International SEO Best Practices & Checklist: Targeting Ireland
Following up on my video on St Patrick’s day, I have put together a blog post to provide viewers with some additional information on International SEO for US companies wanting to target Ireland.
What is International SEO?
International SEO is the process of optimizing your website so that search engines can easily understand which countries you want to target. It helps you rank your website for a specific country through preferred keywords in different languages. It involves coming up with content that is relevant for users in different countries. Making your website global can help you grow and extend your reach to a much wider audience. However, international SEO can be quite complicated.
Should you do international SEO?
If you receive a lot of visitors from a country that is outside of your country, speak different languages, or both, then you may want to consider creating a better experience for international visitors.
International SEO is a lot like geotargeting, however rather than optimizing your website to attract from your location, your optimizing it for different countries and languages.
International SEO Best Practices: Targeting Ireland
So, let's say you are a US based company and want to start targeting Ireland; there are a number of steps you can take to start targeting Ireland when planning your SEO strategy.
The structure of URLs has an effect on international SEO. Below I have three International targeting options sorted by impact/signal strength and ease of maintenance.
CCTLDs are country code, top-level domains that are used to target various international markets. CCTLDs exist for almost every country and are the strongest way to target a specific country within the international market. This is because CCTLDs specify that the domain is targeted towards a specific county. CCTLDs are alternatives for .com, .net, .org, and other common types of domain names.
Some CCTLDs have specific requirements such as hosting the website in various international markets (this is also preferred for site speed unless using a content delivery network), which can require infrastructure changes to the website. For example, powerdigitalmarketing.ie. which would represent the Power Digital Marketing website in Ireland. The .ie after the dot (“ . “) represents Ireland. This tells Google the country the website is registered in.
Advantages of using CCTLDs:
- Strongest signal for international targeting, which makes it easier to rank
- Can host on servers in each country
Disadvantages of using CCTLDs:
- Requires maintaining several sites
- Expensive to maintain and each website has a separate domain authority
- There can be some requirements to get a specific ccTLD, such as a postal address in that country. If you do not meet the requirements, you will not be able to acquire the correct ccTLD.
Subfolders are the folders behind a domain. In this case, country-specific folders. For example, powerdigitalmarketing.com/ie/
A few advantages of country-specific subfolders include:
- 2nd strongest signal
- Easiest to manage because everything is on one site
- Suggested to have a CDN (content delivery network) for site speed
These are country-specific subdomains. For example, Ireland.powerdigitalmarketing.com
Advantages of country-specific subdomains:
- 2nd strongest signal (same strength as subfolders)
- Maintains some of the metrics of the root domain such as the domain authority
- Can host on servers in each country or use a CDN
Disadvantages of country-specific subdomains:
- Requires maintaining several sites (more work than subfolders)
Why having a .ie is a good option
Additionally, by purchasing a domain name with .ie, you are showing your Irish guarantee and it also proves that your website has a connection to Ireland. You will have a better chance of ranking higher in Google.ie and other Irish search engines, than a .com website offering the same products or services as yours provided the website is optimized correctly of course.
What is a CDN?
A content delivery network (CDN) is a system of distributed servers that deliver web pages and other content on the web to users based on the geographic location of the user, the origin of the network and a content delivery server. The purpose of a CDN is to delivery the content of websites to users faster.
Hreflang and rel=alternate tags
You must have hreflag tags to tell search engines what language and country the website is targeted to, so the search engine can serve that result to users searching in that language or country. You are telling search engines what the relationship is between web pages in alternate languages. The hreflang attribute adds a signal to search engines that a user querying in language "x" will want this result instead of a page with similar content in language "y".
For example, if you create a German-language version of your English-language homepage, you would tag it as "German" by using hreflang"de-de" so that searchers with an IP address that a search engine has reason to believe is in a German-speaking country are served that page in German instead of the English version. As a result, this can decrease your bounce rate and increase conversions by making sure your target audience lands on the version of your page appropriate for them.
Also, hreflang tags help avoid duplicate content.
Examples of tags:
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-ca" hreflang="en-ca" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-au" hreflang="en-au" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-ie" hreflang="de-de" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en" hreflang="en" />
If you are targeting Ireland, you would use the following tag:
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-ie" hreflang="en-ie" />
To implement these tags, you have two options
- XML Sitemap - this is the preferred and best option because there is no chance these tags will be removed when people are making edits to the front end of the website. The sitemap must list each URL as the primary URL, then all the alternates. You can use this tool if you decide to implement the tag on the XML sitemap.
- In the <head> section of the website - This works equally to XML sitemaps in terms of the effectiveness, but there is a chance these tags can be removed from the <head> of the website if people are making edits to the design/header of the website.
Other International SEO considerations:
Google Search Console
Set up Google Search Console for each CCTLD of subfolder, so that you can set the international targeting in Search Console. This reinforces the signals from the hreflang tags to ensure that the targeting of each website is setup properly.
Get links from Irish websites that have relevant content to you. For instance, try focus on websites that have a domain of .ie.
Content Level Targeting/Keyword Research
It is important not to assume that each keyword will have the same search volume as the country you are based in. A good example of keyword variations in Ireland compared to the United States would be soccer cleats and soccer boots.
- Soccer cleats in the United States is searched 165,000 times per month. In Ireland, soccer cleats are searched 110 times
- Soccer boots in the United States are searched 8,100 times per month, whereas, in Ireland, soccer boots are searched 880 times per month.
Therefore, people in the United States search more for soccer cleats, whereas people in Ireland search more for soccer boots.
Local SEO using Google places and local keywords
If you are setting up an office in Ireland, it is vital to set up a Google My Business page. Spend some time getting local reviews. Focus on getting Yelp reviews, not only Google reviews.
Use local keywords in your title tag, header tag and content. For example, Digital Marketing Consultant Ireland. Building citations are also useful.
Choosing a Hosting Provider
Choose a hosting provider in Ireland if you go with ccTLDs or subdomains. This will help Google determine that the site is relevant to a user in a specific country. A site should ideally be hosted in its target country. the internet still relies on the data traveling from your server and along wires to the device of the person accessing your website.
In terms of page load speed and other website performance metrics, the shorter the distance traveled, the better the user experience will be. As such, if you’re targeting Irish people, it makes sense to host your website in Ireland. If your server’s IP address shows it is based in Ireland, you are more likely to rank highly on Google.ie., than google.it or google.de.
Summing up International SEO
If you are targeting a specific country, consider using a CCTLD as this is the strongest signal for international targeting. Set up a Search Console account for your domain with the country you are targeting. Get backlinks from local websites, choose a hosting provider in the country you are targeting, set up a Google My Business account, use local keywords and most important of all, conduct keyword research for the country you are targeting in the language spoken in that country. Follow our international SEO checklist or talk to the experts today about setting up an international SEO strategy to reach a global audience!