International SEO Implementation Tips for International Teams

Over the years, we’ve worked with clients to overcome challenges they’ve had in righting the SEO ship across their international site iterations. When these clients come to us, they’ve often invested time and energy in the past to get international SEO tasks implemented, but have seen initiatives quickly fall to the wayside due to time zone differences, differing priorities, and ambiguous next steps and never saw international SEO successfully taken over the finish line.

This is where we’re so happy to come in. Because international offices are basically remote cohorts, working with them is our jam at UpBuild. We fully understand what it’s like when you’re communicating with people who aren’t simply sitting in the cubicle next to you.

Our clients and smart, savvy, and awesome, so it’s up to us to empower them here and to give them the clear communication they need to get things done within their international organization. They understand that something needs to be done to communicate to search engines about which site should be for each region or language, but the seas are a bit murky when it comes down to it. That’s why we wrote a 10-Minute Hreflang Tag Tutorial blog post to make things a little clearer. One key point that is essential for the hreflang methodology to work is that all tags need to be reciprocal, meaning that adding the tag on your site version will only work if the other iterations of the site are sending the same signal. The goal of this post is to provide some guidance on how those steps actually get implemented in real life.

Underscore WHY it matters

You’re all working toward the same overarching goal (helping your larger organization be successful), but when priorities diverge, schedules are busy, the daily task queue is frighteningly long, and time zones slow communication down, getting things done can be incredibly tricky. So let’s get down to brass tacks across all our international teams: 

What’s the common goal for our websites?

To get people to get where they need to go.

If people are landing on the wrong region/language version of the site, that’s not a good experience. If traffic decreases to one country’s site because we’re now sending people to the site’s location that makes the most sense for them, that’s a win all around. 

Data is always a great help to build your case. For example, a report that can be helpful to show how often the wrong region/language site is showing up is in the Google Search Console Performance report and filter by Country. 

In the example below we can see that for a US site, we’re sure taking a lot of clicks away from the Australian site, meaning that Australian users aren’t getting where they need to be. The same could be said vice versa (users from the US site landing on the Australian site), providing plenty of incentive for both international counterparts to fix things up:

Filter down to the Page and Queries levels and identify what pages are getting Clicks from international locations. Can you identify and share an example of a Brazilian ecommerce product detail page that’s showing up in the search results for a query in the US even though we have a US site page that exactly matches that query? When a site works at face value, it can be difficult to say that we need to do more work, but this type of data doesn’t leave room for skirting around the fact.

Make it as EASY as possible

For our Leadership Team Book Club, we’ve been reading “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard”. One key takeaway we’ve discussed is about smoothing the path for a change by making it as clear and simple as possible. Can I get a hear! hear! for the copy/paste? If it’s possible for implementation, I like to make the instructions as basic to implement as possible, breaking it down to a ‘please copy this line of code and paste it here.’ If your client has dealt with pushback in the past about adding work to other people’s plates, we’ve found that it’s nearly impossible to argue with the simplest of requests like those.

“Here’s this hreflang tag, and here’s where it needs to be pasted.”

Here’s the small bit of code to add to the layout that would find all versions published in other languages and build out link attributes in the <head>.

Don’t blame anyone

Perhaps in your fervor to get this done and as a way to fuel the fire for implementation, you’ve decided to fixate on everything that’s super totally wrong with how the sites are currently set up and how ‘sad’ it is that nothing has been done to date. 

I’d really caution you on this heavy-handed route by underscoring that past deficiencies are no one’s fault. This is really not the time to point fingers or burn bridges. Remember, it’s your job to take this all in a positive direction and focus on what needs to be done moving forward. While it helps when you have support from higher-ups, this type of initiative doesn’t need to be blown out of proportion. Throwing people under the bus is a surefire way to not make friends or allies through this process, even if you feel insulated by thousands of miles and hours of time difference.

Talk to the right parties

Ultimately, you need to talk to the people who have the keys to the international versions of your organization’s website and can make the changes you request. This is where, as an agency partner, it’s important to empower your clients so that they can escalate appropriately within their organization to find who you need to talk to and simultaneously appeal to snag some of that person’s time and resources.

Celebrate the victories

When steps are taken toward implementation, bring in encouragement. If something’s not implemented 100% correctly, that’s okay. Focus on the small steps toward a resolution that have been taken and go from there. Movement is happening, and that’s great. A few positive words of thanks and appreciation go a long way.

Odds are that the site will change, the IA will be updated, or an entirely new site will be built. It’s the web: things move quickly. What we want to do here is to keep the door open for future collaborations. It’s basic human psychology: if we saw some good results working together and implementing a solution, then everyone involved will be more apt to collaborate again when the time comes. By working successfully together in this capacity, who knows what kind of bright future the organization can build together?

Written by
A strategic leader on the UpBuild team, Laura’s career includes 10+ years of agency experience working on everything from SEO and the semantic web to analytics and CRO.

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