How to Make Your Ecommerce Site SEO-friendly for an International Audience

Nov 02, 2013 9:49 PM  By

international-icons-300Internet shopping is big business everywhere. In the US, total ecommerce spending was predicted to hit around $262 billion in 2013. In the UK, meanwhile, shoppers spent £586.9 million ($943.7 million) a week online in June 2013, accounting for 9.7% of all retail spending.

Ecommerce is a global phenomenon and allows you to reach out to new markets irrespective of language and geographical barriers.

You have to make sure that people find can find you however. A key aspect of this is search engine optimization or SEO. Simply put, it’s the technique and processes of getting your website to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) whenever a user looks for a relevant term on a search engine such as Google.

If you want to capitalize on international sales, it’s important to optimize your site for international audiences and localized search results.

Concentrate on individual markets
The internet has no borders but if you are looking to sell internationally, it can help if you concentrate your efforts on one or two markets first. An effective campaign in a single market can yield better returns than patchy campaigns in several. In SEO terms, setting up market-specific localized sites with country code Top Level Domains (such as www.example.mx for Mexico or www.example.es for Spain) can give you a boost in local search results.

Pay special attention to keywords
Keywords are the words or phrases that people type into the search engine search box when they are looking for particular information or sites. Not surprisingly, they are extremely important when it comes to SEO.

Google’s Matt Cutts explains: “We have an entire team at Google called the synonyms team, and their job is to sort of realize that car and automobile are the same thing, but I wouldn’t claim that they’re perfect all the time…in general, if you are able to use synonyms or the words that users would actually type in a natural way, then you reduce or remove that uncertainty, and Google doesn’t have to somehow guess or estimate that that’s what your page is really about.”

If you are dealing with foreign markets, good keyword research can be even more important. Don’t rely on dictionary translations of English language keywords as alternative terms could be far more effective in other markets. Brainstorm alternatives with the aid of a native translator and run them all through keyword tools to see what sticks.

Localize content
You will also want to localize all your content, placing your keywords prominently but without spamming or over-stuffing your content. This could actually do more harm than good to your SEO efforts. Automatic translation systems offer a cheap and easy option but they are also prone to errors and you are likely to end up with content that sounds stilted and unnatural at best. Native speaking translators can help you avoid mistakes and can also help you bring cultural references and flavor to your localized site.

[Executive Summary: International Business]

Sometimes it might pay to go beyond mere translation and transcreate content – retaining your brand message and central themes but adapting it to a new audience. Look at Coca Cola’s Chinese and German sites. Coke is a globally recognized brand but they localize their sites to match individual audiences. It’s not just a matter of translating content word for word. The Chinese site is interactive and visual, reflecting the high-context nature of Chinese culture. The German one is more tabular, with simple structures and clear information, reflecting the low-context culture in Germany.

Use titles and headings effectively
Keywords can also be used in your website URL and page titles. Keywords that match the actual search term typed by the user may be bolded in the search results, which can help attract the viewing human eye. Keep titles short but descriptive and make use of heading tags on all your pages.

is the founder of Lingo24, Inc., a provider of translation services in New York.