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Episode 4: Uncomplicating International SEO

Mastering international SEO can seem like an insurmountable task. There are a lot of options to consider and the best advice is tailored to your specific site. In this episode, Matt and Jorie do some fact-checking and break down the options for creating an international site structure and marketing plan. Plus, Matt explains how to begin building authority, in whatever language or region you’re looking to break into.

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Episode Transcription

Matt Howells-Barby: Hey everyone. I'm Matt Howells-Barby.

Jorie Munroe: And I'm Jorie Munroe.

Matt Howells-Barby: This is Skill Up. Skill Up is a podcast sponsored by HubSpot Academy all about the changing landscape of marketing, sales and customer service.

Growing internationally is an incredibly exciting move for your business. It can mean more revenue, more customers and more growth. But I bet that if you were to walk over to your web team they might not share the same level of excitement. That's because international SEO, well, it can be complicated. To make matters worse, there's a lot of bad advice out there. I know you've heard me say this a few times on other episodes but there really isn't one right way to do this. So, it depends. That means you need to consider some pros and cons and choose the strategy that works best for your business.

Today we're going to walk through some of the questions you need to consider before expanding internationally, how you decide on the right URL structure and how you start building authority.

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Matt Howells-Barby: Hey Jorie.

Jorie Munroe: [00:02:00] Hey Matt. I'm pretty excited about what we're talking about today. International SEO can seem really overwhelming from the outside so I'm excited to break it down a bit. I guess we should start with the basics. Why would a company want to even set up an international site?

Matt Howells-Barby: I think to begin with if you're [00:02:30] thinking about expanding as a business globally, reaching new customers, new markets or even just catering for existing customers that maybe speak another language, this is probably the number one way to reach them. Having one single website that is in one single language pretty much limits you to the audience that you can reach. So expanding internationally not only could mean more revenue but even just on a basic level more eyeballs [00:03:00] on your content.

Jorie Munroe: Definitely. Especially as we kind of live in such a global world it's such an important piece to consider when you're kind of growing as a business. So how do you know really like, when you're starting to expand like this like which languages to target or what countries to start with?

Matt Howells-Barby: That's a good question. There are so many factors that come into internationalization and a lot of the time if you have an existing site which is usually the case, it's is rather you would just [00:03:30] go and expand internationally as your first foray into having a website, but you actually have a lot of information out there already that you can tap into. So one of the first things I would do is go through, have a look on your website right now and go into the analytics.

Within something like Google Analytics for example, what you have that already is a nice little tab under the audience tab. You can go in and [00:04:00] have a little look at the different locations in which people are visiting your website from. This is like my number one starting point. I would go in and say, okay, what are the top countries that are visiting our website and if we have a huge proportion of people from a country that we don't have a website or a language based site for, that would say to me we should probably consider at least evaluating whether it's viable for us to explore building out a web property for this.

[00:04:30] On top of that, you can also have a little look at the languages that you can have visitors coming through that they speak. This is typically determined by their web browser which will be set to a certain language. So, you can have a little split and say okay, we can either look at the top languages that are spoken or have a look at the top countries and then the languages within those because obviously people speak more than one language unlike me.

Jorie Munroe: [00:05:00] Most people are not Matt.

Matt Howells-Barby: Most people are not me. That is a true stat, that is a fact. I think after that, you've got your initial shortlist of okay, this is what's happening right now. This seems to be the right starting point as opposed to okay, we have zero traffic from Russia, let's go just build a site and build it from the ground up. Maybe that's the case, maybe there is like a real business demand for that. But, it's not really, it wouldn't feel me with confidence that you're validating [00:05:30] this is going to be able to be something you could grow initially. Certainly if it's your fast entry point into international SEO.

So the next piece on this for me is like how do I justify whether we should go and either build a separate site or a separate section to our existing website to go after these. That's then where we would go in and say okay, let's have a little look and figure out some such demand. There's a bunch different [00:06:00] tools you can use but one thing that I often start with is like the basics, is okay, in let's say, this region, this country, what search engines are they actually using and what's the adoption of those search engines look like anyone, using Russia as an example, for example, the Yandexes, the number one such engine there.

So, even if you are getting a lot of traffic from Russia, you've also got to be prepared that there's a significant investment in understanding how [00:06:30] the Yandex works as well as Google which is probably the second most used such engine by quite a way off actually. So it's a few things there.

There's a really cool tool from Google, it's called Google Market Finder. If you just google that you'll obviously find it. What you can do within that is you can type in your website and it'll Google determine broadly what is this website about. So if we typed in hubspot.com we may find stuff [00:07:00] like sales and marketing software, etc etc. What Google Market Finder does is it shows you the top countries that have large amounts of such demand and general like interest of those topics broken down. So, for example with hubspot.com it says, I'm just actually looking here and it's like France and Australia being like the top two and give some rough such volume there.

This is like your next starting point [00:07:30] where you'd go then deeper and say, all right, so we're thinking about France as a potential area that we're going to go into. Now we need to do much more detailed keyword research. You use a keyword research tool to have a little look at some of the big topics you're going to be going after and say okay, is there enough search volume for some of these topics that we want to potentially rank for in this region to say we have enough information, we have enough volume, enough demand that we could capture that means [00:08:00] this is financially viable for us to even go into this space.

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Jorie Munroe: So it's really like piece work. You start to kind of get a general sense and then build more of a data-driven strategy as you go to make this expansion and really determine if it's right for your business. With this in mind, what are the different ways that you can split up a site as you're looking to kind of make this expansion?

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah. There are typically two [00:08:30] core ways that you can split this up. Then there's a third piece that we'll come into after that. Typically, you would say okay, we're either going to split this out by countries or we're going to split it out by languages. There's a really important distinction between those two. Then the third piece is a combination of the two. Usually, the first question is like are we going country or language first.

[00:09:00] For different situations, different solutions will work. But the main kinds of websites that you would really see just go language first. It's usually when like the location of your customer doesn't really matter to the sales process, doesn't really change a whole lot. You probably don't even necessarily have a local sales presence in the different countries that you're exploring [00:09:30] from like a language level and this is then when you'd say okay, we're just going to dip our toe in the water if there's stuff and we're just going to go for a language based approach. It's probably the easiest entry point into international SEO.

That said, being the easiest doesn't mean it's the best and even if it could be successful for your business it may not be the right thing to do. The most important thing to remember is the decision you make initially is very hard to change in the long term.

Jorie Munroe: So choose wisely.

Matt Howells-Barby: [00:10:00] Yeah. It's one thing having a piece of content that you publish on your website and deciding that isn't the right piece of content actually, we're going to take it down or change it. It's a whole nother thing saying this entire web property that we've built and all of the infrastructure behind it, we now need to get rid of it and we are going to lose like all of the investment that we made there. That's a really horrible decision to have to make.

So, [00:10:30] one of the things that you want to think about is okay, on the country level, if you were going to split by countries, an important thing to think about is Google splits by countries. When you're on google.fr, google.ca, google.es, that's Google Spain, that's Google Canada, that's Google France. They split by countries as opposed to by languages. It's the more aligned with that. The thing I would say is if you're going to split by country you would [00:11:00] usually do it because like your sales process is directly impacted by the country of your customer. So that might mean like your whole product offering is different from country to country. Your pricing is different.

On the most like basic level you think about Apple, their iPhone product has different pricing across different regions and sometimes they have slightly nuanced product offerings. They also will have sales teams on the ground in each of the different countries that are going after and there'll be significant demand on a country [00:11:30] by country level of people that want an iPhone and their different Apple products. Whereas if you are the New York Times for example, yes, to a certain extent, the service that you offer is slightly different from country to country but in all honesty you're thinking more about what I want is more people to view the Wall Street Journal from an online perspective. I just need to cater towards their language, so let's had some different language splits of [00:12:00] this content because people that are Spanish speaking there's demand across every different Spanish speaking country. So, that's kind of where you get to that.

Then this third and final piece which we will come on to which is like country and language split is when you have enough demand on the country level where you say okay, we've got so much demand and so much nuance to our product offering that actually we need to cater for for example French speaking Canadians and English speaking Canadians [00:12:30] etc, etc. There's that much demand and this is usually very large e-commerce space companies like one that comes to mind that I know does this is like Wayfair and that's when things get more and more complicated.

Jorie Munroe: So to make sure that I'm like wrapping my head around this because it's a little complicated, right?

Matt Howells-Barby: Just a little bit.

Jorie Munroe: Just a tad. For country, kind of the biggest pro in that bucket is physical, regional location of kind of the sales [00:13:00] process. Then for language maybe less so but kind of awareness or kind of sales process for that specific language. And then the combination is when there's both.

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah, pretty much. What you'll find though with each of these different options as well, they also have an impact on the things that you can actually do from a site structure an architecture point of view which then have [00:13:30] ramifications on how well you can rank in the search engines as well. There's business logic that comes into this and then this there's technical logic that comes into this as well.

Jorie Munroe: So it's almost like those adventure books that I know when I was a kid used to be around where you can choose your own adventure but like unless you're a cheater you can't really go back and like choose the correct one. So you want to like move forward strategically almost. Choose your own adventure SEO version.

Matt Howells-Barby: Book coming soon. That [00:14:00] is a book I would love to be able to cheat because there have been many adventures I have had in the past down those books and they've sometimes not turned out the way I've wanted them to.

Jorie Munroe: I've never survived one of those books, let's be clear. So, to kind of get this back on track, so, with this kind of option to split by sight, to split by country, to do both, what does this look like for your site's URL structure or domain?

Matt Howells-Barby: All right, this is the fun bit.

Jorie Munroe: Let's go. The [beastie 00:14:29] is unearthed.

Matt Howells-Barby: [00:14:30] This is honestly probably the most complicated part international SEO. It's also the part where lots of people that may or may not have a lot of experience in SEO have the biggest opinions about how. One thing to really call out here is that international SEO is not something that a lot of people get exposure to. It's a very specialist and you really have to have done it a few times to be able to get [00:15:00] to the grips of it and ultimately do a bunch of things wrong which I certainly have over the years with international SEO, learn from them and figure out actually what's right and what's wrong.

One thing before I get into these different options that I will call out is if you ever hear statements around international SEO where people say like, for example, subdirectories are the best approach for international SEO. It's rubbish. There is no best approach [00:15:30] for international SEO. It's completely driven by your context. Actually some of the different options that you have depend on that first question that you need to ask that actually is one of the things that people forget about and don't pay attention to a lot is, I see so many people trying to figure out the whole site structure and I'll be like, all right, so tell me first of all what did you decide about languages and countries. They're like, we'll figure that out after. It's like whoa, whoa, whoa, no. You can't do that. You need to figure that piece out first [00:16:00] and then you need to go into the second piece. I'll tell you why.

There are three different buckets let's say of options that you can go after. There's some combinations and variations within them but three overarching options. The first one is ccTLDs and what that means is like a country code top-level domain. For example domain.es, domain.co.uk, domain.com. Now [00:16:30] this is the perfect example of where it's really important that you've already chosen whether you're going to go language or country because if you do ccTLDs you cannot do language targeting because this is a country code top-level domain and a lot of people don't realize that. They think oh, domain.fr, that's French. No, that's France. There is a distinction by the way in languaging country and that's one thing [00:17:00] that's really important. So you can't do that for language targeting, that's country only.

Jorie Munroe: So when you choose ccTLDs, just make sure I got the vocab right.

Matt Howells-Barby: You did.

Jorie Munroe: So you're like, you're checking that box, like I'm splitting for a country definitively?

Matt Howells-Barby: Well, yes, pretty much. There are more options for if you're going country first. The only thing that you just categorically cannot do is go language targeting with a [00:17:30] ccTLD. So we got ccTLDs and that's just a point I wanted to make around the targeting piece to begin with. Then the next piece is subdirectories. So, let's say we have domain.com/es. Now, that could be .es as in Spain, it could be .es as in Spanish. You can do either language or country targeting with a subdirectory. Then the third piece is subdomains, which would be like es.domain. [00:18:00] com. Just to recap that. We've got ccTLDs, domain.es. Subdirectories, domain.com/es. And then subdomains, es.domain.com.

Jorie Munroe: What is the difference between kind of the ccTLDs and subdomain. It sounded like, especially with the es.domain.com verses domain.es, like what's the difference there? Could you do [00:18:30] the combination like by country or by language or is that by country or language?

Matt Howells-Barby: For all for the subdomains, so like es.domain.com, what you actually have there is you have domain.com is your core domain. Then you're using a subdomain which is es. and you can have fr., en. for English. You [00:19:00] probably wouldn't have that necessarily but you can have a whole host of different things just prior to the core domain name. That could be either languages or countries.

Jorie Munroe: Cool. So flexibility.

Matt Howells-Barby: Exactly. Then on the ccTLDs you would have like .dot com or .fr, .es, etc. And there are only countries on ccTLDs.

Jorie Munroe: Got you. So subdomains you could do either, subdirectories you could do either but ccTLDs are the ones that are country specific always.

Matt Howells-Barby: Exactly, you got it, [00:19:30] you got it.

Jorie Munroe: See, I'm learning.

Matt Howells-Barby: This is I would argue one of the most complicated parts of SEO as well. So, for any listening out there, like don't be worried if you're thinking what the hell is Matt talking about. This is one of those episodes where you're probably going to listen to it two, three, four times and the you will get it especially when you follow some of the examples we're going to come into a bit later.

Jorie Munroe: So on that note, nice tee up, I'm going to use an example to make this even [00:20:00] clearer. So I'm really into spinning. When you hate spinach and you love Snickers you gotta do what you gotta do. So let's say I have a site that sells spinning gear and provides tips and such and now I want to make it available to the market in France. So I could buy joriespins.fr but why would I buy a country code top-level domain over my other options?

Matt Howells-Barby: Okay. So [00:20:30] there are a few different, well, there are a number of different factors that you want to kind of like think about with this case. So, just to recap. You are thinking about entering the French market and you're thinking about having a ccTLD. SO joriespins.fr. The factors I would consider in amongst this and I'll go through each of them would be as follows.

One of the first things is around like geo-targeting. How strong is this specific [00:21:00] architecture choice going to help me with saying to Google and other such engines this is the country I am targeting and being a really strong like ranking signal. The other thing is like how well does this harness the authority of our main brand and domain that we have. How does this why from like a UX conversion point of view because there's actually more to life than SEO.

Jorie Munroe: You don't say. What.

Matt Howells-Barby: [00:21:30] How easy is this to implement and maintain? Now when you would actually, I would say with a ccTLD, one of the things is really strong on the geo-targeting side of things. Local ccTLDs are probably one of the strongest like local ranking signals you can have. If you have joriespins.fr, Google immediately knows that's for France. This content should be indexed within France. There's actually very little that you would need to do to signal that.

[00:22:00] You could also have for every new domain name that you have because it's a whole new domain name, you probably have joriespins.com, joriespins.fr, you would set up individual like web hosting for that. You could have those web servers be located in France. It's another albeit small like thing but you have the flexibility to do that with ccTLDs which you actually don't with subdirectories which we'll come into a little later. You can then set up geo-targeting in Google search console [00:22:30] which is literally just a little text box that says please index this whole domain's content in google.fr.

The downside that a lot of people cite with ccTLDs and rightly so to an extent is when you build a whole new domain, to a certain extent you're starting from scratch in building the authority of that. Google ranks websites on like a page by page basis but it also very much so in like a domain by domain basis. So, there's got to be like [00:23:00] a lot of internal linking happening from like your main dot com domain and you can set up some other technical stuff which we'll come into like hreflang. By and large there's a lot more work that you need to do to build authority with like local links to that domain.

In all honesty, you're going to have to do that regardless of the setting but straight out of the door you'll be a little bit more disadvantaged from the authority side of things. Personally I think form a UX and a conversion point of view, ccTLD is the strongest. If [00:23:30] you're in France and you want to feel like you are experiencing like customer service, a sales process that is like native to your country and it feels more like, okay, this personalized to me, seeing joriespins.fr would be much stronger than having like a .com site. And suddenly from like an overall architecture point of view it makes things a little bit easier to set up. It's just cleaner, right? You start a whole new website, you don't have to build into anything else. You just start from scratch and you can [00:24:00] pretty much replicate all of the existing structure of your main domain on to your new site.

The implementation, the only thing like I would say you also need to, one thing people actually often forget is you need to own all of these ccTLD domains. You need to buy them. Actually, just as a general PSA here is, if you are currently not thinking about international SEO but you think even remotely One day in the future, please buy up-

Jorie Munroe: [00:24:30] Buy it now.

Matt Howells-Barby: But up a bunch of your domain names that are local domains and just hold on to them. This is like even just securing them from a brand point of view because someone could just buy them, spin something up and think how you'd feel of that.

Jorie Munroe: It could hurt, it hurt you.

Matt Howells-Barby: There are some of the factors. I think just to do a hit list of like when I would use ccTLDs, bearing in mind all those things that I've just said, if you have a large audience in like that specific target country. So if you have an audience already [00:25:00] or you know there is a massive audience to go after in France, I would really think about that. You have the resources to develop and maintain like multiple web properties as well, you need to set up hosting, you need to have someone maintaining the different, like the content management system. You need to be able to build out content on both sites.

Jorie Munroe: It needs to stay up to date, it's a new website.

Matt Howells-Barby: You need the resources to run like local link building campaigns. We talked a bit about this as well, like you want to boost the appearance of a local sales presence and also have like [00:25:30] that brand presence in that region. And then on top of that probably got different products offering and the resources to actually develop content to cater towards those individual markets as well. That would be the main reason why I'd go after that.

Jorie Munroe: So I'm definitely going to be buying hubspot.themoon.

Matt Howells-Barby: 100%.

Jorie Munroe: For the future.

Matt Howells-Barby: I believe Elon Must actually owns all of the moon domains.

Jorie Munroe: All of them.

Matt Howells-Barby: All of them. He owns part of the moon I believe.

Ahead of the pack. [00:26:00] I'm going to actually interrupt you before we go any further because we actually need to take a quick break. We'll be back with more about how to create an international site in a sec.

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Jorie Munroe: All right, we're back. [00:27:00] Before the break we were talking about Joriespins and I realize I need to go buy this domain now. Let's say in this example I don't want to go with a country domain and instead I want to focus on my French language audience, wherever they may be located. What's the reason for using a subdomain structure for Joriespins.com. So fr.joriespins.com.

Matt Howells-Barby: All right, subdomains.

Jorie Munroe: Subdomains, chapter two.

Matt Howells-Barby: We really need like better budget [00:27:30] to have sweet sound effects for some of these.

Jorie Munroe: I'm still waiting for the Bing sponsorship.

Matt Howells-Barby: I'm still waiting for spinach, where's that at? So subdomains is a very different approach to ccTLDs. We're talking about and in the context all French language instead of country. In all honesty, it would actually look the same if you were doing French language or French country in this specific example because you'd have [00:28:00] fr as the country code France and fr for the language code for France. Now that's not always the case. For example, you could are Portuguese would pt but then Brazil br. So, in this respect we've got fr.joriespins.com.

Immediately one of the things there to call out is that your top-level domain, your ccTLD if you like is .com. You've probably got a lot of your [00:28:30] English language content living on there, maybe on www.joriespins.com or just on joriesspins.com. Now you're adding an fr.subdomain. Now, that means any content that lives on that subdomain, so let's say fr.joriespins.com/blog is all going to be in French language.

Going back to some of the different factors, in [00:29:00] all honesty for languages, subdomains are in my opinion like an okay choice. For countries I'm not a huge fan of using subdomains just because there's not as strong geo-targeting options there. I tend to often, my first choice goes to ccTLDs for countries. That said, there are a lot of situations when I wouldn't do that and they're usually down to the fact that I don't have the resources [00:29:30] to support them. I would say subdomains on a language split international site is of everything the easiest kind of just implement to be honest because you're going to probably just clone the website and have it live on an individual subdomain. You actually can add individual hosting, web hosting that is for each different subdomain you have. So you could technically do [00:30:00] French web servers that host your fr.joriespins.com domain and then for www. Version ...

Jorie Munroe: Have something different.

Matt Howells-Barby: You could have in the US. That's only a small factor but like you can do that. The one benefit is like everything lives on the main.com domain so it does mean that internal linking is a lot easier. There are arguments to be said that the authority eld within that .com domain from all the links this got will pass over into the subdomain. [00:30:30] In all honesty, you need links from French language speaking websites and ideally French websites overall to help boost your rankings there anyway. It's a little bit easier from an authority point of view from ccTLDs.

Now, from a UX and a conversion point of view, it's not ideal. But if you're doing a language split I would imagine that you may not necessarily be as focused on [00:31:00] like making sales. You still might be though. It may just be for example you have a product that doesn't change by country but you just want to make it easier for people to understand. So, there's that element.

Jorie Munroe: So there's pros and cons.

Matt Howells-Barby: There are lots of pros and cons. What I would use subdomains is you don't really have the resources or ability to acquire and manage a load of individual ccTLDs if you're going country split [00:31:30] and if you're aren't able mainly for tech reasons to go with subdirectories. I would usually choose a subdirectory over a subdomain but a lot of different platforms whether they're like analytics, market automation, CMSs don't often play well with adding language content and honestly the implementation onto a subdirectory can be a real pain in the ass from an international point of view. So usually it's like ease of tech that you go with subdomains.

Jorie Munroe: [00:32:00] So it's kind of the ground in the middle of ...

Matt Howells-Barby: It's definitely. If I had to say, okay, ease of implementation, I would have ccTLD because you just straight up clone the website and add on a whole brand new domain [inaudible 00:32:15] it's so clean and it's nice and easy to use. All the URL structures can remain the same.

Then you have subdomains and it's like a little bit better because depending on like what CMS you use you could clone that onto the [00:32:30] subdomain but you would still have like slightly different URL structure. It gets complicated if you were already using subdomains. Let's imagine you hosted your blog on blog.joriespins.com. What do you do there? You could go down the level of like sub subdomains. I don't even want to get into that, that's a horrible choice to do.

Jorie Munroe: That gets messy. Again, best practice, don't do that.

Matt Howells-Barby: If you're already using subdomains for other reasons [00:33:00] like it becomes very difficult to do that and you almost can't go down that route. So that's the other challenge that happens here. With subdirectories you do not get the benefit of just being able to clone the CMS. Like you have to build usually on the existing CMS and add whole sections to it, hack it around a lot. It's painful. It can be done and lot of companies do it but it can be a painful thing to manage.

Jorie Munroe: So that makes a lot of sense and something that we're [00:33:30] already starting to touch on but I want to dive into a little bit more is that, is this like issue of subdirectories. So, what is the reasoning for subdirectories? What would that look like? Give me the very long deed read of that.

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah. Very long deed read. That's going to be the story of this episode I think. So many times I see people citing subdirectories as like the best [00:34:00] international SEO solution and actually a lot of the time I disagree even in the context the person is saying. Also like as we've talked before about this, you shouldn't think in absolutes when it comes to international.

Jorie Munroe: Only sit still in absolutes.

Matt Howells-Barby: There we go.

Jorie Munroe: Star wars, got it.

Matt Howells-Barby: There we go, nailed it. Point one nil.

Jorie Munroe: Always have to have a pop culture reference, sorry guys.

Matt Howells-Barby: [inaudible 00:34:27] SEOs shouldn't ever think that way. [00:34:30] So, the reason behind this is usually that people will say well, subdirectories are the best option for maintaining authority. That's largely correct. So, if you have joriespins.com/fr, you have a single domain, lives on the same subdomain. Like it's all housed in there. All of the links have gone into that individual domain. You've built up the authority over time and it's just like [00:35:00] if you were adding a new blog post onto it, right? But you're adding a new URL that lives in for example /fr, /blog. What you can do with that is harness all of that authority a lot easier.

Now, that's a benefit of subdirectories. There are a lot of disadvantages of having subdirectories in play. One that I talked about is the implementation. Anyone that goes down the route of implementing [00:35:30] an international structure, whether that be through a language base or a country base structure via subdirectories I pity you because you are going to come out a broken person. It is painful.

Jorie Munroe: Why so?

Matt Howells-Barby: It's just really, there isn't many content management systems that are set up to do this. There are ways that you can hack around it and there are certainly some platforms that are better than others. Analytics becomes a lot more [00:36:00] confused. There's just so many things you have to set up and things that can go wrong in all honesty especially when you're mapping out things like redirects and all of the joys that come with it, it's just less clean because you're building in the same place that you already have like English content where you're also going to be building French content.

You will usually have the same content management system the place where you would go and publish a blog post. You may have the option to publish that in English or French in the same place. [00:36:30] It's not always the case but usually is. Just think about the human error that can happen here, whereas when you literally have a whole new log in to a whole new domain and similarly you would have that for a subdomain, it becomes a lot less accident prone. That said, like with any of these, pros and cons. You can absolutely do this correct.

The main thing that I would say though is with a subdirectory, there are no geo-targeting and [00:37:00] like ranking signals that you get from this. The only thing you can do is you can say in search console to google, anything that lives within the subdirectory should be indexed within google.fr for example. Where we talked about saying okay, you could set up individual like web hosting to your subdomain that's fr.joriespins.com. You can't do that for a subdirectory, you can't have individual like local IP web hosting for a subdirectory.

Jorie Munroe: Your servers are your servers.

Matt Howells-Barby: Exactly. [00:37:30] So you can't do that and of course you're just on the main.com or whatever your main like ccTLD is. It's very difficult to really, the biggest challenge is being able to say to Google, hey, all right, we're authoritative but we're authoritative in France or Spain. That's where you need to get a lot of back links from French websites or Spanish websites or whatever you're targeting into that section of the site to put authority. That's kind of where then I almost [00:38:00] think like the argument around authority is sometimes quite flawed because again, we've said this in the last episode, like context is everything with SEO.

So I think like one of the reasons why would use subdirectories or maybe two or three reasons, if you don't have the resources to build and maintain individual sites ...

Jorie Munroe: Right, it seems like a kind of like a quick win version.

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah. Certainly, if you can manage the tech side and you found a solution you can just go and spin that up. [00:38:30] You don't have the resources to do huge local link building, you need to kind of harness as much out the box authority if you like as possible. Your product service doesn't differ that much by region, that'd probably be another one and ultimately you want to keep costs low. You don't need new hosting packages, you don't need new ccTLDs to purchase. You don't need like a big web team infrastructure to handle all this. So it's a bit cheaper. Will it be cheaper in the long term? I don't know. But certainly, just from a resource point of view, it is in the short medium term.

Jorie Munroe: [00:39:00] So potentially cheaper but more of a beastie to manage down the line. So, you can do you a combination of all of these, right?

Matt Howells-Barby: Oh yes. This is when the real fun begins. The fun begins here. This is when we get into country and language split. So, some differing examples here. Let's think about this. [00:39:30] We want to have a Canadian version of our website that completely caters to Canada. But we find after a little while, we actually have tons of French-speaking Canadians and we have a ton of English speaking Canadians. We want to cater for both but we also have a French website and we have French-speaking French people and we have English speaking French people. Maybe there are some other languages in there as well, just keep it simple for now.

[00:40:00] We don't want to just like choose one language for Canada, we want to have both. So what we need is a French speaking Canadian site and an English speaking Canadian site. So how do we do that?

Jorie Munroe: I have no idea, let's go. Walk me through that.

Matt Howells-Barby: This is where it's like okay, now it's like pick and mix time. So you've got, usually in this setting I really, really like starting with ccTLDs. You're going [00:40:30] to start like country first. This is where I maybe would say okay, let's buy joriespins.ca for Canada. Then we got two options. The language piece is either going to be done with a subdomain or a subdirectory. So let's say we want French speaking Canadians. We could have fr.joriespins.ca and that would be French speaking Canada. We could also do [00:41:00] subdirectory instead which would be joriespins.ca/fr.

Now there are other ways like websites, an example of a website that would do that, you've got the Wayfair website. They have a wayfair.ca/fr. That's like one version-

Jorie Munroe: So subdirectory and ccTLD.

Matt Howells-Barby: Exactly.

Jorie Munroe: Boom, knowledge.

Matt Howells-Barby: Exactly. And then if [00:41:30] you look at the Airbnb website you have fr.airbnb.ca. Subdomain plus ccTLD.

Jorie Munroe: It's like speaking a new language.

Matt Howells-Barby: Right. It does get a bit complicated but playing around, just having a look on like Wayfair and Airbnb, you'll see those examples.

Jorie Munroe: Those patterns.

Matt Howells-Barby: But there are also other ways. Like what happens if you don't go down the lines of we want to have individual ccTLDs. [00:42:00] What happens if we wanted to have a subdirectory manage both of these? So imagine you're microsoft.com and apparently you just want a horrible structure to your site that's difficult to maintain.

Jorie Munroe: There goes our sponsorship.

Matt Howells-Barby: Damn it, Bing's out. I say it's horrible like this works for them and ...

Jorie Munroe: They manage.

Matt Howells-Barby: To call back a previous idiom, it is truly horses for [00:42:30] courses. So, what Microsoft have for their Portuguese speaking Brazilian site is microsoft.com/pt-br. That's all in one single subdirectory. You could do the exact same for the subdomain. For example, myprotein.com, [00:43:00] they have fr-ca.myprotein.com doing language and country all in the same either subdomain for myprotein.com or subdirectory in microsoft.com.

This is like a giant enormous horrible ...

Jorie Munroe: Problem.

Matt Howells-Barby: Never ending [crosstalk 00:43:24].

Jorie Munroe: There's a bunch of combinations you could choose.

Matt Howells-Barby: There really is. Mixing and matching is like the horrible choice.

Jorie Munroe: There are a lot of [00:43:30] languages and a lot of countries out there.

Matt Howells-Barby: There really are. I would say unless you are a very, you have a huge addressable market, you have a huge team, huge resources and the ability to go after with a big marketing budget, these different regions, I wouldn't explore going down the country and language to begin.

Jorie Munroe: Just to manage it all and keep it just straight.

Matt Howells-Barby: Exactly. Think about [00:44:00] the different brands that I just mentioned, myprotein.com being one of the smallest but still being a huge company in terms of online sales, Microsoft, Airbnb.

Jorie Munroe: Massive.

Matt Howells-Barby: Like they're all, and Wayfair.

Jorie Munroe: They have resources to do this.

Matt Howells-Barby: Huge, huge companies doing this. The best thing to do is start off simple. Language or country and figure that out. But, at the same time like if you all thinking enormous and you are myprotein.com, if you said okay, in some respects, [00:44:30] if you're looking at for example the Wayfair website, Wayfair could have started by just saying let's just start by doing country only. Would do wayfair.ca for Canada. At a later date we might explore languages and at a later date they could add /fr. That's fine. Same with Airbnb, they did airbnb.ca, maybe at a later they'll so their subdomains and they'll start doing French language, fr.airbnb.com

We have Microsoft though, [00:45:00] like what do you do. You can't just do microsoft.com/br and then change at a later to microsoft/pt-br because you're actually just rewriting the entire subdirectory. So, this is them when it gets more and more and more and more complicated and this is why I said at the start, making the right choice from the beginning is the most important thing here. Doing your research. Look what other sites are doing that relative to your own situation [00:45:30] and seeing how they're performing, learning from their mistakes, go speak to some of their teams. Like a lot of these are approachable and see what they found to work, what they haven't.

Some of the biggest kind of like companies in the world for example like Apple, they just split by country, they don't do languages well. They have apple.com and they do it all actually in subdirectories, apple.com/fr, apple.com/es, apple.com/uk. All of this [00:46:00] is done that way. Some would argue maybe that's not the right way, maybe there's a better way. But as we've talked about, every different one, they have pro and cons.

Jorie Munroe: Definitely. So let's talk specifics then. What do you need to actually set up an international site specifically?

Matt Howells-Barby: There's a few things that I would say is like individual hit list but once you've implemented, migrated all the content, you've got to the position where you have everything set up, you've chose your structure. You've maybe decided okay, I'm going [00:46:30] to go with ccTLDs and we're just going to build whole new sites for each of these five countries that we're going to start with and we're going to add as we go, the next thing that you're going to need to set up in is one the most important things to begin with is the hreflang tag.

Jorie Munroe: That sounds complicated.

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah, it has an unnecessarily complicated name. But it makes me sound more intelligent when I say it so I like it.

Jorie Munroe: Have you heard about the hreflang tag today.

Matt Howells-Barby: Oh, yes, hreflang.

Jorie Munroe: It helps that you're British.

Matt Howells-Barby: So the [00:47:00] hreflang tag needs to be set up no matter which architecture choice you go with. What this is is if you've ever heard of the canonical tag, it's similar to this. It is a few lines of code that you set up on every version of your web page to tell Google what the other either country or language version of that pages. So, if you have, let's say we have joriespins.com/ [00:47:30] services and it's your page that talks about all your services. But then you have joriesspins.fr/services, joriespins.es/services. On the .com/services page, you would have hreflang tag set up to say to Google the French version of this page is on joriespins.fr/services and Spanish version is joriespins.es/services. And you have to on every version of the page and you [00:48:00] also tell Google the default page is .com. So you have a little default x tag it's called.

It's very easy to mess this up. You can also implement this not just on the page itself but also in your site map. There's a bunch of good guides which we can maybe link to in the show notes as well for some of this but hreflang is a very important part of doing this. That's like one piece. The other like a few little things that I would just say is like setting [00:48:30] up geo-targeting within Google such console, Bin, yes Bing Webmaster Tools and any other like relevant search engines, Yandex, Baidu, all of these ones. If you can have country level web hostings you get an IP address from that country, again, you can't do that for subdirectories.

There's also a little thing that you can push in via a http header called the content language. This is just something that you would want your web developer to do. They should understand what this means [00:49:00] by basically pushing in a header into the page that says to the search engines this is the language that this page is about.

Relatively kind of simple stuff. And then like other things that you just want to kind of think about is like localization. Localization is more than just using Google Translate. It's determining what you actually want to localize and localizing not only the language but the context and the examples using. [00:49:30] Localizing URLs as well is a really good thing to do. So having your URL written in French and having your URLs written in Spanish, I would always advocate doing that wherever you can. Making sure you localize title tags, metadata, any of the social snippet mock up code.

And then the final thing on top of that on all the technical stuff is link building. This is something that we'll be talking more about in this series and we have touched on already so far. [00:50:00] Getting backlinks from websites within the language in the country that you are targeting to rank within. These are very, very important things that are probably the most important of everything.

The final thing I would just say just as a little reminder is setting up new properties and views within Google analytics for the new version. If you have any retargeting pixels you ad products, make sure you transfer those over to [00:50:30] the new site and if you use any email marketing, marketing automation, hint hint HubSpot, make sure that you are setting up individual workflows, things like that for all of these different versions of the site.

Jorie Munroe: So it seems to be, there are a lot of moving pieces to do this correctly. If you're just kind of the strategist or the person that's trying to manage it all, it might seem like a lot and once you get kind of like developers and designers involved, there might be things that aren't even [00:51:00] the most transparent to you. So, how do you know when this is actually working?

Matt Howells-Barby: That's a good question. One thing I would say is there is a bit of patience that needs to be had. Google's search console has gotten much, much better. What they do a good job of is telling you when the pages are indexed and if they're indexed within certain versions of the search engine, over the first kind of month or [00:51:30] two, what you just want to do is keep a track on whether Google has indexed all the pages, if they're showing in the correct version of the search engines, keeping a track on analytics. Treat this as if you've launched a brand new website, all the same things apply.

Then as it becomes more and more mature, again, you need to treat this as if it's like a whole new, brand new business. Be patient with it. Don't have knee jerk reactions if after three months you're not seeing unbelievable results and now you're going to move from ccTLDs to subdirectories [00:52:00] or subdomains. Stick with it. Try to make it work and try and figure out, okay, if things aren't working right, is this because we've messed something up on the site or is it actually just we need to build more authority, we need to build more of a presence and we need to build out more content.

Jorie Munroe: And we need more time, yeah. So, before we go, do you have any tips for people that are trying to build authority once they have their international say architecture set up?

Matt Howells-Barby: Yes. I would say [00:52:30] the emphasis here is on context localization. Building relationships with local publications, local influencers, running local brand driven campaigns. Everything should be localized. If you are trying to rank within France, the power of a link from a French website is like 10 times that of a link from a .com site because it's such a localized ranking signal that you're pushing to Google.

Spend time ideally, [00:53:00] have people that are like French speaking to begin with that are helping working on some of these campaigns. If you don't want to like commit to like hiring people to do a lot of this stuff, work with local French agencies, PR firms, things like that to get this up and running and really embed yourself into the space that you're going after. More than anything, and this goes for the whole of international SEO, don't like make this decision lightly. You either go all in or you don't [00:53:30] go in at all. There's no real midway point with internationalization.

Jorie Munroe: So you need to build relationships with the region before you can really expect to build like relationships with the potential customers, right?

Matt Howells-Barby: 100%.

Jorie Munroe: This has been like really helpful and I've definitely learned a lot. I'm off to like go buy joriespins.com before someone else does because apparently the moon is taken. Thanks Matt for everything really.

Matt Howells-Barby: Of course. Honestly, good luck to anyone out there expanding [00:54:00] internationally. I do you mean that in the most sincerest of ways.

Jorie Munroe: You had this little chuckle so we'll see. Absolutely. So, thanks for listening to today's lessons. If you liked it, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts and tell your favorite SEO nerd about us because plenty of nerdage coming at you. We're also on Twitter @hubspotacademy where you can send us the SEO related questions that are keeping you up at night. See you in just a few seconds when you press play on our very next episode.

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