Local vs International SEO: What's The Difference?

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Local vs International SEO: What's The Difference?

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While many businesses operate within very specific geographic locations — and indeed, serve customers in their local areas — some have (or at least, dream of having) global reach, marketing and selling their products or services to users all over the world.

And when it comes to SEO, these distinct business types will have very different and specific aims: the former will benefit greatly from local SEO, while the latter require effective international SEO strategies to succeed in overseas markets.

But just what do we mean when we talk about local and international SEO? What’s the difference between these two equally valuable practices? What are the benefits of each? And which one should your business be using?

What is local SEO? 🏪

Local SEO focuses on optimizing a website (or a specific web page) to be visible in location-based searches. It helps businesses increase their visibility in local search results and enables them to reach customers or clients in specific areas.

Local SEO primarily involves using on-page SEO practices, such as optimizing content — including titles, meta descriptions, and images — for local searches or creating content to target location-specific queries. However, it also leverages off-page SEO elements such as citation building and review generation: local SEO takes customer reviews into account, so generating reviews is an important part of a local SEO strategy.

When optimized for local SEO, a website will appear in search results where the searcher’s location is a key factor — for example, where the searcher is looking for “restaurants near me” or “flower delivery services in New York”. Therefore, a local SEO strategy will also involve adding your business to local listings, directories, and yellow papers, as well as creating company profiles on databases such as Google My Business.

It is possible to manage an SEO strategy in-house, but for a small business with limited time and resources, it may be difficult to maintain an effective strategy — with local SEO, you need to be prepared to continually adapt and optimize. Instead, you might decide to outsource your local SEO, which could save you time, stress, and money.

What are the benefits of local SEO?

Almost half of all Google searches (46%) include some kind of local intent, highlighting the importance of an effective local SEO strategy — particularly for small-to-medium-sized businesses that rely on local trade. For those types of businesses, local SEO brings a number of important benefits, including:

  • Improved visibility. The first five search results in Google get more than a third of the clicks on average. Local SEO can help your business appear in the most prominent positions when users are searching for location-specific services or information.
  • Better quality traffic. SEO isn’t just about generating ample traffic; it’s equally about ensuring that the traffic is relevant, which will help to drive conversion and engagement. When you target local searches, you’re more likely to appeal to users with a high purchase intent.
  • Increased trust. A local business relies on building trust among its customer base, and local SEO can help establish your business’s reputation as a reliable provider of products or services in its local area. Appearing high in localized search results is also a sign of authority.
  • Reduced costs. Advertising is costly, whereas generating organic traffic is one of the most cost-effective ways to boost visibility and awareness of your business. While it will take time and require investment, local SEO can ultimately reduce the amount you need to spend advertising your business to local consumers.

When should you use local SEO?

Since it is location-specific, local SEO is primarily for businesses that operate bricks-and-mortar premises (stores, theaters, restaurants, bars, etc.). The aim of local SEO is to generate traffic from searchers who are either in specific physical locations or are looking for services in particular areas, primarily by ensuring your business appears higher up in search engine results pages (SERPs) than competitors offering similar services in the same geographical locations.

Essentially, any business for which physical location is important can benefit from local SEO. For example:

  • Hospitality. Local SEO is essential for hospitality-based businesses such as bars, hotels and restaurants. If someone is looking for a good eatery or drinking hole in your area, for example, local SEO can ensure your business appears prominently in search results (and on Google Maps!).
  • Medical centers. Businesses that provide medical services (dental practices or doctors’ surgeries, for example) rely on local SEO to build awareness of the services they provide to residents in their local areas. The health information provider MedlinePlus has a directory of clinics, hospitals, dentists, and more.
  • Builders, plumbers etc. Any business that provides a call-out service (builders, plumbers, electricians, or pest control, for instance) can benefit greatly from local SEO. Reviews are essential here, too, as users will be looking for services they can trust.
  • Real estate agents. Real estate is a prime use case for local SEO, because searches will almost always be location-specific. If a potential client is searching for “luxury apartments to rent in Orlando”, for example, you want your real estate business to appear near the top of the search results (just like the award-winning real estate agency LuxuryEstate).

What is international SEO? 🌎

Unlike local SEO, international SEO is focused on optimizing a website (or web page) for searches outside of the business’s own geographical location. This type of SEO is important for businesses that operate in multiple countries, as it helps them to increase their visibility to users in other markets.

A key element of international SEO is creating multilingual content that is tailored to the target audience. This may only stretch as far as translating existing content (which is fine in principle), but it may also extend to creating content specifically tailored for overseas markets, considering factors such as cultural differences, varying consumer demands, and distinct market trends.

In addition, international SEO considers more technical aspects such as URLs and domain structures. These are important as they send signals to search engines such as Google about what country or region your website is serving, thus helping them to serve your content to the most relevant audience. They’re also useful for helping your visitors determine whether they’re in the right place!

One thing an effective international SEO strategy depends on is a clear understanding of overseas markets, taking into account trends and cultural nuances. If your business is looking to optimize its content for a specific country, for example, you may benefit from knowledge of the local market: if that’s the case, Remote’s guide to hiring independent contractors can help you hire a contractor based in your target country.

What are the benefits of international SEO?

Global businesses such as Apple generate a large chunk of their revenue from international markets (more than 60% in the case of Apple, in fact), and while few businesses are as globally renowned, any business looking to generate traffic from international visitors needs an effective international SEO strategy. These are just some of the ample benefits of international SEO for global (or expanding) businesses:

  • More organic traffic. Businesses that use international SEO to market their products or services to overseas consumers are able to reach many more people than those operating in singular geographical locations, allowing them to generate significantly more traffic (and conversions).
  • Increased growth potential. If a business wants to expand globally, international SEO can help it establish its brand in new markets, exposing its product or service to new customer bases and increasing revenue by generating international sales.
  • Better understanding of markets. By leveraging international SEO practices, businesses can become more in tune with their overseas markets, building up understanding of international consumers and helping to stay abreast of global trends and market conditions.
  • Enhanced brand awareness. International SEO can help a business become recognized among international markets and consumers, improving its reputation among a global audience. This can build authority and credibility.

When should you use international SEO?

International SEO is essential for any business that operates across multiple geographical locations (or is otherwise aiming to expand into overseas markets), as well as any business whose products or services are not restricted to users in any one location. For some businesses, it may be sufficient to simply translate and geo-target website content to cover multiple languages and locations (using hreflang tags along the way), whereas others may find it necessary to tailor their pieces of content specifically to individual markets.

The types of businesses that might benefit from an international SEO strategy include:

  • SaaS businesses. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products such as Intuit’s Quickbooks accounting platform are theoretically available to anyone in the world, since they’re not physical products and therefore not tied to any kind of geographical location. A SaaS-based business, therefore, can use international SEO practices to spread awareness of its product to global users.
  • Ecommerce stores. Online merchants may only serve specific countries, but many ship to multiple countries and locations, while others operate multiple warehouses across the world. In these cases, international SEO can help ecommerce businesses increase traffic to their websites from global consumers.
  • Streaming services. Movie and TV streaming platforms such as Hulu operate across multiple countries, with listings tailored to each market and culture based on viewer trends, preferences, and languages. These companies use international SEO to promote their content to users all over the world.

It’s clear that there’s great merit in both of those valuable SEO practices, and which one your business should implement will depend on its unique needs and objectives. You might even incorporate elements of both if your business relies on local and international traffic. Either way, understanding the importance of local and international SEO is essential for driving growth.

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