Perfect Fit: How International SEO Helps Boost Your Multilingual Website Performance


Serving international consumers in their preferred language can help you capitalize on increasing apparel sales — particularly in women’s fashion.  McKinsey’s most recent “FashionScope” report predicts emerging global markets will account for 55 percent of women’s mid-market apparel sales by 2025. Luxury women’s apparel is on a similar trajectory.

But website translation is only the beginning. Apparel brands and retailers often expect their freshly translated websites to rank highly in search from day one, but this rarely happens. Driving traffic to the new site calls for skillful use of international SEO.

Understanding international SEO

There’s a major gap in understanding the nuances of international SEO, and how it impacts a company’s global digital strategy. For instance, international SEO considerations go much further than country-level domains (such as .mx or .ru), subdomains and subdirectories.

The keys to ranking well in search include providing outstanding content, a superb UX and a mandate to write and design with humans — not search engines — in mind. But how do those best practices apply when apparel companies localize their websites for global customers, or look to improve the performance of their existing localized sites?

Here are five key reasons why multilingual websites don’t perform at the scale that companies anticipate.

1: Weak Domain Authority

An apparel company’s brand and website might be rock stars in their flagship market, but can be practically unknown in the emerging markets they are trying to serve. In fact, this might be the first time the domain is presenting content for a topic in a different language.

As the new kid on the block, an apparel manufacturer or retailer will likely find branded keywords — which are so helpful in its flagship market — aren’t so helpful in these new markets. The company must build authority in different ways, in different languages.

Apparel product names are often creative rather than descriptive. Unless customers in new markets know these names, search results may be poor. That’s why you may need to create content containing generic terms.

For instance, Lands’ End swimwear line includes a product called “Tugless Tank.” In order to increase optimization and SEO success, Lands’ End should describe this branded product as a one-piece swimsuit to improve SEO.

2: Lack of Guidance to Search Engines

Apparel companies should provide search engines with helpful information to ensure users enjoy the best possible online experience. Without it, they may not receive the right localized version of the site in their search results.

One of these signals is the hreflang attribute. It allows organizations to give search engines like Google and Yandex guidance on the languages their websites are available in, and the markets they serve. This information fast-tracks global customers to the version of the site they can best understand and transact on.

Alternatively, apparel brands and retailers can use search engine tools such as Google’s search console, or Bing, Yandex and Baidu webmaster tools.

3: Ineffective Use of Keywords

It’s also important to consider the quality of a multilingual website’s translations and the depth of its content. How can a company expect to rank highly in global searches if it fails to include terms that local audiences actually use to find products and services?

Achieving the goal of domain authority and page authority in these new markets calls for using locally preferred keywords and terminology for specific topics.

When beginning their website localization projects, many apparel companies opt to not translate content-heavy sections such as blogs and FAQs. While this is understandable — after all, translation costs can be high — such content actually helps to build domain authority. 

Another upside to translating that material: it’s full of authoritative content and brimming with SEO-rich keywords. The search-rank lift a company will see in emerging markets might just be worth the cost of localizing this content.

4: Local Signal Shortfall

Local marketing teams should be tasked with creating an attractive local online presence.

There are elements to this process that companies can control, such as providing the right local organizational schema. But others may require more work, such as generating links from local publications and third-party websites. Experts believe these links should be from websites that are optimized for the target country.

Inbound link strategies are a common best practice in flagship markets, but they’re often overlooked for international markets.

5: Looking in the Wrong Place

International SEO is a different beast because an organization must regularly deal with different languages, customer behaviors and search engines.

If an apparel brand is launching a localized site to serve China, it would be a mistake to only consider optimizing for Google. Instead, the company should also consider the homegrown search engine Baidu.

And it would make sense to pay special attention to the website’s mobile experience in China, due to that country’s stratospheric smartphone adoption rates. According to Statista, there will be 690 million smartphone users in China by 2019.

Avoiding These Mistakes and Getting It Right

Apparel companies can’t afford to ignore the stratospheric growth happening in emerging markets—especially online. Leveraging SEO best practices is a critical component to ensure global websites rank highly in regional search results, generate the business results you want—and offer the user experience your global customers deserve.


Blas Giffuni is director of digital marketing at MotionPoint.

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