I do international SEO for a living, so I bet if you’re interested in optimizing your website for international audiences, then you’re curious about what tools I use on a day-to-day basis. The truth is I use a lot of the same tools that a “normal” SEO uses. But there are ways that I use typical tools differently, and specific things that I look for. And then of course there’s those super special tools that only those with International SEO chops use. Here’s my listicle, sorted roughly in order of importance and frequency of use.
Aleyda Solis put together a similar great list back in 2013, but it’s getting a little outdated so I thought I’d share my more recent version.
- Google Search Console. This is the one tool that every SEO needs access to. It needs to be set up correctly for each sub-domain. It can be useful if there are separate profiles also set up per sub-folder, especially for large sites. When you segment out your profiles, you get more data, since Google samples much of the data it provides. I look closely at the International Targeting Tab, the Index Status tab, and the Search Analytics Tab, filtered by country.
- Web Analytics. I use Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics. I have reports set up to monitor total organic non-English and total organic non-USA traffic, as well as organic non-USA traffic sorted by country. I look at each segment defined by URL, not by IP address or browser language (I track that separately). I want to know how many people are going to the correct pages on sites.
- Keyword Research Tools. I use the Google Keyword Planner, and SEMRush Keyword Tool the most. These tools are good for understanding keyword competition and search volume. I sort by language and or by country to make sure I’m seeing the correct numbers for each keyword.
- Google Translate. I use this for one-off translations to check translation accuracy, etc. I don’t recommend using any type of machine translation for the body content of your website or any templates. You want to use human localized content as much as possible because machine translation can be inaccurate and search engines can consider it low quality content. Yes I realize it’s ironic that Googlebot does not like Google Translate, but that is the reality of machine translation at this point (John Mueller of Google mentioned this awhile ago.) Statistical machine translation is getting much better and will continue to improve, but in the meantime it’s best to stay on the safe side.
- SEMRush. I love SEMRush for it’s competitive intelligence, both for SEO and PPC. Their site audits are pretty solid too. I use the SEMRUSH API on a monthly basis to check their international Google databases and see how my competitors and my sites are performing.
- ScreamingFrog. This is such a wonderful must-have SEO tool. It’s useful for checking redirects, canonicals, hreflang tags, QA-ing sites in staging environments, etc. To learn how to use ScreamingFrog to check hreflang, check out their tutorial here.
- Google Trends. It’s super important to stay on top of trends in all your target markets. Otherwise, how do you know what macro fluctuations are affecting your site traffic? Sports events like the Olympics in Brazil, political events like the presidential elections in the USA, important holidays like Ramadan in Muslim countries, all of these can hugely sway the traffic on your site. Google Trends can be filtered by country so it’s quite useful for this.
- SimilarWeb. Like SEMRush, SimilarWeb gives as good of an estimation of competitive site traffic as third-party can do.
- Internal site search query data. If you have tracking turned on to see what your site users are typing in to the search bar on your site, that can be useful data. Sort it out by language and you have a list of keyword topics to optimize for!
- Balsamiq. Sometimes, the ideas in my head are best communicated in a visual way. So, I use wireframes. I don’t pretend to be an awesome designer so I use Balsamiq because it’s quick, easy, affordable, and lets me get the point across without having to resort to learning a new and complicated tool.
- Splunk. Splunk is awesome for finding out how bots are hitting your site, how often they’re crawling, what pages they’re crawling, what redirects and errors they’re finding, and a treasure trove of other things. By far the best log file analysis tool I’ve seen.
- VPN / Proxy. Really almost any reputable VPN or proxy will work, but I like Pure VPN, a desktop app, because it works with all my target countries and it’s affordable. I also like TunnelBear VPN because it has a cute teddy bear logo and a free Chrome extension that is quite nifty. SurfEasy is another one – there are lots of options out there. If you just want a quick way to switch to the appropriate international Google version, you can use ISearchFrom.com.
- Hreflang Implementation. I focus on getting the correct requirements to the developers, sticking to Google’s hreflang requirements for ISO codes for country and language. Aleyda Solis has a useful tool that helps hold your hand through the process if you’re just getting started and aren’t sure what ISO codes to use.
- Hreflang Checker. There are a few hreflang checkers on the market like hreflang.ninja and FLang by DejanSEO. I don’t use these too often because I can usually just spot check and see something wrong, and also these only allow you to check one page at a time (which doesn’t help me when I need to check thousands of pages!). But definitely check these out if you want to be sure you don’t have any errors.
- Keyword Rank Tracking Tools. Get Stat, Conductor, SEMRush, Google, and Keylime Toolbox. All these tools are great in their own ways for keyword research and keyword rank tracking. I really like Keylime Toolbox because you can set up segments for your keywords, which is difficult to do for multiple keywords within the Google Search Console.
- International Marketing News, Surveys & Research. There are several reliable research data sources I use to stay up-to-date. Webcertain.com has daily international e-commerce and marketing video updates, which I find are usually of high-caliber and informative. GlobalWebIndex also has very interesting daily charts that are often relevant to international e-commerce. Google Public Data is another good one.
- Holidays Knowing what holidays are happening when and where is helpful for figuring out why your traffic in certain regions is going up or down. http://www.officeholidays.com/ has a good list per country.
- Backlink Analyzer. Majestic, Open Site Explorer, and Ahrefs are my go-tos for analyzing the quality and quantity of links. SEMRush can also do this. It’s important to make sure that backlinks from regional websites are linking to your regional content and not just to your main .com site.
- Google AdWords. I like talking with the Paid Search folks and pulling reports on how paid search is performing because that can have a major impact on how organic traffic performs as well.
- Reading books! There are some books published on global marketing, globalization, and doing business across countries and languages. Global Search Engine Marketing is the most directly relevant to international SEO. I review a bunch in this blog post, and go in-depth on Alibaba’s World in this blog post.
- Chrome Extensions. The main SEO Chrome extensions that I use include the Moz Bar, Aymara Redirect Path, TunnelBear VPN, SEOQuake, Web Developer, and User Agent Switcher.
- Site Speed Monitoring Tool. Catchpoint or similar monitoring services are important because you want to make sure that you’re closely monitoring page speed performance in all your target markets. By the way, you should also be using a CDN to help reduce latency for your users around the globe.
- Dan Sottimano’s list of ccTLDs and their associated languages. If you’ve ever wondered “What’s the domain extension for Swaziland?” or “What country does .be stand for?,” this is the go-to spreadsheet.
- Moz Blog and Q&A – there’s a lot of good advice in their forums and on their site.
- Talking with other people! I know it may seem crazy, but one of the most useful ways that I get my job done is by asking questions!
Being a specialist in a niche field such as international SEO means that I need to aggregate a ton of information, digest it, and turn it into something timely and useful for my company or for my clients. I hope this list is helpful for those venturing into the waters of global marketing and who want to know where to start. If you have additional questions or if you are interested in hiring me as a consultant for international SEO on your website, get in touch with me here.
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