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International SEO strategy

By Brock Murray
Full-stack digital marketing specialist

We know .CA is best for Canadian customers; here’s how to set up your website to attract international visitors too

If you’re managing a website for a Canadian business, you’re almost certainly using a .CA domain. This is the de facto choice for a Canadian business with a primarily Canadian audience, and it’s great for SEO. But, what if you’re looking to maximize reach outside the borders of the Great White North? After all, the more you can broaden your audience, the more potential there is for your business when appealing to the appropriate regional demographics.

While there are many tools and techniques available, international SEO is the Swiss Army knife you will need to make the most significant impact outside of locally targeted areas. Keeping that in mind, Canadian businesses need to balance attracting international visitors while remaining relevant and appealing to locals.

Today, let’s explore the fundamentals of international SEO, discuss why multi-country targeting is crucial, and walk you through the basic setup process. Afterwards, we’ll touch on the ideal next steps for your strategy.

What is International SEO?

Simply put, international SEO involves making data-informed website optimizations to help Google, Bing, and other search engines match up your brand with audiences in other countries.

In a sense, it’s like taking a local musician on a world tour. Is there demand where you’re targeting? Can you appeal to audiences outside of your hometown and price appropriately in their established currency? Such an investment of time, resources, and capital needs to be justified. Therefore, you need to be driven by what you know – data is everything in the SEO industry. You must develop a deeper understanding of your international audience, determine where your product or service will receive the most engagement, and cater your website offerings to them.

International SEO vs National SEO (Canada)

If you’re eager to expand your reach on a global scale, how exactly do you do this? Your SEO strategy should be built around the domains you have active and adding a .com redirect to your .CA site opens the door to engagement from those in other countries with the right targeting approach. Speaking of which, implementing country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) for specific regions you wish to appeal to is also important. That way, you can optimize content to ensure it is hyperfocused on specific audience groups. Instead of other countries, this would be a less generalized approach, targeting specific provinces, states or territories – possibly even certain cities.

Upon checking your latest website analytics, you’ll probably spot visitors from multiple countries on a daily basis. This is untapped potential for your business if you haven’t focused on international SEO and only targeted within Canada (national SEO). For the former, there are several more technical elements required to ensure a successful strategy. These include URL structure considerations, setting up hreflang tags, and localizing content to appeal to each country in question. On the flip side, national SEO in Canada stays closer to home by design.

Why Setup Your Website for Multi-Country Targeting?

Let’s say that your national SEO strategy is a success. You’re seeing increased engagement, more leads and conversions, and even your social media is buzzing with activity. This is a huge achievement, but why stop there? Setting up your website for multi-country targeting helps your brand appeal to audiences in countries where English isn’t their native language, achieved by translating and localizing content. Even other English-speaking countries will appreciate international SEO as some, such as the United States, have their own spelling and grammatical standards.

The more you pay attention to these factors, the more you indicate to prospects that you want to focus on them. Not to mention, with some keywords and phrases, those minor differences can make or break your SEO strategy – you don’t want to target the wrong ones.

In addition to language optimizations, multi-country targeting is a great way to leverage special events or dates in other countries. Holidays aren’t held on the same day in every country, for instance, while some are unique to certain countries or regions. As a result, you should ensure that any special deals or seasonal goods are marketed appropriately on an international scale, location by location.

Different contact options on your site need to be kept up to date as well, as locals in many countries will prefer phone over email or vice-versa. Making these clearly visible in the menu could benefit engagement.

Lastly, you’ll want to be certain that you’re targeting the correct local currency. If you’re optimizing your website for a Japanese audience, for example, it won’t be fair to them if you list products in U.S. or Canadian dollars. Make appropriate currency conversion refinements as they may lead to more conversions.

How to Configure Your Website for Multi-Country Targeting

Most Canadian websites will utilize a .CA ccTLD because it makes their site more appealing to those within the country’s borders, especially when it comes to operations such as local retail or trade services. Using a .CA domain name instills trust as knowing your website caters specifically to Canadians increases a potential customer’s confidence. Simply put, Canadians trust .CA domains.

Some larger businesses that ship internationally are set to .com to encourage a mix of local and international traffic. Like with local targeting better suited to .CA ccTLDs, international audiences will often gravitate towards a .com.

If you’re prepping for a multi-country targeting strategy, consider the URL structural standards for international websites. Along with the right ccTLD, you’ll also need an appropriate subdomain, not to mention a subdirectory for any translated and localized content. Don’t worry about setting a gTLD with the language parameters – ?lang=xx for subdomains or subdirectories. However, as Google Search Central explains in detail, it can introduce hiccups when geotargeting or separating your sites.

After this, it’s time to establish hreflang tags (written as rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x”). These help Google understand which language is being used. It’s then easier for their algorithm to match the right content to the right international audiences. At the same time, you ought to host your site on a local IP address that matches the geo-targeted audience’s primary language. This is an opportunity to integrate local resource links, replacing any that are better geared towards your national SEO strategy.

Lastly, always bear in mind that Google isn’t the only search engine on the block. Plenty of competitors exist and, depending on the country, users may prefer one over the other. For example, in China, Baidu has 76 per cent of the local search engine market. In Japan, surprisingly, Yahoo! is used by over 20 per cent of their population.

Best Practices and Next Steps

Now, let’s quick-fire through some essential steps worth integrating into your international SEO strategy:

When translating content for a localized site, always source the revised copy from a skilled local expert who knows the mother tongue inside-out. Ensure they are a trained, experienced professional as these will make fewer errors. They should also be familiar with your application and industry, as some elements, including terminology, otherwise risk being misinterpreted.

Do you want to use your .CA domain to emphasize your Canadian heritage? Is a ccTLDs URL structure the appropriate way forward for your specific operation? Think it over carefully, factoring in the countries you intend to localize for. Now’s the time for a thorough analysis and risk assessment of your geotargeting approach.

Be smart about your keywords, ensure they align with the spelling and grammatical specifics of that language (again, why a professional translator is important), and optimize according to local search trends.

This is just the beginning. Setting up your website and managing an international SEO strategy for it is no small feat, and it’s going to take practice to make it something special. Take it one day at a time, don’t be afraid to hold back on a localization if you need more data, and remember to put the audience first – no matter where they are.

About the author
Brock Murray

Brock is a full-stack digital marketing specialist. He is actively involved in all aspects of digital marketing but specializes in SEO. In just 4 years he built a 7-figure agency, seoplus+, using the practices he preaches.