Geo-location for every locale in Google Search Console
In addition to using hreflang tags, we also advise that you add all of the specific countries that make up your international SEO-targeting separately in Google Search Console.
You can then indicate the intended country-language in Search Console for each sub-folder. In addition, this has the added advantage that you can obtain interesting information from Google Search Console per country, instead of only acquiring information that concerns the entire domain.
And now: scoring on the organic level
Just how important a solid foundation is to scoring on an organic level, is underestimated. Content and link-building are important, but the technology of the website truly is the basis for international SEO.
We recently completed a SEO-migration of sub-domains to a splash page for a major international client: within one week, this resulted in an average increase of no less than 37 places in the organic results of Google for 50 target key words. This is pure profit, without even changing anything in terms of content or link-building!