How to Develop an International SEO Strategy
International SEO refers to optimizing your search presence for different languages and countries. Use this guide to implement your global SEO strategy.
Enterprise organizations have long operated across borders. The challenge of doing so has always been to maintain a unified brand while functioning smoothly in varied markets. In response, corporate leaders have learned to coordinate their operations with the distinct cultures, languages, and time zones of the areas where they do business. But the rise of the internet has produced a new international strategy requirement: managing your global digital presence.
What is international SEO?
International SEO refers to optimizing your search presence for people who are in different countries or speak different languages. It encompasses everything from site structure to cultural nuances in your content.
Global SEO is complex. It bridges multiple teams; technical work might sit with your IT department, while content teams will likely modify location-specific assets. International SEO thus requires deep corporate coordination. It also involves managing assets in multiple languages and regions, along with associated currencies, products, and features. And localization can get extremely technical, requiring developer resources to administer on-page HTML elements and complicated site structures.
Why is international SEO important for enterprise companies?
Modern communication technologies like the internet famously shrunk the world (opens in a new tab), connecting people thousands of miles apart in an instant. It’s now easier than ever for companies to tap into global markets. But even with increased international access, localization is still critical. Customers across borders expect a seamless, relevant experience whether they are in Belarus or Bangkok. Moreover, a lot can go wrong, leaving customers confused and unsatisfied.
Search engines attempt to serve the most relevant content to the right person in the right location based on a variety of signals. But given the enormous scale and complexity of modern websites, corporate structures, and global cultures, their algorithms need help. And if a customer has a bad experience, they won’t blame Google—it inevitably reflects poorly on your brand, or the customer will end up ingesting inaccurate or incorrect information.
Inadequate international SEO can even have legal consequences. Rules and regulations vary significantly from one region to another. Serving a U.S.-specific page to someone in France, for example, could result in fines under the EU’s privacy scheme (opens in a new tab), not to mention damage to your reputation.
What functionality do you need in an international enterprise SEO platform?
Managing all this global SEO complexity requires an SEO platform that operates across search engines, audits your technical foundation, and oversees end-to-end content creation and reporting. Here’s what to look for when identifying the right solution to support your international efforts.
Set up your account for success
SEO platforms generally require some setting up in order to maximize value down the line. You’ll want to track your most important keywords on the right domains and in the proper locations. Your keywords should also be bucketed into semantically-related categories, making it easier to find insights from the data.
This process can get complicated, and it’s best to have professional support. Conductor’s team of audience research experts, for example, onboards every single customer. Our analysts have extensive experience working with complex international accounts, and they work directly with your team to tailor the platform to your needs. They also categorize the data so that you can start getting insights right away. Make sure you find an SEO partner that sets up your account right to provide you with the best possible long-term results.
Research the search engines that matter
You need to track your visibility on the right search engines to understand your true online presence across the globe. Most enterprise SEO platforms allow you to track data on Google in various international markets. But this doesn’t account for the 14% of global searchers (opens in a new tab) that use a search engine other than Google.
If you do business in countries like China, South Korea, or Russia,* then you should ensure your enterprise solution supports local search engines. Baidu dominates the search landscape in China, boasting a 74% market share (opens in a new tab) and 558 million active users (more than the entire population of the U.S.). Naver accounts for about 60% of the market in South Korea, though this is shrinking as Google grows its presence (opens in a new tab) there. And Yandex is the search engine of record in Russia, owning over 60% (opens in a new tab) of all searches.
No matter where your business needs take you, your SEO partner should have you covered. For APAC search engines like Baidu and Naver, Conductor partners with Dragon Metrics to provide keyword and rank data within our platform. We are also the first and only enterprise organic marketing platform to support rank and keyword tracking for Yandex in Russia.* Drive growth in APAC and Russia with robust support for global search engines in Conductor.
*As a result of the Russia-Ukrainian conflict, Conductor has stopped data collection and reporting on keyword data for Yandex, Google Russia, and Google Belarus. Learn more about Conductor’s support for Ukraine.
Create and manage content for international audiences
Any top-tier SEO platform should not only proactively recommend content for each of your audiences but should also help bring it to life by linking it to your existing marketing workflow. Your technology should also allow you to make changes directly to pages from within the platform itself, bypassing your CMS. This is important because it lets you conserve valuable developer resources and make changes fast, responding to real-time performance signals.
Conductor helps you manage your content from creation to optimization. Content Guidance provides real-time recommendations prioritized by business impact. When combined with Explorer for global keyword research, it takes the guesswork out of your international content strategy.
You can then take action on these recommendations within Conductor’s platform using Content Briefs. By pushing your briefs directly to project management tools like Asana, Jira, and Trello, you can streamline your content creation workflow and manage complexity across teams. Once your content is online, it’s easy to edit your international pages directly from within Conductor using Conductor Live (opens in a new tab). No other platform offers such a comprehensive solution for international content.
Monitor and prioritize hreflang issues
Proper hreflang implementation is vital to ensuring your content appears to the correct audiences in the right locations. Any robust SEO solution must monitor the entirety of your site and report on issues like:
- Missing or broken hreflang tags
- Incorrect language or region order
- Lack of self-referencing attributes
- Conflicting hreflang targets for the same audience
But it’s not enough just to report on these issues. Technical SEOs and developers operate in a resource-constrained environment. They need to prioritize fixing the problems that will have the biggest impact on their bottom line: traffic and revenue.
In February 2022, Conductor acquired ContentKing, a site auditing, and monitoring solution. It’s the only platform that offers 24/7, real-time hreflang monitoring. It also prioritizes auditing the international pages that matter most, intelligently focusing on pages that drive the most authority and traffic to your site. It crawls those pages most frequently to make sure nothing stands in the way of your content’s success.
Track your Core Web Vitals to support site health
Google’s Core Web Vitals (CWV) measure the technical components of your site that most impact user experience. A key ranking factor as of 2021 (opens in a new tab), they are important for international indexability. CWV measures include:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): LCP is the time it takes to render the biggest content element on the page, like an image or video.
- First Input Delay (FID): FID is the time from when a user first interacts with a page to when the browser responds.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): CLS is the amount that your page’s layout shifts while it loads.
Your SEO partner should measure CWV stats across your site proactively, without waiting for an entire crawl to run. Such a delay could impact your bottom line on pages that bring in high traffic and conversions.
ContentKing, Conductor’s newest acquisition, monitors each of the above metrics (opens in a new tab) across your entire site—no crawl necessary. It will alert you the moment your international pages no longer pass the web vital assessment. If you need to drill down to the individual page level, then you can dive into the Lighthouse Web Vitals within ContentKing (opens in a new tab). The platform offers at-a-glance scores for each page’s performance over time. You can also create custom filters that will flag individual pages that are underperforming and dragging down your ranks.
Get ready to go global
Global SEO has never been more crucial or more complex. Doing it right will result in a better user experience (happier customers) and improved traffic and revenue (happier executives). In the downloadable eBook, we go into detail about how to improve your international digital strategy with technical international SEO and content SEO best practices. By downloading, you’ll also receive exclusive access to the full International SEO Checklist below—a helpful cheat sheet to set your strategy up for success.