To have a successful international website, Google (or a local search engine) should be able to crawl, index, and serve each of your site’s language and/or country versions. This will help you reach your audience more effectively and – if done correctly – will enhance the user experience and business results.

MAKE YOUR INTERNATIONAL WEBSITE CRAWLABLE

Making multilingual websites crawlable and indexable requires more work than the normal monolingual site. Most people know that localizing body copy, product descriptions, About Us sections and FAQs is vital to having a fully functional website in another language. But it’s just as important to localize elements outside core content like URLs, titles, and meta descriptions.

There are three main reasons for this:

  1. Local Relevance – Each localized element helps search engines understand various parts of the site in each language. This makes it easier to serve the right information.
  2. User Experience – Full localization improves the user experience. URLs, for example, are one of the first elements a user will see on your page. 
  3. Branding – Having parts of your website in different languages is unprofessional and could potentially harm your brand image.

EFFECTIVE GEO-TARGETING

If you’ve decided to target your audience by country, it’s important to set up your international website to geo-target accurately. This helps Google serve up the most relevant information to your intended audience. To geo-target effectively, it’s easiest to use ccTLDs. However, if you’re using gTLDs, you can still set functional geo-targeting. 

HREFLANG TAGS

If the bulk of your traffic comes from Google and your website features language variations on separate URLs, hreflang tags are for you. These tags allow websites to tell Google which version of a page is the right one for a particular language or country so that people see the most appropriate content, improving their user experience and your conversion rates.

Hreflang tags can be added in one of three places:

  1. The on-page markup
  2. The HTTP header
  3. An hreflang XML sitemap

Regardless of where you decide to place your hreflangs, each tag should include both a reference to itself and to each alternate page. For example, if Wordbank had a German version of its English homepage, the hreflang tag would look like this:

<link rel=“alternate” href=“http://www.wordbank.com” hreflang=“en-gb” />

<link rel= “alternate” href=“http://www.wordbank.com/de” hreflang=“de-de” />

The tag would also look the same on the German site.

As you can see, hreflang tags can be used to set languages or language variants, so you can be as specific as you need to be when targeting your audience.

SET RULES FOR YOUR HOMEPAGE

Even if you’ve set up your geo-targeting perfectly, it may still be unclear which language a particular user wants to see. While adding hreflang tags and configuring geo-targeting will help direct users to the right page, what about direct visits when a user types in your brand’s URL?

For example, perhaps a French speaker is using a laptop at a coffee shop in London. Which version of your website should you show them?

Applying specific rules to your homepage or landing pages can help. By setting these pages up with international users in mind, you can make sure everyone can easily find the information they need.

There are three common options to choose from:

1. SHOW EVERYONE THE SAME CONTENT

You might decide that the easiest route is to serve content for just one specific country or language. 

2. LET USERS DECIDE WHICH VERSION THEY WANT

If you’d rather allow users to choose the version they prefer (avoiding being incorrectly directed), you could turn your homepage into a country selector landing page. This approach can be particularly helpful for eCommerce sites that are active in several countries like IKEA.

This is when you should use the “x-default” hreflang tag, in which the page won’t be targeted to a specific language or country.

3. AUTOMATICALLY REDIRECT USERS

This is the simplest approach to international homepages. Based on the user’s settings, you can automatically redirect them to the version of the website that’s most relevant. If you choose this approach, make sure to offer an easily identifiable drop down menu for users to choose the version they want.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Each option has its own pros and cons, so it’s up to you to decide which will work best for your business needs. However you decide to set up your international website, with thorough research and careful consideration, you can expect visibility to improve for each of your target markets.