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Managing an international SEO campaign requires both a broad strategic perspective and highly specialized technical expertise. If your organization seeks more organic traffic and conversions from countries outside the U.S.A., these are seven of the most common and critical mistakes—and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1—U.S.-Centered Thinking

To succeed internationally, the SEO team must think internationally. Countries have different languages, cultures, ways of doing business, and laws that affect marketing communication and data collection. These differences influence and, in some cases, drive SEO decisions regarding keywords, on-site content creation, content marketing for link building, technical website issues, and even overall strategy.

When organizations take shortcuts—for instance, using automated translation software instead of the more difficult but far more effective method of transcreation—successful international SEO is nearly impossible.

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Mistake 2—Targeting Google Alone

Companies with U.S. campaigns are accustomed to optimizing almost exclusively for Google because Google dominates the North American search market. The same holds true in many foreign countries, but consider:

  • In China, Baidu, not Google, dominates.
  • In Russia, Yandex, not Google, is the leader.
  • In South Korea, Naver, not Google, is the leader.

If your SEO campaign targets any of these countries, optimizing for Baidu, Yandex, and/or Naver is essential.


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Mistake 3—Incorrect Keyword Selection

Taking U.S. market keywords and simply translating them into another language is likely to backfire. Familiarity with the native language and culture is necessary to pinpoint keywords that accurately describe products and services and to use them properly in a given international market.

Incorrect keyword targeting can also occur even when English is the local language; for example, in England, the locals refer to cookies as biscuits, to French fries as chips, and to oatmeal as porridge. If the wrong keywords are targeted, every other part of that market’s SEO campaign will be compromised.


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Mistake 4—Translating Instead of Transcreating Content

With automated translation tools readily available, inexpensive, and easy to use, organizations are tempted to use them to quickly translate U.S. website pages into foreign language versions. However, by doing so, these organizations create local-market web pages that the local audience finds confusing and possibly incomprehensible.

Even if such web pages achieve high rankings (which is doubtful), they will be completely ineffective in generating sales leads or online revenue.

Perhaps even worse, poorly translated website pages communicate that the organization behind them neither understands nor cares about the local market. This exceedingly negative brand perception impedes an organization’s ability to sell its products or services everywhere it operates. A website with a high quality translation communicates the opposite: that the organization understands and respects its target market.


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Mistake 5—Overlooking Local Legal Issues

Even when businesses transcreate website content, they can get into serious trouble by overlooking local laws and regulations governing sales and marketing content. For instance, product claims about being “best” or “number one” are more tightly regulated in some countries than in the U.S.A., most notably in the U.K.

In addition, international SEO managers (and web developers) must take care that webforms and shopping cart content, and website functionality conform to local requirements governing data security and privacy.


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Mistake 6—Not Investing in Local Content Marketing

In the U.S.A., marketing high-quality content to high-quality blogs and websites is the foundation of link building. The same holds true in international markets—and there is no shortcutting the process.

Creating high-quality content requires an organization to employ copywriters and editors who are native speakers or fluent in the local language, and who also understand the organization’s offering, target customers, and local competition. Marketing that content to local publishers similarly requires familiarity with local editorial practices.

Organizations must invest in local-market content marketing teams to run effective link building campaigns.

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The only way to attract the attention of customers in a target market is to understand their needs and motivations.


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Mistake 7—Mishandling Technical Website Issues

Proper optimization of international websites is complex, with several options for handling issues such as multiple domains, URL structuring, geotargeting, and language targeting. Several website variables determine which optimization steps are most suitable, but fortunately, Google Search Central spells out best practices for managing multi-regional and multi-lingual sites. In general, enabling Google crawlers to recognize web pages targeted to a specific geographic area and/or language is the goal.

international seo mistakes: technical issues

Make sure that your website is set up properly on the back end to accommodate multiple languages and to signal appropriate language and region targeting to search engines.

For proper technical optimization, consider the long-term as well as the current SEO marketing environment. If your business is expanding into one foreign market now but plans to expand its reach over the next several years, implementing a scalable strategy for domains, URLs, and languages will eliminate expensive rework and the possible rebuilding of the website in the future.

Conclusion: International SEO Mistakes

Website localization opens up a whole new world of marketing possibilities for companies, but they must pay attention to these seven common pitfalls to make their investment really pay out to its full potential.


About the author: Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, a Chicago-based Internet marketing company that specializes in SEO. With decades of marketing, sales, and management experience, Shorr has written for leading online publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur, and for the American Marketing Association.

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