10 International SEO Best Practices to Boost Your Localization Efforts

by Han Mai
6 Minute Read

People ≠ dictionaries. 

For SEO purposes, keywords are vital - it helps build direction for your content and site, and easily allows users to find it. However, you can’t just plug in a literal translation of your keyword and expect the same search results. While most global companies don't realize it, the way users search is highly dynamic, depending on their native language, local search patterns, and cultural-dependent phrasing. 

For example, an American might type in “farmer’s market” in Google Maps, while a South American would use the word “feria” (“fair”). Even regions with a shared language might have distinct ways of searching online. An American may prefer the term “car rental,” while a Brit would opt for “car hire.” 

This is truly the tip of the iceberg, which is why you must take special care with SEO for your localized content. Ultimately, English only accounts for 25% of online language use. Without a robust localization strategy, your company is missing out on huge numbers of potential customers. 

Let’s go through key international SEO best practices, so you can start reaching potential customers in your target locale. 


1. Research keywords for each locale (both language and region)

Basically, you’ll need to do specific keyword research for every target locale. This includes both differences in the language and the region in question. 

Luckily, the process for international SEO is similar to regular SEO. You’ll want to use your preferred keyword planner – such as Ubersuggest – to find phrases that get to the heart of your industry and products/services. Good international keyword research will include:

  • keywords with high search volume 
  • low-difficulty keyword opportunities
  • long-tail keywords
  • competitor keywords
  • location-specific keywords
  • seasonal keywords


2. Work with a linguist to help you brainstorm keywords.

Of course, you’ll likely need help coming up with keywords. For this task, hire a local linguist to take the pulse on real, local keywords before creating a localization program to take advantage of those new keywords. 

A good way to approach brainstorming is to come up with big-picture keyword “buckets.” For example, if you run an online baby store, your main topics might be clothing, toys, nursery, pregnancy, etc. (Need help with this? Simply search your keyword on Wikipedia or Amazon and drill down to all the relevant categories.) 

Once you have identified these “buckets,” ask a local linguist to fill them with locally appropriate keywords and phrases. This will keep your linguist focused on real search terms and help improve your business’ searchability in the long run.


3. Integrate these keywords in localized content.

Ideally, you should define top keywords before you translate or write new content for your target locale. This way, you can naturally integrate these top search terms. It’s much easier for a translator or writer to create content with keywords in mind, instead of retrofitting the keywords later. 

At the same time, identifying keywords ahead of time may positively influence your content strategy. For example, if one of your keyword topics is of low interest to a target locale, you might focus on the others. This will help shape your content strategy according to the locale, - not the other way around. 


4. Craft high-quality content specific to your target region. 

All localized content should have the same high quality as your original content to create the best global customer experience possible for all users. Take the time to plan content according to the region and hire top talent to get the job done right. Otherwise, your company may accidentally commit a #translationfail, offending potential customers and damaging your brand reputation.

What’s more, your content shouldn’t just be specific to your region - it should also address your target audience. Be sure you’re crafting content that speaks to this group of potential customers. This goes for keywords, as well as tone/style. 

Remember: when companies don’t invest in their target locale and audience, it shows. 


5. Take into account searching and browsing behaviors.

Getting SEO right is also about understanding your users. Make sure you’ve researched their online behaviors. For example, 73% of India’s web traffic comes from mobile, so your SEO should focus on the mobile experience and use shorter keywords. 

At the same time, regions have different preferred search engines. In China, Baidu is the search leader, whereas Yandex has a big presence in Russia. When you define and style your content, you should understand what these search engines favor. 

As you can see, searching and browsing can vary greatly, and you’ll want to capture local behaviors within your international SEO.


6. Keep terms consistent with a local glossary and style guide.

Consistency is the name of the game when it comes to brand voice. Make sure your localized content is supported by a glossary. Ask your translators and linguists to add keywords and terminology to your glossary as they go, so you have good documentation for future content. 

Ideally, this would also include a style guide for things to avoid for a certain region, as well as examples of the ideal tone and voice for this locale.


7. Put SEO in place for your media, too.

Your content isn’t just words. You should include all media in your localization plan as well. This includes images, videos and graphics, as well as metadata for this content. It’s important to have SEO prepared for your media so that the user experience is optimized across your site. Don't forget, though, that media also needs to be localized - don't use images of blistery winter scenes in locales that don't experience cold and snow!


8. Pursue backlink opportunities with local partners.

Getting high-quality backlinks is excellent for international SEO. As you expand to a new locale, identify opportunities to get backlinks from local sites, outlets and clients. You can reach out to a list of potential partners to get backlinks, or work on a guest posting plan to expand your reach. This will boost both your searchability and local authority in the long run.


9. Don’t forget about the tech stuff. 

Your international SEO must be supported by good technical decisions. Work closely with your internal teams to make sure you have the right multilingual URL structure, hreflang tags, sitemap, and metadata. Essentially, you’ll want to follow Google’s preferences for multiregional and multilingual sites outlined here

All your technical choices should enhance the user experience and make it easier for potential customers to find what they’re looking for. When in doubt, use Google’s guide to set up your site for success. 


10. Track localization KPIs and analyze for actionable insights.

Finally, you should always be tracking localization KPIs for your site. By following these key metrics, you’ll get a sense of what’s working and what’s not. Analyze these metrics on a regular basis to find out what pages may need a SEO makeover. You’ll also get other insights into your site’s performance while you’re at it. 

• • •

Ultimately, your localization efforts will fall flat without a good international SEO strategy. For best results, you can use these best practices to boost your localization with well-researched keywords. This will improve your searchability and user engagement, so that the product launch in your target locale brings in real revenue. 

Bottom line: every localization strategy should include international SEO. Does yours?