How to Reach Customers in Different Countries Through One eCommerce Website

Reaching customers in different countries through one website can be challenging SEO-wise. Here is what you need to know about it.

Video Transcript:

David: Dave’s question is up next. Dave, you asked about splitting it into two different websites, one for Canada and another for the US. We want to make sure we have the best site structure for SEO and revisit what we recommended and review.

Tricia: I remember talking about this before.

David: So, give us an update on the client, and we’re recording this, so you may not want to share that client’s URL, but we can pause it if you need to.

Dave: So, really briefly, the background is it’s a site in Canada, but it’s using .com, and people from the US and people from Canada see different prices. You see all the same stuff, but you see different prices. And sometimes, some products are “inquire only,” and other times, they have a price. And then we’ve only got one thing on there where it’s detecting the IP address, basically, one thing on there where it’s like a phone number, which phone number to call. But now we want to split the sites up into Canada and US versions. So, we talked about it before, and we did some of our own research, and we came up with a basic recommendation. Based on the sales of the site, we wanted to keep as the Canadian version, and make a US version a .us, because they were getting like three times as many sales in Canada as in the US. And talking to them, Brian, jump in if I’m incorrect, I don’t imagine that’s going to change anytime soon. They’ve got two locations in Canada and two in the US. But for now, it’s not like there’s going to be a location-specific store. It’s going to be country specific. And within the country-specific store, it then handles the different locations, as far as checking out the inventory and stuff like that. So yeah, we had recommended doing .com for Canada and .us for the USA. However, the last time we talked to them, they were thinking of doing it more like a bigger company where it’s like Hewlett-Packard, for example. There’s a, and then underneath that, the shops. There’s a Canadian shop and a US shop. They’re not changing any of the TLDs, or they don’t change .us or .com. It’s just .com, but they direct them to a different installation. But my guess is that, at this point, HP has done it that way for a long time. And they’ve got their SEO squared away. So, from an SEO perspective, at this point, what should be our best recommendation? Because most of the traffic is still Canadian. Brian, did I sum all that up pretty well?

Bryan: Yeah. I’ll just wait for David’s response. Yeah, but basically, yeah, we’re trying to split it into two websites. And the Canadian website would be a multilingual site, if I understand, right, Dave?

Dave: Yeah, but I don’t want to confuse that issue. We’ll deal with that in the second one. So, really the options are… There’s eCommerce, and then we’ve got blogs on the site, as well. So, you can do three different sites – the .com, which is all the information, and then .us and .ca for the shops.

David: Right. Okay. So, let’s keep these issues separate. So, first of all, despite your recommendation, they want one site with different subdirectories based in the country.

Dave: Well, they were looking at some other folks, and I don’t think that they are convinced with our response at this point.

David: Yeah. So, I think it’s important to remember that even with HP or big companies, worldwide companies, we don’t know because we don’t see their analytics or the implications of their choice when it comes to SEO. And frankly, HP probably doesn’t depend on SEO a whole lot. Right? In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that SEO teams of Fortune 500 companies usually aren’t that great. Sorry, Fortune 500 companies. It’s just that there’s so much fighting and so many things to consider. They don’t usually even get to implement what they want or recommend because SEO is usually pushed to the side as a secondary thought. I say this because I have some friends who work at IBM SEO, and they fight hard for recommendations and never get them implemented. So, the site is kind of cobbled together. And it’s not built in light of best practices for SEO because, well, the development team just thinks they want to do this, and the paid search team wants to do that, and the marketing team is working from an SEO playbook that’s 20 years old. Don’t just go with, oh, if it’s good enough for HP, it’s good enough for us because they might be really hurting. They might get minuscule SEO stuff. They might be doing it right. But the point is, we have no access to analytics to know. So, in light of that whole competitive-from-what-you-can-see-from-the-outside isn’t a great case. Now the advantage of what they’re doing is that both the Canadian and US site would benefit from the strength of the existing .com. We’re not starting from scratch on a .us. Right? So, they’d all benefit. And this is where we maybe bring in the language component to this. What you could do is use the language tags within the site to tell Google this is French Canadian. This is Spanish. This is English, US. This is English. I don’t know if there’s English CA or there’s an English UK. So, you could use language tags within one big domain to distinguish Google to serve this page to the speakers of this language. And so, that helps Google to say, okay, there’s a French query. I’m going to send you the French-Canadian section of the site. And all benefit from it.

Dave: So, regarding this point, and again, Bryan, correct me if I’m wrong, at this point, they want French and Spanish. But it’s not to where there’s any auto-detection. I think that they just want the capability to show it in French or Spanish. In other words, you could click a button, and it would do that.

David: So, if you do that, understand that Google will not serve the page in a search result to a Spanish speaker because it’s auto-generated.

Bryan: Yeah.

David: Right? Because Google can’t push a button to say, hey, I want to see it in Spanish. You have to use language tags and a static version of the site. So, to have it automatically generate in Spanish to say, oh, I want to see Spanish, assumes that you can read English in order to select the button to read in Spanish. And you knew enough English to search for the product in English and be like, oh, I’d like to see this in Spanish. Now in French-speaking Canada, it might not be as much of a problem, but if you are a native, if you speak Spanish natively, you might not know some of these particular products and how they’re named in English to search for them. Having a Spanish-speaking site would be wonderful, but you have to be able to get there, right? That means you’d have to be aware of this company and say, oh, I know this is the place I want to get that product. Go there and say, oh, good, I can read this in Spanish. Click on that thing, right? It makes a lot of assumptions about how they found you. And that might work if they’re a big enough brand and well-established in their industry. People might just, by default, go to their website and say, great, and now they can click the Spanish and read the Spanish stuff, but don’t think you can do SEO for Spanish speakers on some button that automatically translates that. Right? Besides the quality of an automatic translation, that all plays into this. Now, when it comes to implementation, I have not done this on a WordPress website. I don’t know if there are plugins or whatever that add language tags to websites to generate so that you can say, here’s the Spanish version of the website. Go to that page. There probably is, or you might end up coding something specific. But this is a really complicated process that I think would be cheaper and simpler, and the client would be happier with a website based in the United States and a website based in Canada, which is what you’re recommending. I agree with you. You could create separate sections of the website and try to focus on them, but then you run into duplicate content problems because you’re running an English Canadian site and an English-US site. Canadians speak US English. They may be more similar. They might use “our” for color like the English do, but…

Dave: My guess is, at this point, and Bryan, again correct me if I’m wrong, they are like, maybe it’s not the best analogy, but they’re like when you’re really hungry, and you go to a buffet, and you pile everything on your plate, and you just can’t eat it all. My guess is they want to do all this stuff, but then from their perspective, to be able to support it, to say, oh, we have to make sure when we get this new product added and change the description, we have to find somebody to do Spanish, or how do we automatically do that? It takes a lot of effort for them to just review a freaking blog post. So, from a company perspective, at this point, I think they’re just going to have to live with some of that automatic translation stuff. Right? Live with it, right? That’s what I’m thinking.

Bryan: What adds to the complexity is we’ve never really thought about what David mentioned, about the search thingy.

Dave: That’s right.

Bryan: So, if you have an automated translation using a script, it wouldn’t affect the search because searches rely on the database. So, if someone searches for orange in Spanish, it doesn’t exist in the database. It wouldn’t really resolve anything internally.

David: Oh, you’re talking internal search.

Bryan: Yeah. Because that’s why most ecommerce sites have a search. Because that’s one of the functionalities that users use the most. Right? When they shop for something, they search for it using the search bar.

David: That’s a good point.

Bryan: So, if you see the site has the capability of showing French content, you would assume that the search would be able to understand what you’re looking for, as well, in French. So, that’s not going to be fun for the user, I guess. You would end up having disappointed customers.

Dave: That’s a great point. I totally forgot about the internal search.

David: Good point. Yeah. Agreed.

Dave: All right. Well, the thing is, we can bring all these complications up to them, and they’re going to be overwhelmed. And they’re like, I just wanted somebody to be able to read the site in Spanish. That’s all I wanted as a convenience.

David: Well, you can go into Google Analytics, and you can see how many people who have Spanish as a language set on their browser, or who have French as a language set on the browser, and give them data to say, you know what, 1% of your visitors have a browser set to Spanish. Right? So, because this isn’t going to help you get more of them because it’s automatically generated, you’re only helping 1% of your visitors. Now, I’d imagine in Canada, the French version would be a lot greater.

Dave: That makes sense. That makes a lot of sense.

David: Right. So, you can show the data and the implications, right? We’re not going to grow your Spanish audience with this. This is just helping your existing audience who happens to speak Spanish.

Dave: I’m thinking then, if it’s such a small number of people who have their browser set up to that language, it’s like, guys, do you really want to make these changes for such a small percentage? Is it really worth it? Because if we add a plugin, we add some code, we do those kinds of things, and it’s going to slow the site down a little bit. That’s not good.

Bryan: Right.

David: It just reminds me how much of SEO is client management. Right. Part of me is like, okay, price it out and say, okay to do this, this is how much it’s going to cost. When they see this isn’t a simple add a plugin kind of thing, they might be like, oh, for 1% of our traffic, and you’ll even be able to see how many of your conversions come from Spanish-speaking browsers. Oh, we couldn’t pay for that in six months. Or twelve months. So, there could be… you almost give them the go-away price.

Dave: That’s a good point.

David: We can do this. It’s going to cost X times the number of the website because we’re doing all this. And by the way, we wouldn’t recommend this based on the ROI, from what we can already tell from the site.

Dave: Yeah. I think that’s the best approach. So, we’ll look at the analytics and see if we can find the data.

David: Data always helps.

Dave: Yeah. That was really helpful.

David: Okay, good.

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