International SEO Strategy

Language or Country Targeting for International SEO

  ●   February 9, 2022 | SEO
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February 9, 2022 | SEO

When launching international versions of your website, it is important to undertake market research before deciding if you are going to apply a language or country-specific international SEO strategy. For example, building out two English versions of your site to target the UK and US separately, or building one English version to target both markets. 

Two common questions we have been asked, especially amongst our B2B and SaaS-based clients, include:

  • Do we need to build two English speaking websites, one for the UK market and another for the US?
  • Do we need to have separate blogs for the UK and US markets?

Well, it does actually depend on a few factors, these being:

Company Specific Factors

  • Do you sell different products or services in different English speaking markets? 
  • Are there different laws or legal requirements for the products or services that are sold in different markets?

Market Specific Factors

  • Are there different competitors performing well in different English markets? E.g. is there a different website dominating the space in the US compared to the UK?
  • Are search engines serving market specific websites at the top of the search results in different markets? E.g. Is Google serving .com/uk/ paths in the UK and just .com pages in the US?

This guide will focus on the market-specific factors that determine whether a website should take a country or location-specific international SEO strategy.

Our approach follows the below steps by using SERP data:

  • Identifying the TLDs ranking;
  • Identifying if there are international subfolders or subdomains sitting on .com domains;
  • Compare the top 20 domains ranking in both the UK and US markets;
  • Compare the competitor URLs ranking for a given keyword in both markets. 

For the purpose of this guide, we have used a SaaS-based client that mainly operates in the US and who wants to launch a UK subfolder for the UK market. 

Identifying TLDs Ranking

A TLD is short for “top level domain” and will appear after the final dot of a domain name. For example, on the Semetrical website “.com” is the TLD (www.semetrical.com).

Our starting point would be to determine the most common TLD ranking on the first page of search results in both the UK and US markets. Identifying the most popular TLD that consistently performs well in both markets can quickly tell you if UK specific websites (.co.uk) perform better in the UK, or if the majority of websites ranking use a .com TLD. 

If you find that a .com TLD is most common, then step two of the guide will help determine if international subfolders or subdomains are being used within the different markets.

To initially determine the types of TLDs rankings follow the below steps for both markets:

  1. Uploading Priority Keywords

Take the priority keywords you are tracking or have identified from your keyword research and upload them into your preferred rank tracking platform, e.g. SEOMonitor or GetStat.

  1. Download out the top 20 SERP report

Once the rankings have come through for all your keywords, download out the rankings per keyword by using the top 20 SERP reports. This report may have a different name depending on the platform being used. In GetStat (the tool used for this analysis), the report is named “top 20 report”. This report is essential to the analysis, as it will provide you with the top 20 websites ranking for each keyword.

If using GetStat, the columns you need to keep include:

  • Keyword
  • Market
  • Regional Monthly SV
  • Base Rank (Not Rank)
  • Results Type
  • Ranking URL
  1. Append additional data columns

As we have used GetStat for this analysis, the export is missing columns that are required for the analysis. The additional columns that need to be added include:

Domain Name: 

Extract the domain from the ranking URL with the below formula:

=LEFT(URL,FIND(“/”,URL,9)-1

for example,  

=LEFT(F2,FIND(“/”,F2,9)-1 

Take note that this formula may not work for all URLs, in these edge cases filter to #VALUE and manually override domain name.

TLD: 

Extract the TLD from the ranking URL with the below formula:

=RIGHT(L2,LEN(L2)-FIND("*",SUBSTITUTE(L2,".","*",LEN(L2)-LEN(SUBSTITUTE(L2,".","")))))

L2 in the above formula represents the domain cell.

  1. Create a pivot table in Excel

Now you have the additional columns, it is time to pivot the data on “TLD” and “Count of URLs” as well as applying a rank filter of “1-10”. Once the pivot table has been created, it is useful to add an additional column to calculate the % each TLD makes up of the total data set. The formula to use to calculate total % would be (Part/Whole)*100 = Percentage. (E.g.=(17397/20910)*100)

You may want to copy the data from the pivot table and paste it onto a sheet as values before adding the % of the total column.

In this scenario for a SaaS-based client, the “.com” TLD made up 83% of the total URLs ranking in the UK market where “.co.uk” made up only 1.7%. This alone will not provide you with enough data to make a decision, but it does indicate that the majority of websites ranking in the UK market are “.com” domains. 

Step two will add an extra layer of information to help determine if the majority of the “.com” sites include an international subfolder/subdomain, or if they use the main “.com” for both markets.

Identifying Common Subfolders and Subdomains

We have now figured out that Google is mainly serving “.com” domains in the UK market, but that alone won’t tell us the market view. We now need to add additional data columns to the raw data, these being:

  • Path one
  • Path two
  • Subdomain
  1. Populate path one column

To populate the path one column you will need to extract the first path of a URL after the TLD. 

This can be done by using

=IFERROR(LEFT(TRIM(MID($K2,FIND("#",SUBSTITUTE($K2,"/","#",1))+1,255)),FIND("/",TRIM(MID($K2,FIND("#",SUBSTITUTE($K2,"/","#",1))+1,255)))-1),TRIM(MID($K2,FIND("#",SUBSTITUTE($K2,"/","#",1))+1,255)))

K2 in the above formula represents the cell of the ranking URL.

  1. Populate path two column

Path two is also an important column to populate, as there will be websites that include their international subfolder as a second path after the TLD. For example, help.klaviyo.com/hc/en-us/articles/360045012632-Best-Practices-for-A-B-Testing. 

To extract the second path use the below formula.

=IFERROR(LEFT(TRIM(MID($K2,FIND("#",SUBSTITUTE($K2,"/","#",2))+1,255)),FIND("/",TRIM(MID($K2,FIND("#",SUBSTITUTE($K2,"/","#",2))+1,255)))-1),TRIM(MID($K2,FIND("#",SUBSTITUTE($K2,"/","#",2))+1,255)))

K2 in the above formula represents the cell of the ranking URL.

  1. Populate subdomain column

The subdomain column is needed as there will be scenarios where a website will use an international subdomain instead of a subfolder for different markets. For example, en-gb.facebook.com/business/help/290009911394576. The easiest way to get subdomains or the first part of a URL is by copying the ranking URL column to the end of the table and text to columns on dots.

  1. Merging path one and path two data

Once all three columns have been populated, you will want to review the paths in the “path 2” column and filter to any international subfolders you can find, such as en-us and en-gb. If you come across any international subfolders, you will want to override the data in the corresponding “path 1” column with the international subfolder found in the “path 2” column. This will allow you to pivot your data on one column to identify the main subfolders used. For example, the below image shows that en-us and en-gb were found in the path two column.

For this client, we changed “hc” and “intl” paths to “en-us” and “en-gb” for ease of pivoting.

  1. Pivoting the data 

Repivot the data and include “TLD” and “Base Rank” as a filter for the table where “.com” and ranking 1 – 10 should be selected as the specific filters. Include “Path 1” as a row and “Count of URLs” as values of the table.

The data now shows that the main subfolder ranking on a “.com” domain are informational parts of a website such as blogs, topics and resources. When looking specifically for international subfolders there are a small number of URLs including /en/ and /en-us/, but there are hardly any URLs that specifically target the UK market. This now indicates that the majority of websites ranking well on page one of Google could have a market agnostic URL ranking, and are using the same English language URLs to rank in the US and UK.

To validate this, we would recommend filtering to UK specific subfolders in the pivot table to see what % they make up of the overall dataset.

To double-check that the same language URLs rank in both the US and the UK, you will need to review the equivalent table with the US data. This will validate whether sites use a language-agnostic URL for both, or if sites have their US content sitting on an international subfolder such as .com/us/.

Top 20 Domains Ranking in UK and US Markets

We have now uncovered that in the UK market the top URLs ranking on page one of Google do not sit off a UK subfolder, instead, they mainly sit on a .com domain. However, we also want to check if the same domains consistently rank well in both the UK and US markets or if sites differ between markets.

  1. Add rank ranges to data set

To complete this analysis, the top 20 ranking reports for both the UK and US markets need an extra column to be added. The column will reference the rank range of the URL ranking for a given keyword, e.g. 1-3, 4-10, 11+. 

Use the below formula to tag by rank groupings:

=IF(AND(C2>0,C2<4),"1 - 3",IF(AND(C2>3,C2<11),"4 - 10",IF(C2>10,"11+",IF(C2=0,"11+",0))))

C2 in the formula above references the cell that includes the ranking.

  1. Compare top 20 domains across markets

After the rank range column has been added, create two pivot tables; one counting the number of keywords each domain is ranking for in the UK and a second table for the US. Both tables should have a rank range filter of 1-3 applied, this will then only zone in on the top part of the SERP to see who consistently performs well.

Create a combined table that includes four columns, these being:

  • Top domains in UK
  • Rank 1 – 3 UK
  • Rank 1 – 3 US
  • In the US Top 20?

In the example above, it is clear that the same websites are ranking across both markets and in nearly the same order. This highlights that there are no market-specific competitors in the client’s industry, and the sites ranking well in the UK also tend to rank well in the US.

Competitor URLs Ranking 

We have now established that the same websites tend to rank across both markets and constantly perform well in both the US and the UK. We now want to validate that direct competitors who perform well in both markets have the same URL ranking for a given keyword and do not have different URLs ranking for a specific keyword in both the US and the UK.

  1. Filtering to your competitors

When using the top 20 SERP report, you will want to filter your domain column to the competitor(s) that are going to be reviewed. This will need to be done for both the UK and US.

  1. Creating the data sheet

Once you have filtered to a competitor, go to another sheet and paste the below columns with data for one of the markets:

  • Keyword
  • Search volume
  • Rank
  • Ranking URL

For this analysis, it is worth deduping on keyword and rank to prevent duplication of keywords when a competitor is ranking twice.

After the data has been added for one of the markets, bring in the rank and ranking URL for each keyword in the other market, so all of the data is combined. An example would look like the below:

The easiest way to bring in the data for the other market is by filtering to the competitor on the other market data set and pasting the filtered view onto a separate sheet where only the competitor data is shown. After this, you can Vlookup rank and ranking URL by keyword.

  1. Calculating the number of same URLs ranking

Once data has been brought in for both markets, we now want to check if the URLs ranking in both the UK and the US for a keyword are the same or different. 

This is important as a competitor could be performing well in both markets, but they may have a localised article ranking in each market running off two different international paths. 

If the URL is the same then it indicates the competitor has one article URL performing well in both the US and UK. If a competitor has a different URL, this could indicate that the article has been localised to each market.

An additional column should be added to the data set at the end of the table named “Same page ranking”. The formula to use that will tag each row in the table by “Same URL” or “Diff URL” is

 =IF(cell of UK URL=cell of US URL,”same URL”,”diff URL”).

Summary

To summarise, if you are in a situation where you are launching a website across multiple English speaking markets, it is important to take a step back to assess if there is a need to target your customers at a location or country level. When taking the steps outlined above, you should get the clarity needed to help inform your decision along with the data points needed to build a robust business case for senior management.

If you are currently looking for international SEO support or are in the process of building out international websites and require support, please visit our international SEO services page for more information on how Semetrical can help.

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