You can’t grow your business without increasing traffic to your web content. Your on-page SEO and content optimization efforts go a long way in helping bring potential international customers to your site.
But according to our International Search SME Hinde Lamrani, international SEO isn’t only about adding relevant local keywords for your target markets to your translated webpages. There are many other SEO factors that influence your website’s visibility in each market.
Start with a technical site audit—it will help you determine the shortcomings of your site. All the work you put into on-page SEO elements and content optimization will have little to no impact if you don’t handle the below items first.
It starts with tagging.
Robots meta tags are special HTML tags that tell robots (search engine crawlers) to not index the contents of a page and/or to not follow links. Specifying noindex for a robots metatag will affect the visibility of your pages, since you’re telling search engines not to index them. It’s very important to double check if you have noindex tags in place, and if you do, confirm that you definitely don’t want those pages to be searched.
Here’s an extract from Google about the Robots Meta tag: “The robots meta tag lets you utilize a granular, page-specific approach to controlling how an individual page should be indexed and served to users in search results. Place the robots meta tag in the <head> section of a given page, like this:
<!DOCTYPE html><html><head><meta name="robots" content="noindex" />(…)</head><body>(…)</body></html>
The robots meta tag in the above example instructs most search engines not to show the page in search results.”
If pages with very similar or identical content exist on your website (such as different versions of your site for desktop and mobile viewing, or http and https), there’s a massive risk that Google will interpret this as a deliberate duplication of content and rank it as a poor-quality website.
If you audit your site and determine that the duplicate content is valid, be quick to implement canonical tags.
A canonical tag allows your webmaster to select a “preferred” version of a webpage. This is a great way to get rid of duplicate content on your site, and is a simple and effective way to avoid duplicate content-related penalties.
You’ll designate one URL as the “canon” version, and all other versions should refer to this as the original. As a result, Google will not index the non-canonical versions, and you won’t incur drops in ranking anymore. Google gives a full list of reasons why you should use canonical tags, as well as an interesting Canonical implementation guide.
If you have a multilingual website and no hreflang tags, you’re passing up a chance to more effectively reach your international customers.
Hreflang tags are used in the HTML code of a webpage or in an XML Sitemap to help search engines serve up the pages that best match the user's language preference and location based on their browser settings. This tag is useful in situations where you have translated versions of your website, you have different region-specific pages, or a combination of both.
For example, without an hreflang tag specifying different pages for your FR-FR (French for France) and FR-CA (French Canadian) markets, you could be sending FR-FR pages to Canadian customers. Your products may vary from market to market, the currency will be wrong, shipping charges differ, the terms and conditions could be region-specific too…the list goes on.
There’s a lot of room for error with these tags, so make sure you format the code correctly. Best practice is to use the language + country format “LL-CC” to identify both elements. Refer to the following code chart for all of the combinations, and here’s a hreflang “How to” guide from Google.
Also, a responsive website is the simplest way for your hreflang tags to work both on desktop and mobile devices.
Note that Baidu doesn’t yet understand hreflang, so you should also incorporate the HTML lang attribute to define the languages of the pages, e.g.: <html lang=“fr-CA”>. It is important to use the HTML lang attribute to improve visibility for search engines that don’t support hreflang.
Site speed and the mobile era
Site speed has always been important to SEO, but it became one of the major ranking factors in recent years. Since 2015, both Google (Mobilegeddon) and Yandex (Vladivostok) have introduced big algorithm changes that affect mobile users, and Google just rolled out mobile-first indexing on March 26, 2018. Google even gives you tools to up your game—here’s one to test your site’s mobile friendliness. And check out this tool to check how fast your site is; it even provides you with optimization solutions and suggests fixes.
Here are some examples of ways to improve the speed of your website:
- Defer the download of offscreen images: Since users can't see offscreen images when they load a page, there's no reason to download them as part of the initial page load. In other words, deferring the load of offscreen images can speed up page load time.
- Enable text compression: Text-based responses should be served with compression to minimize total network bytes.
- Optimize site speed through CSS rules: Before a browser can render content, it must process all the style and layout information for the page. As a result, the browser will block rendering until external stylesheets are downloaded and processed, which may require multiple roundtrips and delay the time to first render. Here’s how to optimize CSS delivery.
- Serve images in next-gen formats: JPEG 2000, JPEG XR, and WebP are image formats that have superior compression and quality characteristics compared to their older JPEG and PNG counterparts. Encoding your images in these newer formats means that they will load faster and consume less cellular data.
Other SEO factors to audit
There are many other factors that should be audited as part of an SEO technical site audit; your URL site structure and the use of structured data are in the top 10.
URL structure: A page’s URL serves as an indicator of its content and contributes to its categorization and subsequent ranking potential. The URL can give users a clue about the content of a page and orient them within the structure of a site. A well-structured URL can also serve as its own anchor text if copied and pasted, adding to its likelihood to receive external links.
URLs that contain long strings of numbers or nonsensical collections of letters miss out on these key opportunities and are not optimized from an SEO perspective. Wherever possible, you should use real words and a logical structure. Localizing URL text in addition to the page content will help your ranking in that specific market.
Using structured data: Structured data is becoming the holy grail of search visibility since it can be applied to a multitude of aspects. It can help your site’s visibility with search elements ranging from simple breadcrumbs to more advanced ones like voice search.
Inserting HTML breadcrumb blocks within the page as part of the visual design allows users to track their path through a website. Should users land on deeper pages, it means they are able to navigate back to category or subcategory pages relevant to that product or URL. Breadcrumbs enable users to view pages at a faster rate, and allow them to navigate to higher levels without needing to locate the page.
With voice search becoming more and more common, it’s relevant to ask how structured data can help your content appear as a result to a voice search query.
Using Schema can help you appear in Google’s answer boxes as a ‘Featured Snippet,’ ‘Google Quick Answers,’ or ‘Quick Answer Box’ depending on the size, nature, and purpose of the box. These typically include a summary of the answer taken from a website, a link to the page where the information came from, the page title, and the URL of the website. Even better, when users query Google with their voice, Google pulls the information from these boxes and the answer is read aloud to the user.
If all this sounds tricky and technical, it is. Moravia provides International SEO Services including technical site audits to help you grow and flourish in your target markets. Feel free to reach out; we love to chat about how to take your content even further.