International SEO: how to optimize international brands and businesses

First off, this blog is kinda old. Have a look at my new online home: Umbrellum.

International SEO is all about scalability and high authority. There are a lot of opportunities most businesses miss out on. SEO doesn’t have to be harder for international businesses, it needs to be smarter, scalable, and you should use the power of your brand to increase authority.

This article is directed to sites and businesses that are globally active, but some of these points can also be applied to businesses who are only active in a couple of countries.

The biggest aim here is to optimize a site with minimal effort on the site itself. Often, the bigger the business, the harder it gets to change something on the site and the harder it is to make big sitewide changes. Therefore, hopefully these points will impact as little as possible on the site itself.

How to get dozens of international university backlinks

Universities are often high authority websites. They provide tremendous link authority when linking to your site. The only problem is often to find a good way to get those links, and to get a lot of them.

As an international brand you’ll be able to get dozens of these backlinks quite easily. You don’t even have to do a lot of extra work to get them.

Enter international recruiting.

Your brand is reputable, a lot of people would love to work there. Make sure to have an English version of your careers page. Maybe even English translations of your vacancies.

International students might be very well interested in taking a job or internship at your company. They’re currently in school and might be looking for international opportunities. This is where you come in.

Look for careers-pages on university sites and see if they might link to your international careers page. Shoot them an email explaining that you’re specifically looking for the type of students of that particular degree or school who are looking for a job or internship abroad. And send them the link to the careers page. As you can see this can be applied worldwide, even if your main office is in Amsterdam for example.

How to find these international university backlinks?

Simply do the following search in Google:

university intitle:”working abroad”

Or, regarding internships:

university intitle:”internships abroad”

Or try “Universiteit” instead of universities to get dutch universities. And try other languages of course.

Some examples:

A couple of pointers to keep in mind and the most out of this technique

  • Make sure your careers section is on the main .com domain. Not on a subdomain. This way the linkpower will flow to the entire domain, and not just the subdomain.
  • Make sure to point internal links to your main commercial pages. If it’s a vacancy as a brand marketer for the car sales department. You can link to the actual cars for sale on the site. This will help redistribute the linkpower to the commercial pages of your site. This should be best practice for all of your vacancies.
  • The links that you attract with this method will benefit the entire domain, including the commercial pages, as the careers page sits on a subfolder and not a subdomain.
  • When a vacancy is filled, please either keep the page up for the next time when you need a similar candidate, or redirect it to the category the vacancy is in. Always use a 301 redirect.

Scale your link building!

The days of sending out emails asking for links are over. Especially for big international businesses. Unless they’re universities or governments it’s not worth your time. Instead, find ways to scale your link building.

  • Example link from a stock news site to the Boeing company earnings report.

    Add links in press releases. New product launch? Add a link in the press release! Every blog and news site in your industry will either copy the release or link to the source.

  • Investor relations. This is an easy one for public exchange traded companies. Publish your quarterly and yearly earnings and press releases on the main domain. Not on a subdomain or corporate site. A lot of financial news sites will link to those numbers as a reference. All great links, automatically, every quarter, over and over.
  • Easy to share. Make your pages easy to share on social media and websites. This won’t bring in a lot of links, but it’s easy implementation and just normal best practices.
  • Add user guides and manuals on your site. Preferrably not the PDF but in HTML. If you have to do PDF, add a link in the pdf document to your site.
  • Answer the most asked questions about your brand and products on your site. Search Quora, Twitter, Facebook, Google suggest (answerthepublic), brand search on Reddit, and Yahoo! Answers for ideas of questions. Or ask the support team of the company for the most asked questions. Create a page around each question and eventually other sites will start linking to it.

OVer 400 domains are linking to the subdomain. If this section was on a subfolder of the main site, the entire site would benefit.

Press and news pages on main domain

The company Western Digital has its newsroom on the main domain and attracts almost 400 backlinks. These 400 backlinks now benefit the entire site. SEO well done.

One of the most common mistakes is to add a newsroom or press section on a subdomain on the site. It’s best to have this on a subfolder on the main domain. This way, all the links these press pages get will flow to the main domain instead of the subdomain.

Also, make sure to put internal links to your internal commercial pages where appropriate.

And last but not least, add a note at the end of the press release of the source (the page itself). Other sites who copy/paste press releases will then copy/paste the link pointing back. And citing your source should be common practice for every self-respecting news site anyway.

Your brand is ranking, products are ranking, but are your product groups ranking?

Most international sites, especially well-known brands, have a high authority and a very extensive link profile. They often rank for their brandname and also for the name of their products. All good right? Products are well found, and the brand is well found! What else is there?

Product niches.

If you’re TomTom, and you sell the TomTom Touch Fitnesstracker, you’ll rank perfectly fine for that productname. But you want to rank for “Sportswatch” or “Sporthorloge” in dutch. That’s where the new customers are at. People who don’t associate your brand with their problem or need are the ones you want to convert as new customers.

In this example TomTom actually forgets to optimize for “sporthologe”, they call it TomTom sport. By just adding the phrase “Sporthorloge” to the title tag and somewhere in the text of the page it will probably start to rank high almost immediately.

This is something a lot of big brands forget. They forget to focus on the niche their product is in. A couple of examples.

TomTom: Sporthorloges: Almost no content on the page and the phrase is not in the title tag. By simply adding a couple of sentences describing the product category and adding a nice title tag will do wonders for the Google ranking of this page.

The TomTom sports category contains almost no content and could easily rank for “sportswatches” if the page is a little bit more optimized. For example the title tag, heading of the page and some introductory text.

Blackrock. They provide investment management and financial planning. These are mentioned in the title of their homepages. But nowhere in their products. I understand these products fulfill the need of financial planning and investment management. But to get the site ranking for those keywords, focus one of their product category pages on these terms. Use them in the title, h1 and content of a page. It could be a category page listing the products related to financial planning. Or they could optimize their most important product pages for this keyword.

Only the blackrock homepage title tag contains the main keywords the site needs to rank for. They might rank for all of their funds, but the money is in new customers who don’t know their products yet.

The money is in the homepage

The page with the most authority is probably the homepage. Most brands don’t use this power appropriately they link to a bunch of pages, but just adding a couple of textual links from the homepage can do wonders for pages that don’t rank well yet. For example links to your consumer categories.

Just adding 4 to 6 links will make a whole lot of a difference.

Next to that, use a tool like Ahrefs to find the most linked pages on your site and use those pages to internally link to other important commercial pages. If you don’t have an Ahrefs account shoot me an email and I’ll have a look for you.

Use a hreflang already!

For international sites that has multiple languages available on its site, this has to be in place, use a hreflang meta tag. The idea behind the hreflang tag is that you tell google in what language the page is. But you also tell Google where it can find the same page in other languages. Therefore it can show the right landing page for the right person.

Always go for .com and never use a subdomain

If you start a company in the Netherlands with a .nl and expand abroad you’re going to have a problem ranking the .nl in the US. .nl can only rank in the Netherlands. .de can only rank in Germany, and so on. Always use a .com if you’re going international. A .com can, with the right hreflang tags rank in multiple countries.

Optimize your title tags.

This one’s not really new, but if you spend a shitload of money on Google Ads, you better take the best performing text ad and try it as your title and meta description as well. Make sure to keep using your most important keywords in the title thought.

Normal SEO practices: responsive, secure, fast loading pages.

Last but not least, please have a mobile friendly site available on a secure https environment. But this is common practice for every site on the web.

Hopefully this helps some brands out, if you have any questions, leave a comment or shoot me an email.

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