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9 key steps for a successful international SEO strategy

Growing your business internationally involves, amongst other things, a lot of effort around expanding your international online presence. However, targeting multiple markets and expanding your website internationally can be both demanding and complex.

So, how can you help your international online expansion efforts go smoothly? Developing an international SEO strategy should be your first step in this process. A good international SEO strategy will define the steps your team should follow to create content tailored for your different target markets, as well as develop a website structure which is both user- and search engine-friendly.

This blog post will briefly outline nine key steps for developing a successful international SEO strategy. This is based on a full-length guide that I wrote on this topic, so if you want a more in-depth read, you can check that out by clicking the button below!

1. Identify which markets you want to expand into

You must identify markets with search and traffic potential that you want to target, and decide whether you will target languages or countries. For many businesses, this may already be predefined by their business goals and industry. However, it is always good to research and understand which markets have the strongest potential for your business. Asking yourself questions such as “Are your business operations and activities limited by certain locations?” and “Which are the markets of interest for your business goals?” can help you to define your markets of interest.

2. Carry out localised keyword research for each market

You need to understand how users search for products and services in each market you will be targeting, with the end goal to deliver tailored and valuable content which answers their needs. To do so, you should carry out localised keyword research, which will result in a list of search terms you will be targeting in each target market.

3. Assess the competitive landscape in your target markets

Getting familiar with your competitors will help you to understand who you are competing against in each target market, as well as where your strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to your strategy against your competitors. Understanding the competitive landscape can also be useful when making decisions around your domain structure and URL approach. Besides, analysing your competitors’ content and backlink profile can give you a lot of insights and help you when designing your own international SEO strategy.

4. Choose the right URL structure for your needs

There are multiple options to choose from when it comes to your domain and URL structure (e.g. ccTLDs, or a gTLD and subfolders, or subdomains), with each option having its pros and cons. To select the right domain structure for your website, it is essential to assess the competitive landscape and identify what domain structure is preferred by searchers in each of your target markets. Moreover, you should always consider the actual value and cost benefit of each of these solutions, and this is where you will have to make realistic decisions depending on your budget and resources.

5. Create a content optimisation and localisation strategy

Quality keyword research is the base of a good content optimisation strategy. It will help you to identify topics and areas of interest in each of your target markets, based on which you can further outline your content strategy and priorities. Your selected keywords for each target market should be categorised by user intent and grouped by category based on how related these keywords are. This will make it easier to further map the keywords (each group of keywords) to the landing pages in a suitable website section where the content will be created and optimised. By following this process, you can ensure suitable content is offered to the user at each stage of the user information funnel. It is very important that the content is created by native copywriters who should take into account the cultural characteristics of the market the content is being created for.

6. Use hreflang annotations correctly (if they are needed)

Making sure everything is done right so that search engines understand which is your target audience, is essential for success. Hreflang annotations are an important part of this effort, as they allow you to signal to Google which markets you are targeting, protect your website from duplicate content issues, and help to establish clear connections between different languages, or the same language across different markets. Making sure that hreflang annotations are implemented correctly and that there are no issues, on a regular basis, is an important part of any international SEO strategy.

7. Have a functional and crawlable language selector on your website

A visible, user-friendly and crawlable language selector is an important element of your international website. Language selectors ensure a good user experience, by enabling the users to switch from one language version to another when needed. Moreover, by cross-linking different language versions of your content, a strong signal is given to the search engines on how these pages are related to each other, whilst also allowing your website to be crawled and indexed more efficiently.

8. Work on brand promotion and backlink acquisition for each target market

Entering new markets requires investing significant effort in brand promotion and increasing brand awareness. These activities should be an on-going part of your strategy, where SEO will work together with paid advertising and social media marketing. When it comes to SEO, brand awareness can be achieved through building visibility on-SERP and backlink acquisition. Acquisition of different SERP elements such as the knowledge graph, featured snippets, the “people also ask” box and other features will help increase your presence on the SERPs and build awareness about your brand and trust amongst users. When it comes to backlinks, it is well known how important referral links are for content to be discovered and authority built on the internet. Furthermore, local and relevant referral links can bring high-quality traffic to your website.

9. Establish your SEO KPIs and monitor them regularly

Monitoring is crucial not just to understand where you stand when it comes to your different target markets, but also to identify any issues that could be fixed and opportunities to improve. Establishing the KPIs to track in each target market is the first step in the monitoring process. These can include visibility, ranking position, click-through rate, user engagement metrics, etc. Regular monitoring of your KPIs will help you identify patterns, seasonal trends, issues and opportunities. This data can help you make important decisions on how to act to constantly improve your performance.

Want to learn more?

I hope this blog post has been a useful introduction to how to develop an international SEO strategy. This blog post is a shorter version of a full-length guide I wrote on this topic, which I hope will be useful to any marketer working on international SEO strategy. If you are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of this topic, I suggest checking out my full-length guide here!

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Sanja Markovic

Senior SEO Specialist & Assistant Manager at Webcertain
Sanja is a Senior SEO Specialist & Assistant Manager at Webcertain and has worked in SEO since 2015. She conducts SEO audits and creates SEO strategies, always having in mind the most innovative and most effective solutions. She is passionate about creating content strategies and new methodologies for content optimisation. Sanja speaks Serbian, English and Spanish, and is familiar with the basics of Chinese. Originally from Serbia, Sanja now lives in Spain.

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