How to do successful international SEO strategies in 2023?
Similar to SEO in Switzerland, international SEO is one of the advanced strategies of digital marketing. For various reasons, some companies, or brands, decide to expand internationally. One might think that translating a website into the language of the targeted country would be enough.
However, the awareness and online visibility of a website from one country to another is not automatically transferred. This is why it is imperative to think about an organic strategy to adopt when expanding internationally.
If you want to understand in detail how international SEO works, this article will help you discover the important steps to establish an effective strategy.
International SEO is a strategy that allows positioning a website on several markets. To do this, and depending on the targeted countries, the site must be multilingual, offer a structure that allows customizing the content locally and finally plays a certain notoriety through links from local sites.
The concept of internationalization in search engines
SEO in general is often associated with the technical optimization of a site. However, there are many other aspects around SEO that deserve to be studied in depth (content, keywords, links).
Nowadays, offering your products or services outside the borders of a country is commonplace. Thus, we can see a good number of companies developing in different countries and even on several continents.
It is not uncommon to find products manufactured in Switzerland and then marketed throughout Europe, or even in regions across the Atlantic.
The different paid acquisition channels allow you to quickly increase your international notoriety quite easily.
However, increasing one’s visibility on an organic level is a rather tedious task, especially in relation to the different conditions required for a good indexing and a good referencing strategy on search engines.
Whether it is from cultural differences or in relation to the different main players in each market. Finding your place in the search engines of many countries requires a precise strategy.
Why is international SEO so important?
International SEO allows you to develop your brand awareness in a country where your brand and its products are not yet available.
On the other hand, it can be very interesting for a company to find a new target and opportunities when the local market becomes saturated.
International expansion allows scaling up a business and develop a sustainable activity.
This is a real challenge for most companies that venture into the internalization process. Depending on the business model (SaaS, services or digital products), ensuring the growth of your company internationally is very different.
How is international SEO different from regular SEO?
Generally speaking, SEO is based on three pillars:
The technical part, which allows to be indexed in an optimal way
The On page SEO part to improve its position in the search results
The Off-page part to increase its legitimacy and authority on a defined theme.
Most of the time, we optimize the content of a site according to the national language (unique) of a country.
For some markets, it is different, for example Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, etc., require a more complex SEO strategy for search engines. It is not enough to translate a site to make it appear in several languages.
The situation becomes even more complicated when it comes to making your site visible in another country.
There are many resources on this subject, which often contradict each other. I start from the principle that it is necessary to dissociate the best practices from the reality of the business.
For example, if we start our activity with the aim of developing internationally, the choice of the domain as well as the structure of the websites could be reflected and the obstacles anticipated.
However, when we have an activity and a website online for several years, we will have to face some difficulties and find compromises.
To simplify, international referencing requires a fairly precise understanding of the keywords used in one market compared to another. It is not because the official language is the same that the keywords in the content are identical.
The technical aspect (especially the structure of the URLs, the Hreflang as well as the sitemaps) must be meticulously established. Mainly to inform the search engines of the different versions of the site available for each country.
Finally, the off-page part will undoubtedly promote the legitimacy of a site in a defined market. Receiving links from local sites is a very good thing to develop your business internationally.
International SEO vs local SEO
There are many differences between international SEO and local SEO. For example, implementing a local strategy requires creating content for regional prospects.
Thus, it will be necessary to focus on keyword research associated with a neighbourhood or a city in order to rank locally.
On the other hand, when it comes to establishing an international strategy, the choice of keywords and the associated content strategy will be much more global.
It is not enough to write a text and translate it. It must be adapted for each targeted country and search engines.
Costs are also more important, maintaining a local version of a site is more economical than managing a site in several languages for multiple countries.
Finally, the international competition can be very different from one market to another. It may be easier to do market research and position yourself on certain keywords in some markets than in others.
What are the most common obstacles to international SEO?
Developing international visibility depends mostly on a company’s long-term goals.
Generally speaking, offering your services or products in other markets also requires an understanding of how the market works.
The shipping costs, the laws in force as well as the different competitors and search engines are significant points to take into account.
When should I optimize international SEO efforts on my website?
Once the decision is made to expand into other countries, it is essential to establish an international SEO strategy.
Knowing that there is a more or less long period of time between the optimizations on a website and the indexation and the consideration of a search engine.
An international keyword research will be the first action to undertake in the content strategy. Then, it will be necessary to make sure that the site is indexable by Google. Finally, it will be necessary to translate and localize the entire content of the site. Mainly to position itself effectively on the requests of prospects.
The particular case of Switzerland
Coming back to Switzerland, my opinion is quite divided on the subject. In my experience, many companies prefer to expand into a neighboring country rather than develop their business in the neighboring part of the country.
At first glance, one might think that it is much faster to develop a Swiss website in Germany.
However, the available language of the website and the content is ultimately a small part of the huge task of international SEO efforts.
For example, shipping costs, cookie laws, but also the handling of product returns is often more tedious in a neighboring country than in a region within the same country.
Is it better to target the language or the country?
The local language or country depends mainly on the relative objectives and strategy. For example, if the service or product does not require logistics, then targeting a language rather than a country will make sense.
However, if the strategy is to develop local or national awareness in another country, then establishing a country targeting strategy will be more effective.
Developing an international SEO strategy for a website
Optimizing a website internationally is no small task, and it requires a well-thought-out plan.
It’s not just about translating the content. The payment system, the delivery methods, the keyword research, the local search engines but also the domain and the structure of the site are determining factors.
You must first determine all the actions to be taken, as well as the modifications to be made to the existing platform.
Some points to watch are :
Is the domain name international (.com)?
Is there a special local law for e-commerce?
Does the structure of the pages allow having product sheets in the targeted language?
Does the structure allow the pages to be multilingual
Thus, it is also necessary to define concrete objectives in the middle and long term. Think about the technical aspect on the one hand, but also about the whole part of the content strategy management, local notoriety and the off-page aspect related to the backlinks coming from other websites.
Updating the content of a multilingual site requires much more effort and investment. However, it allows you to have a much wider target audience and a larger number of potential customers.
Using a local SEO agency or a freelancer can be a very good idea. Usually, they are specialized in their country or regions and have already implemented effective strategies.
Best practices and international SEO perspective
In addition to a standard technical SEO strategy, there are several other criteria to consider regarding the SEO strategy.
In order for outsourcing to be effective, most of the time it will be necessary to localize the content as well as the activities.
This is to allow search engines algorithms to index and rank all the content in the desired version.
First and foremost, for the On-page SEO, you need to research keywords in the language, but also the target market. Simply translating keywords that work in one country is not synonymous with success.
There are many nuances, especially within the same language:
A laundry room is “chambre à lessive” in Switzerland, is a “buanderie” in France.
These keywords can be very different once they have been translated.
A “chambre à lessive” in German is a “Wäschekammer”
A “buanderie” in German is a “Waschküche”
Depending on the search intent, but also on the competition already in place at the level, a content only translated could not be as effective as a fully localized text.
Domain selection and site structure
It is possible that the domain that has been used successfully for several years is a domain of the type (.ch, .fr or .de).
You have to choose between a country extension or a “.com” domain and review the entire SEO strategy.
Many criteria must be considered in relation to the decision, we must not forget that there are good practices, but often an organic history that can be more or less decisive.
Internationalizing your activity has an impact on the structure of the pages. It is not enough to add a parameter in the URL, but all the pages will have to be adapted so that Google or other search engines identify and index the different versions.
The “Hreflang” attribute is useful when it comes to informing search engine spiders about the different versions of the site, either in a language or for a particular location. Thus, it is quite easy to define whether :
The page of a site is intended for Germany “from”
More precisely for Germany and in German “de-DE”.
Or finally for Switzerland in German “de-CH”.
An important nuance that prevents the indexing of the wrong version of a page in a market or language.
A good sitemap allows providing a lot of information to search engines. Specially designed to make the structure of a site “transparent” and more understandable.
A good practice is to create a sitemap by versions of the site.
Therefore, a first sitemap for the French version of the site and a second for the German version allows the crawlers to differentiate the different parts more easily.
A fully translated site would have a much better chance of being referenced than a site partially available in a specific language.
Each page created must be available in all the languages offered by the site.
However, on a site with different versions in each country, it may be that very local content has little interest from one market to another.
For a multilingual site in Switzerland, it is a good practice to translate everything.
Offering localized content is the best way to develop your international SEO strategy. On the one hand, because the user experience and confidence in a product is greatly enhanced.
On the other hand, localized content can increase brand or company awareness and thus gain valuable links (link building) to other local sites.
Is SEO in other markets worth it?
This is a question that can have many answers. As with most things in SEO, “it depends”.
Depending on the long-term goals, an international SEO strategy can be a very good idea. However, it is imperative to keep in mind the various obstacles and challenges to implementing an effective strategy.
Also, local SEO or international opportunities can be crucial to the strategy. It will be much easier to develop an online business using content created by an existing person or company in the target country.
The type of product can also impact the decision. Regarding logistics, it is much more complicated to deliver physical products to another country than a digital solution or service.
The target market is also a determining factor. If the core business is a niche with strong competition, the market becomes saturated very quickly. For example, a company that manufactures roller coasters will quickly run out of prospects on a national level. Therefore, developing your SEO internationally becomes a necessity.
Finally, if the international presence is only through paid campaigns such as Google Ads or on social networks, then investing in international SEO allows increasing domain authority and reduce advertising budgets in the middle and long term.
A good practice would be to analyse through a tool like Google Analytics or Google Search Console the markets where the traffic comes from.
International SEO is a specialization that requires a good knowledge of the targeted markets.
In Switzerland, some of the best practices of this speciality can also be used.
On the one hand because the market has several languages, and on the other hand, because awareness must be built in the different regions of the country.
If you are still unsure about setting up an international SEO strategy and need help, please contact me.
I will be happy to give you advice based on my experience with international SEO in general and your specific concerns.
Finally, if you want to know the latest news and updates on digital marketing in Switzerland, I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter!
I’m a digital marketing consultant with 20 years of experience in digital growth in Switzerland.
I assist small and medium-sized businesses in enhancing their online presence and generating more leads.
Based on research and data-driven approach, I create digital marketing strategies and effectively implements them.
I also train marketers in SEO, SEA (Online Advertising), and Web analytics to enhance their skills.