Recently I have found two articles that refer to international SEO. One is from HubSpot and the other one from SearchEngineLand. These articles are great, but I will try to give real-life examples from my (our) experience of working in tourism and travel industry.
Myth 1: Google Translate Works
No. Google Translate doesn't work (yet). You can translate keywords to have a basic overview of the volume of the searches, but always use native speaker to do the work for you. Do you think that Google Translate can create great PPC ads in German or Italian? No way. Don't be lazy, do the work. Hire someone from oDesk or Elance to do it for you!
Myth 2: Subdomains & Directories are Good
Yes. They can do the work. But if you're trying to build a brand then use country-specific TLD. Beware: in some countries it is necessary to have a legal entity to be able to register a domain name. So you can have a mixed model - subdomain + TLDs. When you acquire country-specific TLD, do the redirection (don't forget 301s).
Myth 3: Keywords are everywhere the same
Nope. Especially in Slavic or German languages plurals and singulars have really different endings. Try to insert them into your PPC ads - you'll see. Higher volume in plural or singular in English may not result in the same thing in other languages. Use Ubersuggest to find new keywords in specific countries or languages.
Myth 4: Design is the same for every country
I was in Shanghai once and I had the chance to use one tablet-kiosk for tourists. It had three versions - English, Chinese and Japanese - UI and design was different. Try Expedia in English and in German - do the search - see the difference? They do it the right way.
Myth 5: Customer support? Ja / Nein.
If you have localized site and you don't have the support team that speaks their language, you can forget about the conversions (or at least, you'll get much lower conversion rate). Even if you have localized version and you don't have the team to answer people in their language, the conversion rate will be bad. If you'll answer the questions in english - note it in the auto-responder you send to your clients!
Myth 6: Google is the same everywhere
No. Google releases the updates to it's algorithm first in US (google.com) than slowly passes to other country-specific TLDs. Good news - you can prepare for the change!
Myth 7: It's just about the traffic
It is about the traffic, but more importantly, it's about the conversion. Know the habits of the local market, know the holidays (like in Germany - www.schulferien.org), know how will they react to certain offers, have a dedicated team for them.
Best Practices (summary)
- Have a country-specific TLD
- Have a native speaker translating and creating your content
- Don't be lazy, do the proper keyword research
- Your site doesn't have to be exact copy
- Conversion is better if you know the audience
- Adapt your local SEO to global algo change from Google
- Have a great customer support