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Effective global SEO is a must for businesses that want to grow their brand internationally. But there’s a lot that can go wrong when you’re trying to optimize for global markets. Without the right strategy, you’ll continue to lose valuable international traffic.

Search is the top channel people across the world use to solve their problems and discover new brands. And getting your brand in front of them? It’s more complex than ever.

On top of all the challenges marketers face domestically – like search engine algorithm updates, indexing issues, and competitors – international marketers have to contend with hurdles unique to the global SEO landscape.

So if you’re not getting the quality global traffic you expect, you’re not alone. Here are the top 3 reasons your global SEO might not be working (and what to do about it).

HOW MARKETING & TRANSLATION AGENCIES GET GLOBAL SEO WRONG

When companies go international, they often work with a domestic marketing agency, a translation agency, or both to support their digital marketing. But international SEO is a beast all of its own. And it’s one neither type of agency is well equipped to tackle. Why? 

Translation agencies don’t have the SEO expertise to really optimize a site effectively. Or to instruct their clients on the nitty-gritty details that can make or break in-country SEO success. And domestic marketing agencies? They don’t have the international expertise (or in-market network) to understand the country’s linguistic, cultural, and technical landscapes. And they therefore can’t create a truly authentic experience for local audiences. So, if you’re working with either type of agency, it’ll likely fall on you to figure out what’s tanking your international traffic.

REASON #1: MISCONFIGURING THE TECHNICAL SETUP

Technical setup for global SEO is complex. Like, really complex. Any one of several technical issues can, at best, limit how much you can optimize for each of your target markets. And at worst, prevent you from showing up on in-country SERPs at all.

IN-MARKET PAGE LOAD SPEED

If your site is slow to load in-country, you’ll be penalized for it. And there’s a lot that can impact page load speed. Your CMS, plugins, images, and themes can all slow you down. With internet bandwidth varying between markets, “heavier” elements can mean your website is slower to load in other countries than it is domestically.

Where your website is hosted matters, too. If you’re using a domestic host, that can reduce site performance in other markets, like those in APAC. The same goes even for different elements on the page. If a service (like a font, map, or plugin) is hosted far from your target country, that may increase overall site load speed. Or, in some cases, prevent the service from loading altogether.

GLOBALLY LIMITED TECH STACK

The way your CMS, plugins, and themes are structured may entirely prevent you from optimizing your site for another market. At a minimum, you’ll need to make sure your site tech stack allows you to easily modify basic SEO elements: page copy, title tags, URLs, meta descriptions, internal links, and language tags.

If you use a website localization plugin, make sure it’s built for SEO. Because of the way many of them store and serve up content, your localized site may not get indexed at all.

Finally, watch out for tech that requires your localized pages to have a one-to-one relationship with existing English pages. This will significantly reduce your ability to customize for each market.

MISSING OR INCORRECT LANGUAGE/REGION TAGS

Language tags signal to search engines what language a piece of content is in and what region it’s for. These have a big impact on content with multiple language versions. If, for instance, your French content is shown to a search engine user in Germany, that’s a bad user experience. And your target customers will opt to visit a competitor instead.

The biggest mistakes marketers make here are either not using these tags at all or implementing them incorrectly.

USER-UNFRIENDLY GEOTARGETING

Automatically geotargeting users based on perceived language makes for a bad user experience. And when you have several languages on your site, it’s more difficult for search engines to crawl and index all your content. (Google cautions against automatic geotargeting for this reason.) The result? Poor SEO performance and more users bouncing from your site.

Instead, optimize for your key international markets, implement your language/region tags correctly, and let search engines (and your audience) choose which content to access. Also, be sure to give your visitors a way to access other language/region versions of your site.

(An exception to this rule: If you’re selling a product or service that, for legal reasons, should not be accessible by users in a particular market.)

MISSING EVENT & CONVERSION TRACKING

Your marketing performance is only as good as your data. Event and conversion tracking are essential to measuring the actions that matter to your audience. Now, with Google Analytics 4, the way events and conversions are tracked has changed. (Basically, you set up events in the platform, and manually choose which events you’d like to count as conversions.) So be sure that you’ve not only set up events/conversions for your site, but also that they’ll give you the information you need to really understand how your site is performing.

Additionally, since brand awareness and adaptation will vary between markets, you’ll want to set up country-specific event or conversion actions. (For example, events that may signify a “win” in a new market but wouldn’t be remarkable domestically.)

REASON #2: RELYING ON TRANSLATED CONTENT TO DRIVE RESULTS

First, some important context: translation is, generally speaking, a word-for-word interpretation of text. Marketing localization, in contrast, accounts for the context of your business, product, and the local market you’re speaking to.

So relying on translation makes sense for user manuals, product descriptions, or other clear-cut, straightforward assets. But for international marketing content, translation is only a tactic – it’s not the end goal.

KEYWORD TRANSLATION INSTEAD OF KEYWORD RESEARCH

For global SEO, one of the most painful mistakes marketers (and their agencies) make is translating keywords.

Imagine you’ve had your strongest domestic keywords translated for your target market. Then, you go through the painstaking process of implementing them across your various pages. Integrating them into your title tags, meta descriptions, headers, body copy, and URLs. Only to find your localized website isn’t getting the traffic you expected. Or just the wrong type of traffic.

Translating keywords will get you a list of terms, but there’s no guarantee that there’s strong search volume behind them – or that the translated terms signal the same intent in your target country as they do domestically.

Keyword research is just as important for other countries as it is for your domestic marketing. Every country has its unique nuances that non-native speakers just won’t be aware of.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re targeting “loyalty card” in Germany. There are many phrases to convey the same intent, but only one has significant search volume behind it.

horizontal bar graph showing that 'kundendarte' is the preferred German term for 'loyalty card' – not 'treuekarte' or 'bonuskarte'

Even some countries with relatively low English proficiency use English words for specific items or services. For instance, in Brazil, there’s far more search volume for “whisky” (an English variant of “whiskey”) than there is for “uísque,” the Portuguese word for the drink.

For your global SEO to be successful, you need to work with in-country SEO experts who can perform in-language keyword research. And who can identify the perfect keywords that check all the boxes for your brand, your offering, in-country keyword volume, and search intent.

MASS TRANSLATION OF WEBSITE CONTENT

Again, for global marketing to be effective, translation is a tactic, not a goal. Mass translating your website content without a strategy will exclude many opportunities for optimization. (And it’ll waste a lot of your budget.) This makes for an irrelevant experience for your audience, limiting the success of your localized site.

Instead, focus on localizing the content that’s important to the in-country user journey. Identify which content on your site has SEO value from the start. Then make sure each of those pages has keywords assigned.

From there, follow best practices for keyword placement, integrating your keywords naturally throughout your content. When working in other languages, you’ll need to be conscious of character limitations for title tags and meta descriptions so they don’t get truncated.

And don’t forget about your URLs. Many international marketers keep their URLs in English, negatively impacting clickthrough rates, user experience, and overall performance.

GENERIC TRANSLATION INSTEAD OF EXPERT LOCALIZATION

All content is not created equally. Domestically, you wouldn’t have a technical writer who doesn’t understand your industry write your marketing copy. It’s not so much that the content wouldn’t be accurate. It’s that it wouldn’t be engaging. It wouldn’t convey your brand’s unique positioning. And it wouldn’t convert visitors into customers.

The same principle applies to your international content, too. When adapting your website for another country, you don’t need just translation. You need marketing localization – adaptation of your content with an eye focused on your brand, your goals, and the local market context. And that localization needs to be done by someone masterful in the local language, the subject matter, and SEO.

So be careful who you work with. And whoever you choose, give them the information they need to produce great content. Make sure you brief them on the content’s purpose, target audience, and tone of voice. This will make for more nuanced, targeted, engaging, and optimized content.

REASON #3: TARGETING A LANGUAGE RATHER THAN A MARKET

Every market is different – even if it uses a common language. Approaching each one in the same way is a recipe for disaster.

IGNORING TERMINOLOGY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MARKETS

Keyword traffic for a product or service can vary greatly between markets that have the same language – even English markets.

Targeting a language rather than a market means overlooking the vital differences that can mean success or failure for your global SEO strategy. You can’t assume how people in different markets are searching and what terminology they’re using. But by targeting your audience at the country level, you can ensure you capture the most relevant, qualified traffic in each market.

IGNORING LOCAL COMPETITORS

Your competition will likely vary between markets. And targeting a language (rather than a market) means you won’t be in a position to tailor your strategy enough at the local level to overtake them.

Instead, by looking at each country or market’s unique context, you’ll be able to analyze competitor tactics, content, and keywords. Then use your findings to adapt your strategy or uncover new opportunities.

There may also be circumstances that are out of your control happening only in one market – for instance, a well-established brand in an entirely different industry that has your same brand name or colours. Without a localized SEO strategy for that market, it will be much more difficult for you to address these types of country- or region-level issues.

OVERLOOKING LOCAL PLATFORMS

In most markets, Google is king. But for some countries – like mainland China, South Korea, and Russia – there are local search engines that answer consumers’ burning questions. Make sure you’re targeting users on the platforms they use. (And that you have the resources to pursue them there.)

Global SEO: Top search engines across the world

FINAL THOUGHT

With everything that can go wrong with global SEO, it’s no wonder that so many brands struggle to drive high-quality site traffic in their priority markets. The hard truth is that marketers need to put just as much thought and effort into international SEO as they do for their domestic SEO strategy.

And while SEO is, in a lot of ways, a technical endeavour, it’s really just about providing a relevant, authentic experience to your audience. No matter where in the world they may be.

Not getting qualified traffic to your international site? Want to implement a topic cluster strategy for your priority market? From SEO audits to SEO-driven, in-language copywriting and beyond, we’re here to help. Get in touch now.