Eli Schwartz

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For many websites, international SEO is sort of the last frontier. The marketers responsible for traffic growth will quicker dig into how to optimize for Google Discover than a language that they don’t speak. This makes sense from a logical standpoint of course since it’s natural to shy away from what is unfamiliar.

However, I think that digging into the exotic and unfamiliar is even more profitable than what you already know. If you are only optimizing in English for people in the US, you are potentially giving up on some very low hanging fruit.

You might object and say that you don’t have any non-English or non-US users, but I absolutely do not believe that ever to be the case. The web is global and unless you deliberately block any user from the outside the US or those without English language browser settings, you are most definitely getting visitors from around the world.

To prove that this is the case, go into your Search Console and under the performance tab look at countries. You very likely will have the majority of your traffic coming in from the United States (or maybe Canada), but you should see other countries there too. From a conversion standpoint, you can look for these global visitors in your analytics suite and you will most likely observe that their conversion rates and overall engagement are far lower than your other traffic sources.

Aside from the obvious, there is another reason to optimize for international SEO and that is that is that optimizing for content outside of the English language is far simpler! There are a number of reasons for this. First, there is the raw volume of content created in English compared to that which exists in other languages. While English is not the most spoken language in the world (Mandarin is more popular), much of the content on the web existed in English first. When you create content in English, you are competing with that many more websites than if you did the same in Spanish.

As an example, a search for the word “shoes” in English will have many more results than a search in Spanish for “Zapatos”.

Even on a word like shoes, there is just so many possible results. This paradigm will hold true for nearly any word you could search in a popular language and is even greater in a less popular language. While hundreds of millions of people speak Spanish, a significantly smaller group uses the web in German or French even though the purchasing power of the speakers of these languages is quite substantial.

This ratio calculation is even great when you drop into even less popular Internet languages like those in Southeast Asia. There just simply is not enough content for all possible results.

Even further, when you are competing against other sites in other languages, the quality metrics you need to succeed are a lot lower. Having a strong quality of content and links might be a challenge in English, but in another language the quality you need to have strong visibility will be a lot lower.

In addition to the raw numbers there is another reason that International SEO can be so profitable is that search algorithms despite many advancements in language processing and AI are still not as good at search in other languages as they are in English.

This is a combination of some natural bias towards English machine learning because the engineers who create the algorithms speak English, but also because there are so many more users in English who search and train the algorithms. Standard features within search like “did you mean” on spelling mistakes or intent matching on queries rather than straight string matching will be less robust in other languages. This means that there are areas where traditional SEO tactics driven by keyword matching will be successful in ways they have not worked in English in many years. You will have a greater opportunity to have high visibility in search if you incorporate these tactics, rather than the way it works in English where you do your best and hope it is recognized by the algorithms.

In short, if you are neglecting international SEO, just look for easy opportunities to tackle anything simple in other languages.

Here are five things you can try right now:

  1. Use a freelancer to translate your homepage
  2. Translate your contact page into another language
  3. Translate your top blog posts into the non-English languages that are the most popular in your search console
  4. Create a way for users to pay you if they use another currency. This may already be accomplished with your credit card processing but make sure whatever solution you are using does not cause any issues.
  5. Identify keywords that might be popular in other languages and incorporate them into landing pages you create specifically for those other languages.

These efforts above will give you a taste of what the potential for global traffic is on your website. Finally, I will leave you with this stat which is only 12% of the world’s population can even read and understand English. If you focus only on English, you are only targeting a sliver of the total Internet market.