This is a snippet from StudioHawk’s whitepaper on International SEO. You can read the full whitepaper in international SEO here for free – International SEO Whitepaper [PDF]
International SEO and GEO IP Redirects Overview
Your statistics may show that a large part of your visitors are from international markets or you may no longer be satisfied by operating in just your locale and think it’s time to go international – whatever the reason may be, international SEO can pay off huge if you’re in the process of expanding.
One such decision of going international is about how you choose to redirect visitors to their local version of the site, or if you do at all.
Redirecting visitors is important, but isn’t always necessary if you have already done the following:
- Set geo-location up in search console
- Implemented hreflang attribute in your site
- Created a hrelang sitemap
It is recommended that you setup a way of sending users to the correct page, but you can learn about the pros and cons below.
There are three main ways of redirecting these users.
- No Redirect: Nothing happens when someone from Australia visits the US version of a page. They may have the option to manually select the most appropriate version of the page for them in the footer or traditionally as a country flag. An example of this is Targets international website.
- Automatic Redirect: Users are automatically taken to the most appropriate version of the page based on their browser language preferences and location. They do not have any control over this process. An example of this is Microsoft’s website. https://www.studiohawk.com.au
- Pop-up: You may set up a pop-up to ask the users if they would like to visit another version of this page. For example, your pop-up might say, “You are visiting the US version of the site from an Australia-based location, would you like to visit the Australian site?”. An example of this is Adobe’s website.
Choosing Not to Redirect
This is when you have no mechanism in place to redirect users from the default landing pages to the one made for that user’s language or country specifically. Some websites choose to go this route but generally this is avoided as it doesn’t work well with international SEO. The users can (if they have the option to) manually select the page that is designed for them. Usually a list of different versions is listed at the bottom of the page, or through a country flag dropdown.
Having no redirects may cause complications when undergoing a campaign as it can cause Google trouble when determining which version of the page to display to users. For this reason, having no redirection is rarely recommended. Circumstances where it may work are in cases where you don’t mind if a user is on the US or AU version of the page.
Utilising Automatic Redirects
When going international, SEO plays a very important role as new people start to look for your website. Remember, you can’t just copy-paste your default version in different languages as this will cause Google to mark your different pages as duplicates. For effective SEO, you need to spend time and effort and to do the necessary research and create a strategy. Optimize your site for the best overall experience for your new users.
Now back to automatic redirects, let’s say you are an online store that sells its products in many countries but due to some legal disputes, you are not allowed to sell to the US. If this was the case, your users from the US will be greeted to a webpage full of missing information and a very poorly optimized website in general. How do you overcome this problem? You might consider blocking all users from US to visit your site but… Googlebots.
For your website to be shown on the search engine results – they have to be crawled and indexed. This is the job of bots that visit each webpage of your site to index it. How is this important to you? All of the Googlebots come from US-based IP addressed (https://moz.com/blog/google-shares-details-googlebot) so blocking all US based IP addresses would prevent your site from being crawled and indexed – in other words, your site will not show up in Google search results.
There are two considerations that you face in such a case:
- Getting your different versions of the site indexed – If you want the pages of your site to get indexed – no matter what version then you’re going to need the Googlebot which means your site with restricted content will show up too, which brings up the next problem:
- Getting ranked in the US when you have restrictions on your content – Having restrictions on your site often leads to your visitors seeing an incomplete version of your site. You might be considering to have one site for the Googlebots and a different one for your other international users. This is known as cloaking and is against Google’s Terms and Conditions.
A solution to both these issues is the hreflang attributes that we mentioned earlier, so that Google understands that different versions exist and attempts to fetch those, potentially look at making Googlebot an exception to those redirects, but be aware of cloaking as mentioned previously. You can also refer to “How does Googlebot index other versions of my site when it’s based out of US?” below in the document.
Understanding pop-up redirects
You might have seen getting introduced to a website’s landing page along with a message in a pop-up window telling you that you have landed on so and so version of the page and that there is a different page made specifically as per your own language or country. That is the pop-up redirect. However, users’ have had mostly negative reactions to this type of redirects. Some have gone as far installing redirect blockers to avoid facing them. One use case of this is companies that sell different products in different countries, and want to make sure that the user realises that they are browsing products in a different country so that they don’t have a nasty surprise at checkout.
The cons to doing an approach like this is for some users pop ups might disjoint their experience a bit, compared to just being directly referred to the website. These pop-ups may also be blocked by Adblockers.
How does Googlebot index other versions of my site when it’s based out of US?
It’s quite simple – but you have to make sure that there is a link to your other versions from the US version of the site. Here’s what happens when Googlebot visits the US version:
- Googlebot visits the US version
- It will index the US version and then find the links to the other versions.
- The bot crawls the page, finds and saves links to a database from which it can later request those pages.
- The Googlebot then successfully indexes all the other versions
There are a lot of different considerations when rolling out a website internationally. Make sure that you are evaluating each option carefully and understand the implications, because it’s a lot harder to undo when already implemented.
Read the full whitepaper in international SEO here – https://www.studiohawk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/International-SEO-Whitepaper-StudioHawk-20-12-2018.pdf