Search engine optimization for cross-border selling typically starts with multi-lingual landing pages. But what if an international audience speaks the same language as the seller? Does that audience require a unique site or section to rank well in organic search?
It depends on the business.
Businesses providing services globally require no country-specific targeting. An exception is variances in industry jargon from one region to the next. In those instances, standalone landing pages would likely rank better in that area.
Likewise, merchants shipping physical goods globally from the same location usually need just one site, provided it clearly states, “We ship globally.”
But sellers with international offices or warehouses may need unique sites or subdomains for each locale. This offers an opportunity to target regional holidays and trends in marketing campaigns, with shipping terms and pricing for each location.
Regardless, maintaining separate ecommerce sites or subdomains is extremely time-consuming, even for the same language, requiring real-time inventory counts, relevant content, and meaningful links across all sites. It’s worth the effort in my experience only for a local physical location or outsized potential, such as a huge market. An example is U.K.-based merchants hoping to penetrate the U.S.
Same Language, Different Countries
Separate sites, subdomains, or sections likely have similar design and content.
So the first SEO step is avoiding Google’s duplicate content filter that splits link-equity among multiple pages. The second is to help Google understand which part of your site targets which country.
Hreflang solves both of those tasks.
Hreflang is an HTML attribute pointing Google to a localized version of your site. It is placed in the header of each localized page in the following format:
Every localized page needs hreflang attributes for itself and all others. Thus a merchant with localized pages for, respectively, the U.S. and the U.K. needs these header tags:
This tells Google:
- website.com/en-gb is for U.K. residents speaking English.
- website.com is for U.S. and non-U.K. residents (via x-default) speaking English.
All URLs in the hreflang code should be absolute and complete with https://. The code can include URLs from unique domains targeting different countries.
Same-language sections on a global website can have a slightly different setup. In the hreflang example below, the two same-language subdomains target the Spanish-speaking audience:
- es-ar.example.com/page.html targets Spanish speakers in Argentina.
- es.example.com/page.html targets Spanish speakers in Spain and elsewhere, as hreflang= “es” doesn’t specify a region.
- en.example.com/page.html targets all English speakers.
- example.com targets everyone else worldwide.
Local or Not?
In short, targeting countries or regions does not necessarily require separate sites for SEO. Instead, set up hreflang attributes for specific languages or country codes.
Multiple same-language sites or pages require hreflang attributes to inform Google of no duplicate content and the sites or pages targeting specific regions.