Going after international customers as an online retailer is a whole different ball game from selling to local customers. Particularly: how will you market to potential customers abroad?
The search engine optimization (SEO) marketing strategy you’ve used to attract local traffic may not work as well in bringing international searchers to your store. For one, the search terms you’ve optimized your website for may not be the same as those people overseas use. Your store may also be missing crucial website code that helps search engine algorithms understand the countries that your pages target.
And even if international searchers do land on your website, they may not stay for long if your content is in a language they don’t understand.
You’ll need a different ecommerce SEO strategy to reach international customers, and that’s what we’ll cover here. Keep reading as we share ecommerce SEO tips and best practices for helping your ecommerce store dominate the search engine results pages (SERPs) – and, ideally, clinch the coveted number one spot.
Choosing from top-level domains, subdomains, and subdirectories for better geotargeting
While not mandatory, setting up different online stores for different countries makes it easier to tailor your store contents for each market. If you’ll be doing so, you’ll need to consider what their store domains will be like. And you have at least three options here:
Country code top-level domains.
Here’s a breakdown of each of them.
1. Country code top-level domains
Country code top-level domains, or ccTLDs, are domains set aside for specific countries and regions. Examples include:
.uk for the United Kingdom.
.de for Germany.
.se for Sweden.
If you use country code top-level domains for your online store, you will essentially be building separate store websites for each target country. Using the same examples from above, your store domains might be:
myecommercestore.uk for your United Kingdom store.
myecommercestore.de for your Germany store.
myecommercestore.se for your Sweden store.
While using country code top-level domains can make the target country for each of your international stores clear, they do require quite a bit of maintenance.
For one, you’d have to approach different domain registrars to buy and renew each country-specific domain. You may also need to manage multiple separate ecommerce websites. Using country code top-level domains might hence be a feasible option only if you have significant resources at your disposal.
Subdomains are sections of a website that have their own domain name. The “subdomain” part of a domain appears before the main domain, like so:
Therefore, for three different country-specific versions of your store, your store subdomains might be:
uk.myecommercestore.com for your United Kingdom store.
de.myecommercestore.com for your Germany store.
se.myecommercestore.com for your Sweden store.
As each subdomain is treated as a separate website branch under your main domain, you’ll have a separate store website for each target country. You can therefore clearly distinguish between store content and products meant for different countries.
Another plus point is that subdomains aren’t as costly to maintain as country code top-level domains. That’s because you need to obtain only one main domain for carving up into separate subdomains.
Last but not least, we have subdirectories. Also known as subfolders, these are folders that split up the content of your main website. The “subdirectory” part of a domain comes after the main domain, like so:
Hence, if you’re using a subdirectory URL structure for your online stores in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden, their domains could be:
myecommercestore.com/uk for your United Kingdom store.
myecommercestore.com/de for your Germany store.
myecommercestore.com/se for your Sweden store.
With subdirectories, all your international store content will live on your main website. This setup makes subdirectories the easiest to create and manage out of the three domain options discussed here. For example, any change you make to your main store website can also be rolled out to your other country-specific stores at once.
Both subdirectories and subdomains are effective structures for organizing your website content, and neither has a clear edge when it comes to your multilingual site’s SEO. Which option is best for your website will depend on your business needs – as Google’s John Mueller says:
“Google Web Search is fine with using either subdomains or subdirectories […] Use what works best for your setup and think about your longer-term plans when picking one or the other.”
Setting up the appropriate domain structure for your store can seem daunting if you’ve never done it before, but there are solutions that help take the pain out of the process.
For example, if you’re using Weglot’s website translation solution to translate your store content, Weglot automatically creates subdirectories or subdomains for storing your translated content in, depending on your preference.
Conducting international keyword research
As you create content for stores in different countries, you’ll need to research the right keywords for each target country separately. After all, people don’t always use English when searching for things to buy online.
For instance, a shopper from China might not search for wedding accessories using the “buy wedding accessories” keyword. They’d likely conduct their search in Simplified Chinese instead.
And even if people abroad do use English for their online searches, they might use keywords different from what your local audience uses.
For example, a person from the United States looking to buy sweaters will probably use the “sweater” keyword. But a person from the United Kingdom looking to buy the same clothing will likely search for “jumpers” instead.
You’d therefore need to translate your main target keywords – long-tail or otherwise – into your target languages. After that, use SEO tools such as Ahrefs, Moz, and SEMrush to assess their viability based on their keyword difficulty, search volume, and other metrics. You may also need to localize your keywords for a better fit with the local context (more on localization later).
Apart from working off your existing keyword list, research new keywords that people in your target overseas markets use. And here’s a handy tip for doing so: go to the version of the Amazon store for your target country, then check out the suggested keywords that Amazon displays as you conduct a search in its product search bar.
These keywords provide a good indication as to what people are using to search for products similar to yours. Note them down and decide whether to target them as you create store content.
Translate your website content if the target audience for your overseas stores speaks a different language from your local market. You’ll need to translate the content on your homepage, product category pages, landing pages, checkout pages – everything.
While you could manually translate your content yourself, this will take a lot of time. You may also not get quality translations if you aren’t an expert in the target language. Our recommended approach is to use Weglot which automatically detects all content present on a website. Weglot then applies a proprietary mix of machine learning translations to translate such text instantly and with a high degree of accuracy.
All translations will be stored in a central Weglot dashboard for your refinement. You can also tap on the team collaboration functionality to have your team or professional translators review your translations for you.
For a start, translation involves expressing the meaning of words in one language in that of another. The English phrase “very good” can be translated to “très bien” in French, for example.
But just because a word or phrase has been translated to a certain language, it doesn’t mean it’s completely appropriate for markets that speak that language. Due to cultural differences, there may be variations in how people in different countries communicate even though they’re all using the same language. That’s where you’ll need to go one step further and localize your content – whether it had first been translated or otherwise – for a more robust cultural fit.
Just take the word “jam,” which people in the United Kingdom use to refer to a sweet spread for bread. People in the United States eat jam, too – only that they call it “jelly” instead of “jam.” Hence if you’d translated the word “jam” into English for the United States market, you may need to further localize the word by replacing it with “jelly.”
To get started with localization, draw up a content localization strategy that comprehensively covers how you will translate and then localize your content. Think about how you will learn the cultural preferences of your target market, and the tools you’ll use to translate your ecommerce site content as quickly and accurately as possible. For more information, refer to our guide to localized content marketing.
Handling multilingual content via hreflang tags
Imagine you’ve beautifully written, translated, and localized your multilingual store content, and added it to your store websites. Now, how will search engines know the countries or regions for which such store pages were created?
Enter hreflang tags, which are code segments that indicate a web page’s intended language and country. They hence signal to search engines the appropriate users for serving such web pages to.
For example, if you had created a store page meant for French speakers in Canada, the hreflang tag for this page would be:
“fr” indicates that the web page is in the French language, while “ca” indicates that the web page is meant for visitors from Canada.
Hreflang tags are useful for situations where you are publishing:
Similar content for different markets that speak the same language. An example would be if you’ve created two separate store pages for English speakers in Australia and the United States, and these pages have largely similar content. You’d need to add hreflang tags to inform search engines that these pages are meant for two different countries and ranked accordingly. Otherwise, search engines may regard your pages as duplicate content and deprioritize the ranking of at least one of them.
Different content for different language speakers in the same region. For instance, English and French are both commonly spoken in Canada, and you’ve created English and French versions of your store content for the Canadian market. You can use hreflang tags to help search engines serve the appropriate version of your content to a Canadian searcher based on whether their language setting is English or French.
Hreflang tags can be tedious to set up and implement. This is especially true if you have many store pages and multiple language versions of each of them. If you’re using Weglot to translate your web pages, however, it will automatically add the correct hreflang tags to your translated web pages. So you need not worry about doing this yourself (and potentially making mistakes in the process!)
Taking care of URL canonicalization
It’s common for ecommerce stores to have multiple product pages containing similar information such as:
Product care instructions.
Returns and refund policies.
However, search engines may regard such similar content as duplicate content and choose to rank only one page on the SERPs. As mentioned, this can lead to all other pages suffering from poor search visibility and hence lower organic traffic volume.
To avoid this issue, use canonical tags, which specify the “main” URL that search engines should regard as a distinct page. Canonical tags have this structure:
When you add canonical tags to your product page URLs, you indicate to search engines that these pages should be ranked separately from each other. This is even if parts of their content can be found almost word-for-word on other pages.
Other situations where you’d want to use canonical tags include where you have:
Multiple URLs pointing to a single product page, such as myecommercestore.com/product, myecommercestore.com/product?gclid=123, and myecommercestore.com/product&size=medium.
Www and non-www, and https and http, versions of the same page, such as www.myecommercestore.com/product, ecommercestore.com/product, https://myecommercestore.com/product, and http://myecommercestore.com/product.
Building backlinks for your international ecommerce store
Backlinks are links from other websites that direct visitors to your website. As part of your off-page SEO strategy, try and secure as many backlinks as possible.
That’s because backlinks are the SEO version of “votes of confidence” in your website: people wouldn’t be linking to your website if they didn’t think it was worth sharing. And the more backlinks you get, the more authoritative your ecommerce store site will appear to search engines. Your site will stand a better chance of ranking higher in the SERPs as a result.
You can get backlinks by passively waiting for others to link to your store. But the quicker and more effective approach is to actively build links to your website. Link-building campaigns worth exploring include:
Seeking media coverage. Reach out to newspapers, magazines, and podcasts to get them talking about – and hopefully linking to – your store.
Partnering with influencers. Similarly, influencers may be interested in promoting your store to their audience (and linking to it on their website). You can connect with influencers by doing hashtag searches on social media, or by using influencer marketing platforms like Upfluence.
Submitting guest posts. Some publications allow organizations to contribute blog posts containing links to the organization’s website.
Just a heads-up here: be prepared to build backlinks for every separate store website you have! Backlinks you’ve accumulated on one website don’t influence the authoritativeness of another website. This is unless you’ve set up your stores under the same main website using subdirectories (as discussed above).
User-friendliness, mobile-friendliness, security, performance, and speed are a given
Last but not least, let’s cover some technical SEO practices. Work with your developers to optimize your online store’s:
The Google search engine has moved to mobile-first indexing since July 1, 2019. This means that it primarily indexes and ranks the mobile version of websites instead of their desktop counterparts. So if the mobile version of your store website is poorly built and structured, you might find your store ranking lower in the SERPs.
SEO best practices for increasing your mobile website’s organic search visibility include:
Ensuring that your mobile website contains just as much content as your desktop website.
Ensuring that the quality of your mobile website content is just as good as that for your desktop website.
Using high-quality images on your mobile website.
All content on your website should be easily accessible. It should not be obstructed by intrusive interstitials such as pop-ups.
When you do away with intrusive interstitials, you improve the user experience as there’s nothing hindering visitors from browsing your store content. The presence of intrusive interstitials is also a page experience signal that Google uses to decide how to rank your website.
Serving your store pages over a secure HTTPS connection – as compared to a non-secure HTTP one – is another established Google ranking factor. Visitors also prefer buying from stores that take user security seriously. After all, they’ll be providing you with sensitive personal and credit card data!
People aren’t going to wait forever for your website to load: as far back as 2012, 30% of consumers surveyed by Google already expected web pages to have page load times of one second or less. Meanwhile, 18% of consumers expected a web page to load instantly.
The quicker you can get your page speed to be, the better user experience you’ll provide. Google might also rank your website higher. Among other factors, site speed is a Core Web Vital that it uses to evaluate page experience and hence a website’s SERP visibility.
Site architecture refers to the structure of your web pages and how they are linked to each other. Keep your site architecture clean and easy to navigate so that search engine crawlers can better discover your web pages, then index and rank them.
In the context of an online store, maintaining a good site architecture can involve grouping your products into appropriate categories (and subcategories). It can also help to add breadcrumb links, which keep search engines and visitors informed of where they are on your website relative to the overall page hierarchy.
In addition, avoid having web pages that aren’t linked to any other page on your website. The “orphan” nature of these pages makes it difficult for search engines to discover – and much less rank – them. Similarly, visitors are unlikely to browse these pages if they can’t navigate to them.
Helping your online store rise the (search result) ranks
From picking the right domain structure to:
creating high-quality multilingual content,
getting your website backend setup in order, and more,
there’s a lot to be done when optimizing your store for international search visibility. Working with the right partners and tools can give you the assurance that you are setting your store up for the highest-possible rankings on the SERPs.
While undertaking the content translation stage of your international ecommerce SEO strategy, using Weglot will ultimately speed up the process. Its website translation solution uses advanced machine learning technology to instantly produce high-quality translations in over 110 languages. Built-in features such as automatic hreflang tag implementation, and subdirectory and subdomain creation, only further smoothen out the technicalities involved in optimizing your store for international customers.Weglot is compatible with leading ecommerce platforms such as Shopify, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce. You can also try it on your store for free! Create an account here to get started.
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