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International SEO tips for multi-country Magento stores

International SEO is a process all Magento merchants selling internationally should undertake to help Google and the major search engines better understand the countries and languages their stores cater for—helping them to serve up the right to page to the right target audience.

1. International alternative URLs with hreflang

Magento stores selling internationally often have content and product pages translated for users in many different countries on a handful of store views. Help Google to identify the international store view versions of your products and pages using rel=“alternate” hreflang=“xx-XX” attributes—a bit of code that sits among your webpage’s meta data to indicate the languages and regions the content is available for.

Magento doesn’t come with an out-of-the-box option to add alternate links with hreflang, but there are a couple of plugins you can easily install to get this feature up and running on your store views. Multi-Language Alternate Hreflang SEO Links is a paid extension available on Magento Connect. It comes with a few built-in features, offering the flexibility to exclude certain areas of your site. If however you’re just after a straight forward and free solution, check out my own Magento alternate links plugin here—since it’s not available on Magento Connect you’ll need some technical assistance installing this one.

Learn more about the specifics of country codes here including the right ICO formats to use.

2. Structuring Magento for International SEO

When it comes to distinguishing your multi-country Magento store views there are a few options:

ccTLDs (or Country Code Top Level Domains) – To use a country specific domain such as for the UK regional version of a page; and for the Polish alternate. This method gives search engines the strongest possible indicator of the region you are targeting with this store view. While a potential downside to this method is that accrued site authority is not shared from one store view domain to the next—if you anticipate your international store views will hold their own in each’s respective international market then don’t let this hold you back.

Subdirectories – The use of such urls as for a UK store view, and for the equivalent US alternative. A solution which provides almost as strong an indicator to search engines as ccTLDs but with consolidated domain authority. This solution is easy to implement, and cost effective with fewer domain registrations required.

Subdomains – Region specific store view subdomains such as for UK content; and for the US equivalent. Offers only a poor search engine indicator of region and language and can weaken the domain authority.

3. Use a CDN to serve Magento’s images and files

The physical location of a website’s server relative to the location of a search user is an important factor in SERP positioning—and while optimal practise is for region specific websites to be hosted within their target locale, running multiple Magento installations is rarely a practical solution. As a compromise, use a CDN to easily and automatically deliver your Magento website’s image and media content straight to your users from the nearest available location to them for a great performance boost.

MaxCDN is one such solution with a ready made Magento plugin, easy to install and get up and running in minutes.

4. Country specific site maps

Whatever your Magento structure, generate a dedicated sitemap for each of your store views, to submit via your Google Webmaster account.

5. Localised Content

Google prioritises quality, well written copy with correct spelling and grammar. While your website’s original content written in your native hand may be excellent and contributing positively to your search positioning, are you sure your translations aren’t letting you down?

Magento provides merchants with a variety of translation tools, enabling every word on the website to be translated, and a fully translated website is favoured by international users and Google alike.

Store View Scope – When editing Magento configurations, products and categories; Magento allows us to enter country specific text by switching to a store view scope whilst editing. Likewise, region and language specific CMS pages can be created by assigning them to the desired store view.

Translation csv files – Magento connect is home to a good selection of community managed language packs, invariably written by native speakers. Install a pack to automatically translate Magento’s native text en masse—keep your expectations in check though, remember this method wont translate your content, just Magento’s in-built system messages.

Inline Translations – Custom themes and third party extensions often contain non-native—words and sentences which fall outside of the scope of both translation csv files, and store view scope. For these we have inline translations—a tool which allows us to re-type text translations directly on to the front end of the site.