How to use International SEO to generate wedding leads from abroad

28 May 2019

Following the royal wedding, more couples overseas are marrying in the UK. Learn how to use International SEO to target different countries and increase leads - as detailed by Adam Šapić

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The arrival of the royal baby has recently brought the UK another round of global attention, especially from the USA. This all started with the royal wedding last year. After Harry and Meghan tied the knot, wedding professionals experienced a surge of interest from international couples. One example is Vanessa Harness, a seasoned wedding planner and the director/owner of RandFWeddings.

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Her team uses a wide range of digital marketing channels to generate leads. This includes Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to improve the brand’s visibility on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) in Google.

Following the royal wedding, the business received an increase in enquiries from couples in the USA, Australia and Europe wanting to tie the knot in the UK. Here is a map overlay report that visualises where their website traffic is coming from around the world.

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Vanessa’s referral record displayed the vast majority of enquiries coming from organic clicks in Google SERPs. 

The following diagram shows the UK visibility of Rocks & Frocks across all keywords that it ranks for in the top 100 positions. We can see an upward trend starting from the 19th May 2018, the day of the royal wedding.

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The business has capitalised on this trend by earning links from international wedding industry sites and deploying Facebook and Google ad campaigns to overseas regions. Vanessa is now looking towards utilising International SEO using the domain rocksandfrocks.com which she owns.

Currently, the domain redirects to rocksandfrocks.co.uk. Now is a perfect time to create an American version of her website using the .com domain and International SEO to maximise her lead generation overseas.

What is international SEO?

International SEO is the process of optimising a website to inform search engines like Google which countries, regions and languages you want to target. For example, Rocks and Frocks want to target couples in the USA. 

Google is very unlikely to serve their UK site to American users. It makes sense to have two versions of the website: one in British English and the other in American English. Serving the correct language in each country increases the likelihood of conversions.

Vanessa can add regional specific keywords and content to her American pages, however, most of the content on each version of her site may be duplicated. I have seen this on other destination planner websites where they have an identical copy of their site in English and Spanish.

Duplicate content could be a problem for visibility in search. Google’s algorithm clusters together pages that contain duplicate content. This could be pages in your website or other sites whose content is nearly identical to your own.

Google then decides on the best page to display in SERPs. Therefore, if you have pages within your site that use duplicate content, the best version may not necessarily show up. Likewise, if your content is near identical to another website, their pages may end up being selected by Google.

This problem can affect sites that have duplicate content in different languages.

Introducing Hreflang

Google’s solution to this problem is a little piece of code called Hreflang. It tells Google the language and region of the page and its counterpart. Google uses ISO 639-1 codes for languages and ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 codes for regions.

Here is an example. The following page will be duplicated on the .com domain

https://rocksandfrocks.co.uk/full-planning-service

Here is what the Hreflang code would look like on the UK domain:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="https://rocksandfrocks.co.uk/full-planning-service" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-US" href="https://rocksandfrocks.com/full-planning-service"/>

On the American domain, you simply swap the corresponding Hreflang:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-US" href="https://rocksandfrocks.com/full-planning-service" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="https://rocksandfrocks.co.uk/full-planning-service"/>

You can re-use the English code without swapping the Hreflang on the American page but I prefer to swap them so it’s a little easier to identify which pages correspond with their counterparts.  

You place the Hreflang code into the <head> part of each page. You then repeat this process by changing the URLs according to what page you are optimising. There’s no need to use Hreflang on pages that do not have a copy for a different language or country.

How to insert Hreflang

If you are using WordPress, you might consider a multilingual plugin such as Polylang to create your overseas pages.

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Such plugins automatically take care of Hreflang. If you aren’t using a multilingual plugin, consider using a Hreflang plugin like HREFLANG Tags Lite.

How to use canonical URLs with Hreflang

If you are not using canonicals tags, you can skip this section.

If you are using canonicals, nothing changes. You still insert the intended canonical URL. Here is an example of a self-referencing canonical URL with Hreflang on the UK domain:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="https://rocksandfrocks.co.uk/full-planning-service" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-US" href="https://rocksandfrocks.com/full-planning-service" />

<link rel="canonical" href="https://rocksandfrocks.co.uk/full-planning-service"/>

The same again on the American domain:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-US" href="https://rocksandfrocks.com/full-planning-service" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="https://rocksandfrocks.co.uk/full-planning-service"/>

<link rel="canonical" href=" https://rocksandfrocks.com/full-planning-service"

It’s important you don’t get your canonical tags mixed up otherwise they may conflict with your Hreflang. Here is an example of an incorrect canonical on the UK domain:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="https://rocksandfrocks.co.uk/full-planning-service" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-US" href="https://rocksandfrocks.com/full-planning-service" />

<link rel="canonical" href="https://rocksandfrocks.com/full-planning-service"/>

The canonical URL uses the American domain (.com) when it should use the UK domain (.co.uk).

Hreflang generator

You can easily use a Hreflang generator to create your codes for each page if you require a little extra help.

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Auditing Hreflang

Although Hreflang is a relatively simple concept, lots of people understandably get it wrong. The most common problems occur when the paired URLs reference each other. For example, the UK domain references the wrong corresponding American page:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="https://rocksandfrocks.co.uk/full-planning-service" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-US" href="https://rocksandfrocks.com/uk-destination-weddings " />

Or the UK domain references itself in the US Hreflang:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="https://rocksandfrocks.co.uk/full-planning-service" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-US" href="https://rocksandfrocks.co.uk/full-planning-service" />

Spotting these errors is not always easy with the naked eye. You can use the generator detailed above to see if your Hreflang is correct. If you wanted to use something a little more sophisticated, try Screaming Frog.

It’s a tool that crawls websites and extracts lots of data commonly used in SEO including Hreflang. Once you finished crawling, Screaming Frog has a set of filters you can use to identify a complete range of issues.

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The free version of Screaming Frog will crawl up to 500 URLs which is more than enough for a small business website. If you want to know more, check out their guide on auditing Hreflang.

Concluding thoughts

Hreflang can be a headache at first, however, it’s a breeze when you get your head around it. It’s important to understand that using Hreflang does not automatically guarantee rankings abroad. You still have to do everything else that comes with SEO such as content optimisation, building links from overseas sites and improving technical performance.

Correctly using Hreflang makes it much easier for Google to serve the correct version of your web page to visitors depending on their location while avoiding the pitfalls of duplicate content.

Adam Šapić is the marketing manager at the Wedding Insurance Group, the specialist wedding business insurance broker.

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