How to build international links for SEO
Building relevant links to the localised versions of your site from other local websites will strengthen your search visibility. By ensuring your website is linked to and from a wide variety of different websites, you are signalling to search engines that your website is both important and reliable – which means they are more likely to direct customers to you.
However, gaining good quality links is a challenging task, regardless of the size of your website or company. As a result, it can be overlooked. International link building challenges include:
- Limited resource dedicated to local websites once they are localised and live
- Available resource tends to be focused on optimising existing content
- Limited knowledge or understanding of the best way to build links in different markets with different search engines, languages and cultural factors
- Multiple languages in the same country – and for an added complication, sometimes people search in English, in non-English speaking markets
In this overview, we explore how to approach international link building, looking at both hygiene or more activity, as well as content-led activity.
Hygiene link building activity
Competitive link analysis
A good place to start is by checking your local competitors’ links. Link research and analysis tools such as DragonMetrics, Ahrefs or SEMrush should do most of the work for you, even if you have limited local resources. By identifying competitor links which you do not have, you can identify possible link opportunities for your own site.
Perhaps you already have an idea of your top competitors in each market. If you don’t, then find out which brands are consistently ranking for your non-brand target keywords in each market and start your research from there. Local In-Market Experts will be able to help identify your key competitors.
Submit your website to local directories
Directories do not require much language skill and are available in every country. Directories will also give you a sense of who your local competitors are. It is important to only submit your website to relevant, targeted local directories. Submitting to irrelevant directories could harm visibility.
Get into the local news
If your business operates internationally, that means you probably have a product or service which is worth shouting about. Use this to your advantage by publishing facts, results or other findings which are relevant to your target market. If you make it to the local news listing, you will rapidly gain authority.
Consider using a reporter liaison service like Help A Reporter to gain news coverage for your brand. Help A Reporter connects journalists seeking expertise to include in their content with sources who have that expertise.
Leverage existing marketing activity for link building
From your existing marketing activities or events, there will be link opportunities which might currently be overlooked. This is a great way to gain quality links naturally. An obvious example might be a fashion brand which previews collections to media and influencers – not only is this a way to generate coverage but there are also link opportunities to leverage.
If your existing marketing activity is related to a specific product or a line of business, use this as an opportunity to gain links to the specific product page or business category page.
Sometimes, staff involved in existing marketing activities can be unaware of the SEO value of links. Address this by including link building in your corporate marketing best practice or any guidelines you may have, and by providing SEO training for marketing and PR teams. This way, link generation can be incorporated into each relevant marketing project and not treated as the afterthought.
Link building items to include in your marketing best practice guidelines are:
- Use the URL(s) for the most relevant pages within your website, and not just the home page URL
- If the marketing project or the event is held in multiple countries and languages, use the local website and language URL in materials and require it in event contracts
- If the project or the event is featured on other websites, ask them to link to the most relevant page on your website in the local country
When building international links to your website, you also need to consider user experience. Imagine a Spanish user, reading a Spanish news site and clicking on a link to a company that only services the UK. This does not create a good user experience. Remember that “international links” are only international to you. They are local to the market you are targeting.
Content-led link building activity
Once you have mastered the basics of link-building, you can turn your attention to creating new content which will attract links in your target market.
Focus on creating content which is of interest or use to your target market, rather than for the sole purpose of generating links. To create content which resonates, you will need to understand your audience and the local culture in your target market.
Remember that every country is different no matter how close they are to each other geographically. For example, Poland and Germany are geographical neighbours, but the two countries have completely different digital landscapes including types of media and trust in and attitudes towards the media.
Research your audience to find out their likes and dislikes. What media do they consume and how? Which are the most trusted sites? This is where the value of local in-market expertise will pay dividends.
Understand what content types will attract the most links
Different content types and formats will work best in different countries. This means the way you display content is crucial to the success of any link campaign.
A tool like Buzzsumo can help. It allows you to input topics and see what content surrounding those topics receives the most shares and links. It also shows you how the content is displayed.
For example, let’s assume that you are a travel brand targeting the Italian market:
- The first step is to find out the most popular content surrounding the topic ‘vacanza’ (this means holiday in Italian).
- Buzzsumo allows you to use an advanced search to show only content around the topic ‘vacanza’ on Italian sites (.it) in the Italian language.
Carrying out first party research and then presenting the findings is a good way to attract links. For example, one of Oban’s client’s is a leading insurance company – they carried out research on global mobility which contained original data. The research attracted numerous links because it contained unique research.
Guest posting means publishing an article on someone else’s website or blog. It is a great way to connect with new audiences and obtain backlinks to your own site. The aim should be to create good quality editorial content which adds value and is not simply a duplicate of content you have published elsewhere. You should avoid keyword stuffing. There is evidence to suggest that long form content generates more social shares and backlinks than short form. The site on which you are guest posting will probably have their own guidelines about content formats.
Build detailed media lists for outreach
Make sure you are contacting journalists at relevant publications. Tools such as Ahrefs, SEMrush and Moz allow you to input your competitors’ sites and see who is linking to them. Use this data to find relevant journalists at those publications and add them to your media list.
Check other similar brands as well as your immediate competitors. For example, consider a holiday site: checking links from travel insurance brands and airlines would be useful too, as the sites linking to them will also be relevant to your brand.
Master your outreach
It is always best to use native language speakers for marketing or PR outreach. Approaching a journalist by email in a different language to their own could trigger their spam folders and is unlikely to be understood.
Once you have built a media list, you should have a list of contacts you plan to target. A useful tool to achieve this is Buzzstream:
- Buzzstream is an outreach tool that allows you to enter your own contacts and email them whilst tracking open rates and responses.
- The tool also allows you to A/B test your emails. For example, if you have 500 contacts you may want to find out which is your strongest approach by sending copy A to 50 people and copy B to another 50 and then measuring the responses.
- If one group is getting more opens and responses than the other, roll the best performing copy out to the rest of the 500 contacts.
Remember, you need to take a personal approach to outreach, so one template may not be enough.
Avoid sending bulk emails. Find the contact and work out the best way to get their attention. This could be a phone call, a tweet or sharing news on a common interest. A personalised approach will always deliver better results than sending mass emails.
Monitor your results
To measure progress and refine your strategy, gather data at the end of each outreach campaign including:
- Number of people contacted
- Number of links gained
- Volume of traffic delivered
- Number of assisted conversions, social shares etc
Feed the learnings into your next campaign and ensure each new campaign builds upon the last.
Don’t buy links
Getting good, valuable links is not easy. Whilst it is still possible to buy links in certain markets, this approach is not advisable and will cause more problems than it solves – not least because you can be penalised heavily by search engines for doing so. Using Local In-Market Experts to build good quality links involves more time and effort but is the best option in the long run.
Be wary too of services which promise to deliver large volumes of links at low cost. Often these will be low-quality – i.e. gathered from non-local directories, non-local weblogs, forums, and websites that are not relevant. Not only do these offer little value but in some cases, they can be counterproductive if they result in negative SEO impact.
What to do if you receive unwanted links
If your website has unwanted – known as toxic – backlinks, either because of misguided link building efforts in the past, or because of a targeted spam attack – then it is important to identify these and have a plan for removing them. If you do not remove them, you run the risk of hampering search performance and in a worst-case scenario, receiving a penalty from Google or other search engines.
The difference between a good or bad link is the quality of the website from which it comes. Examples of poor-quality links include those from:
- Sites set up solely for SEO links
- Comments on other sites, often irrelevant to the subject matter and posted by spambots – for example, “great content, check out XYZ here”
- Sites using over-optimised anchor text – that is, exact match keywords
- Sites where the content does not make sense or has been scraped from elsewhere
- Sites based in other markets with no obvious relevance or connection to your own site – e.g. Russian links to a UK based site
A link audit will enable you to determine whether you have spam backlinks and if so, the severity of the problem. Tools such as Moz or Ahrefs will help you to download backlinks and analyse them for quality. Once you have identified which links you want to remove, you can disavow them within Google Search Console.
- Relevant links to the localised versions of your site from other local websites will strengthen your search visibility.
- Tools such as Dragon Metrics, Ahrefs or SEMRush will help you to identify competitor links.
- Submitting your website to relevant, targeted local directories is a simple way to generate links.
- Find ways to get in the local news – a tool like Help A Reporter can help.
- Leverage existing marketing activity for link building.
- A tool like Buzzsumo can help you understand what content types work best in each target market.
- Carrying out first party research and then presenting the findings is a good way to attract links.
- Guest posting is still relevant – the key is to create good quality editorial content which adds value and is not simply a duplicate of content you have published elsewhere.
- For outreach, it is best to use a native speaker in the language in which you plan to reach out. A personal approach is best.
- Never buy links. Audit your backlink profile and disavow any toxic links to safeguard your site’s SEO visibility.
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This is an edited extract from Oban’s book Going Global: How to improve digital marketing performance in any market on the planet. To buy a copy of the book, click here.
To find out how Oban’s network of Local In-Market Experts can help you succeed internationally, please get in touch.
Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion. Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.