Why Your Website Doesn’t Rank as Well Around the World and How to Fix It

Sometimes, there are huge gaps between your SEO performance in your home market and your SEO performance abroad. You might have meticulously crafted your website, optimised your content, and followed all the recommended SEO practices, only to find that your rankings and visibility vary drastically from country to country.


This perplexing phenomenon, which leaves many website owners and marketers scratching their heads, is a result of a complex interplay of factors that shape how search engines perceive and rank your website on a global scale. Let’s delve deeper into the intricacies of this issue and uncover the common missteps behind why your website’s ranking isn’t consistent across different parts of the world.


Understanding variation in global SEO rankings


Think of websites as music bands.


Just like how a band isn’t automatically popular across borders, websites can’t guarantee universal success beyond their home markets. This variation in SEO rankings is a result of the online landscape changing from one region to another, influenced by factors such as search engine algorithms, user behaviour, and competition.


If you stop to think about it, the factors contributing to the success of music artists surprisingly align with what drives website success:


1. Culture can heavily influence them both: Just as music genres and preferences vary across cultures, search behaviours and online trends differ from one region to another.


2. A hit in one country doesn’t guarantee success everywhere: A song might become an anthem in one nation but remain relatively unknown in another. Similarly, a website that dominates the search results in its home market might struggle to gain traction in foreign territories.


3. Both require knowing your audience inside out: Successful musicians tailor their performances to their audience’s taste, and successful websites cater to their visitors’ needs and preferences by understanding the target audience’s demographics and behaviours.


4. Output-enhancing technology can help, but there’s no success without human input: While technology plays a crucial role in both the music and digital realms, it’s the human touch that truly connects.


Naturally, businesses with global ambitions will want to reach the broadest possible audience, so it can be quite shocking when results don’t match expectations – especially when a piece of content is ranking wonderfully in one market, but barely registers in another.


That’s where digital marketers come in to make sure a website’s online presence adapts to each locale. I chose the music metaphor for a reason: relying on the same techniques to engage an audience in France as you would in Mexico is akin to playing classical music in a punk rock bar. Sure, it might be fine – but at best, your performance will cause confusion and leave the crowd feeling under-whelmed.

Sir Paul McCartney’s and Coldplay’s example


In 2016-2017, Sir Paul McCartney toured around through the United States, Canada, Argentina, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand as part of his One on One tour.


I went to his show in Córdoba, Argentina, and what struck me (and everyone!) the most was how he greeted the audience: with as local a flavour as possible, he opened the show with an “¡Hola, culiado!”


The masses went wild. He’d chosen vernacular language that was specific to the Córdoba region – a perfect example of adapting to local requirements. It was in every newspaper and news channel the following day.


In 2022, Coldplay visited Argentina for a sold-out week of concerts. And they took it even further than Sir Paul: they spoke Spanish, played a renowned local rock band’s most favourite songs, and shared their experiences in Buenos Aires through social networks.


The audience’s reaction? Insanely positive. But it was only possible because Coldplay had done their homework before landing in Argentina: they’d researched local music tastes, spoken with locals, learned some of the language, and crafted a show that felt like they were part of the community.


Had Sir Paul and Coldplay been websites, and the public their search engine users, Google would have loved them. They would have won not just the approval and favour of local search engines, but also a sizable collection of powerful SEO-juice-passing backlinks from sites sharing their epic performances.

An 11-point checklist to establish consistent SEO performance across countries


When my clients come to me scratching their heads in response to global SEO ranking disparities, I run a quick audit to unearth areas for improvement. The answer always lies in one of the following 11 points.

1: The competitive landscape

The challenge: For each additional country you target, competition for customers, keywords, and traffic increases exponentially. When you engage in international SEO efforts, you are no longer pitted just against nearby businesses – you could be up against huge corporations and locally popular brands with a very loyal clientele and well-established SEO authority.


The solution: Start by comparing the competition in the target market with that at home. Are local competitors using techniques you’re not? Do they have better link profiles? Are they offering a user experience that’s more tailored to the local market?

2: URL structure


The challenge: Your website’s URL architecture affects how search engines will crawl and index your pages. There are many options when it comes to structuring a multilingual site: ccTLDs, subdirectories, subdomains, completely different domains, etc., and they all have pros and cons.


The solution: Not every option gets you a running start in foreign markets. For instance, if you choose to use ccTLDs (example.fr), each domain will have to be optimised and maintained separately. By contrast, subdirectories (example.com/fr/) will inherit some of the SEO standing (“SEO juice”) from the main domain, which makes them a better choice to achieve uniform international rankings.

3: Hosting


The challenge: Server location plays a part in SEO performance – the latency caused by distance from server to user can affect your site’s speed. Under Google’s latest algorithm updates, great content is of little use if users can’t access it quickly. In other words, a slow loading page will instantly kill your chances of appearing in the top positions – no matter how good your content is.


The solution: Choose a hosting provider that has enough servers distributed globally, so you can implement a CDN (content delivery network). This can help by caching static content on servers all over the world, which makes websites load faster.

4: Target keywords


The challenge: Before beginning to optimise your content for a given language, you must know which keywords to target. Users don’t always use the same words to search in different countries, so simply translating keywords from one language to another won’t get you far.


Think of an English brand that sells pest control products for farms worldwide and is trying to penetrate the Australian market. Because pests are different across the world, the way consumers will search for pest control products will also differ. A farmer in Essex might search for “cotton leafworm pesticide” for their cotton crops, but that won’t work in Australia, where the leafworm isn’t a common pest.


The solution: Invest in multilingual keyword research to find out which terms people are using in each target market, and use those keywords throughout the content. An in-market expert can help make sure you’re hitting the right terms, and also advise on colloquial language variations.

5: Hreflang tags


The challenge: Google can get confused if you have multiple versions of the same page (e.g., one in English, one in Spanish, one in French) and you don’t tell it what to do with them or what language each version is in.


The solution: Add hreflang tags to the HTML header of all language versions of your pages, so the search engine knows which page is targeting which market. This helps boost SERP rankings by making sure you don’t have duplicate content issues, and that you’re targeting each language version correctly.

6: Local link profile


The challenge: It’s not only in-market keyword research that needs a local touch. Link building also requires worthy, authoritative backlinks from websites with the same language, culture, and geographical region as your target market – and this can be difficult to achieve when you’re operating from abroad.


The solution: Invest in local outreach – contact local publishers, bloggers, associations, universities, and the media to build relationships and obtain links. Avoid any shortcuts or dodgy SEO techniques such as buying links (you can earn yourself a Google penalty faster than you can say “SEO”).

7: Content strategy


The challenge: Translating the same content from one language to another and expecting maximum, long-term, sustainable success is wishful thinking. Content should be localised – adapted to each target market, taking into account its unique culture, language, and sensibilities.


Having said that, going all-in and creating completely new content from scratch for each language version can be expensive, time-consuming, and is not always necessary.


The solution: When you’re testing the waters in a foreign market, it’s OK to start by simply making your product available in other languages through regular translation (even post-edited machine translation might work for non-critical content). You can also choose to only translate the most critical pages. This can lead to significant traffic and revenue growth as searchers in that new language find your site.


As you gauge the level of interest, you can incrementally adapt content to make it more relevant for each market. The end goal should be a resource-saving mix-and-match: Writing a few articles or blog posts from scratch for each market and reusing some of the same material across all countries with tweaks here and there to better fit local needs.

8: User experience and user interface design


The challenge: Even if you’ve done all the right things technically, a poor user experience (UX) can be a major roadblock for international success. What makes this tricky is that UX is heavily culturised—usability conventions, design elements, fonts, colours, and even the way users interact with your content may vary from one country to another.


For example, website design in high-context cultures like China tends to be more elaborate and cluttered than in low-context cultures like the US or Australia. Websites act as a communication medium between a brand and its users, so high-context cultures typically expect denser, more ornamented designs with information-rich layouts.


The solution: Make sure you check out competitor websites in each target market and assess the difference between their designs and yours. Use market research to better understand the needs of your target audience, adapt your site to better fit local UX conventions, and test different designs. There are solutions like Userpilot that can help you to personalise the user interface (UI) and set up automated behaviour-driven triggers to improve product adoption and customer onboarding processes.

9: Social signals


The challenge: Search engines look at social signals to gauge how authoritative and relevant a website is. These signals include the number of shares, social media followers, and engagement within social networks (e.g., retweets, likes, comments).


The solution: You must be active on local social networks to improve search engine rankings in each target market – invest time in local community engagement, create local accounts, and post content in the language of the target market.

10: Meta tags


The challenge: Even if everything else is on point and you’re ranking well in each target market, sometimes the click-through rate (i.e., the percentage of people who click on your page when it appears in search engine results pages) can be lower in some countries.


The solution: Tweak the meta tags (meta title and meta description) of each page in each target market to make them more attractive and appealing to local users. This may involve a great deal of transcreation – adapting the message to focus on resonance rather than equivalence.

11: Local activation campaigns


The challenge: Related to improving local social signals is the need to increase brand awareness and drive more traffic to your international website through local activation marketing events.


The solution: A “boots on the ground” approach to marketing is often the best way to make an impact in a new market. Consider pledging support to local community initiatives, investing in magazine advertising or billboards, sponsoring events, and even conducting workshops or seminars. Website traffic will naturally increase locally as people become more aware of your brand.

You too can rock it abroad


You didn’t think I’d let go of the music metaphor, did you?


The challenge of going global is a big one. But with the right research, technical setup, marketing activation, and – most importantly – the right partner, you can have your brand rocking its way to international success in no time.


We can help. Crisol Translation Services is a boutique team of specialist marketing and SEO translators. With the virtuosity of a lead guitarist, the precision of a skilled drummer, and the expertise of a sound engineer, we can help you fine-tune content, harmonise user experience, and craft compelling narratives that resonate locally. So you can conquer global Google stages in no time.


Authored by: Maria Scheibengraf

You can find her here on LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/mariascheibengraf/

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