Every country has a unique audience and way of searching. If you want to tap into these new audiences, you’ll have to develop your international SEO strategy to maximise results.

If you’re looking to offer your products and services to different countries, then you need to develop your international SEO strategy. By the way, this goes beyond simply translating your content into different languages. International SEO has the same purpose as any other SEO strategy - to drive traffic which is likely to convert and help your business to grow.

What is international SEO?

International SEO involves optimising your website for different countries so that you can improve your online visibility in locations you want to target in the appropriate language. It’s the process of optimising your website to drive organic traffic from multiple languages (known as multilingual SEO) and multiple regions (known as multiregional SEO) by localising your content. In a nutshell, you’re telling search engines what country you want your web pages to rank in and what language they’re written in so they understand what users your content is relevant for- we do love making their lives easier!

How to implement international SEO

As with any SEO strategy, there’s no one-size fits all approach. From domain hints to hreflang tags, there’s many different technical SEO elements that you could use for international SEO which help search engines understand who the intended audience is for your content - we’ve listed a few below:

1. Hreflang tags

Hreflang tag attributes tell search engines what language you’re using on a given page and for which region your content is intended for so they know who to serve the result to.

When I search for eBay in the UK, the first result is “ebay.co.uk”:

Ebay hreflang tag en image

However, if I were to search for the eBay site in France, I would see the below result:

Ebay hreflang tag fr image

This time, I see “ebay.fr” which tells me that it’s a French version of the site (Google even kindly offers to translate the page for me in this case, as they can see I’m making the search in the UK).

The difference in these search results is down to eBay’s use of the hreflang tag as well as their country specific domains as “ebay.co.uk” is designed for users in the UK whereas “eBay.fr” is designed for users in France. The country-specific domains tell search engines where to rank them, which is why they are considered a strong strategy when it comes to International SEO. We will explore the advantages and disadvantages of ccTLDs further down.

Your business may decide to use hreflang tags if you want to make your website available in two or more languages to cater for audiences who speak different languages or if you want to offer content to users who speak different variants of a language.

You should also be aware of the ‘x-default hreflang’ attribute. This is a tag which you can use if you want to signal a page that doesn’t target a specific language or locale (for instance, it may be used on a homepage which offers users a language selector). It will look something like this:


<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en-gb” hreflang=”en-gb” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en-gb” hreflang=”en-us” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en-gb” hreflang=”x-default” />

In essence, this code would allow search engines to serve content for the English language in the UK and US but if a language-location option isn’t suitable, the default page would be served.

By adding hreflang tags, you can ensure that the right content is served to visitors based on their region and preferred language - not only is this important from a user experience point of view, but it helps to build a strong international SEO strategy.

2. Domain structures

ccTLDs

ccTLDS stands for Country Code Top-Level Domains and this informs search engines about the countries and regions your webpages are targeting.They are the strongest signal you can give to search engines and users to show who the content is relevant for. The main thing to understand with ccTLDs is that they target countries and regions - not languages.

Advantages

  • ccTLDs help to improve click-through-rate as it’s clear to users that the site is meant for them.
  • ccTLDs will perform better in the rankings for some markets. In fact, only local ccTLDs will be shown in the results for some counties (for example, in China, their search engine Baidu will only display Chinese ccTLDs).
  • They send a strong signal to search engines that your site is relevant to a specific country.

Disadvantages

  • You’ll need to factor in the costs of domain registrations (the more countries you need to target, the more ccTLDs you need, which will come at a higher price).
  • If you’re launching into a new market then you’ll need to build up domain authority.
  • It can be tricky to get the same domain name in all the countries you wish to target.

Subdomains

International subdomains enable you to create webpages for specific countries and regions that are separate from your main site.

Advantages

  • As subdomains are seen as separate entities to your main site, they could appear on the results page alongside your main domain, increasing your online visibility and crushing your competition.
  • They can target specific market segments.
  • You could use them for targeting specific keywords.

Disadvantages

  • You’ll need to build high-quality links to your subdomains to help build up authority (as they’re seen as separate from your main site…even if it’s got the highest E-A-T score in the world!).

If you’re planning to build localised microsites, beware. Ecommerce fashion retailer ASOS launched 200 sites separate to their main site in order to target specific countries in 2018 and ended up seeing an 87% drop in their profits. The launch of the new sites damaged their SEO and rankings (likely being impacted by duplication issues and regional targeting not being set up correctly to name a couple of reasons) as this was a large number of regional domains to handle. Essentially, ASOS bit off more than they could chew here, but things could’ve looked different if they had gone a different route and had the right SEO support.

Subdirectories (also known as subfolders)

Subdirectories are like pathways within your website, they’re the part of your URL which is home to certain content.

Advantages

When it comes to SEO, subdirectories are typically recommended (and are more straightforward), here’s why:

  • Subdirectories get link authority from the main domain.
  • You won’t be “competing” with your own site and can put your energy into optimising your site as a whole.
  • You can internally link to relevant webpages - for example, your blog subdomain can link to product or service pages so users can easily access what’s relevant to them (and may increase their likelihood of converting).
  • If you’re tracking site performance with a platform such as Google Analytics, the data will be consolidated for the whole site, which makes for simpler reporting.

Disadvantages

Every option has its own pitfall. For subdirectories, there is the potential issue of having a large number of URLs, which can also dilute your domain authority.

Both options have their pros and cons, but whether you opt for a subdirectory or subdomain approach should be considered based on your individual website.

3. Link building

Link building can be a valuable part of an SEO strategy but it often proves challenging. Throw language limitations and different competitive environments into the mix and you’re faced with an even stickier situation. That said, if you’re able to build links with relevant and reputable sites, you could see a real jump in the rankings. Firstly, you can try to find any links from different countries already pointing to your site using a tool such as Ahrefs which has a backlink checker. From there, you can reach out to these sites to ask them if they’d link to the relevant subfolder or subdomain as well as, or in favour of your main site…whatever makes sense for the audience in question). You can also consider checking out what sites are linking to your competitors and try your luck there. If not, you’ll have to resort to some good old fashioned link building (read our blog on how to build links for SEO to find out more).

If you have a ccTLD website structure, your link building strategy will need more consideration, time and effort as you’ll have to build authority from the ground up.

4. Geotargeting in Google Search Console

The Geotargeting report in Google Search Console is extremely useful when it comes to International SEO because it helps webmasters spot any hreflang errors and specify the country they are targeting if they have a generic top level domain such as .com or .org. For example, if you have a .co.uk specific ecommerce store but want to expand your business in the US and launch a generic .com domain to target the US market, you would use the International Targeting tool in Google Search Console to indicate that the target market for your .com site is the US.

If you are using a country specific top level domain such as .ie, .es, .co.uk or .fr, your domain will already be associated with a geographical region.

GSC geotargeting uk image
Google search console international targeting image

International SEO tips

1. Don’t rely on Google Translate

Sure, we’ve all probably fumbled with our phone to whip out Google Translate to find the right words abroad (and perhaps were slightly off with our response) but you can’t rely on it when it comes to your website. At the end of the day, Google Translate is a free online translation tool which spurts out literal translations - this doesn’t consider local expressions and may not pick up on misspellings which could create very confusing content. If your content doesn’t make sense, users may look elsewhere to find a better result.

2. Consider your future business plans, budget and scalability

You should carefully consider where you see (or want to see) your business heading.

If you want to expand your offerings to different countries, you’ll need to think about the best approaches to help you reach your end goal. Think about the countries you want to target, what your budget is, whether your strategy is realistic and which platforms you’ll use.

If you’re not sure whether international SEO is the right move for you, consider conducting market research to determine which audiences would be interested in your offerings (and how they typically get similar services and products), what your top competitors are doing and identify what you’ll need to get started.

3. Carry out keyword research for each country

People in different countries will search in unique ways. You’ll need to bear this in mind when deciding which keywords to target and avoid basing your decisions on how your native country typically searches. You can carry out a competitor and keyword gap analysis using tools such as Semrush or Ahrefs, which are great at providing you with actionable insights and use keyword tools to discover keyword variations for the location you wish to target.

4. Avoid automatically redirecting users to a different language based on their location

You can simply suggest they select an alternative language to view the page in. Remember, just because someone’s searching in a different country, this doesn’t mean that they want content in a certain language - people travel!

5. Ensure that everything is the appropriate language

From your navigation bar to your content and help page, you want to make sure that everything the user sees is tailored to their language and is understandable.

6. Ensure your content is written for the right audience

Language targeting is very important for international SEO, and you’ll need to think about colloquials and spellings. For instance, compare American English to the English language; they say trash can, we say bin; they say color, we say colour…and so on. You want to get your words right to ensure your audience are on the same page. Aside from language, you’ll also need to remember to quote the right currency, time zones and provide contact information such as addresses. There can be cultural differences when it comes to layouts and style of humour so consider this each step of the way.

International SEO - is about making your audience feel like the content has been written just for them so that they’re getting the information they need, in their language and in a way they’d expect. It’s not just search engines you need to create and optimise your content for, it’s the users.

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Benefits of international SEO

Building your international SEO strategy can help benefit your business in a number of ways, including:

  • You can extend your reach and target new audiences on a global scale.
  • You’ll improve user experience for audiences in different countries as your website will be catered for them.
  • It can set you apart from your competitors as you may offer products or services to locations they don’t.
  • You’ll increase your online visibility and help drive more traffic to your site which could lead to more conversions.
  • You’ll get customer insights about your international customers (such as their age, intent and location) which will improve the effectiveness of your marketing.
  • You’ll increase your brand awareness which will provide growth opportunities.

Does my business need to focus on international SEO?

Not all businesses will need to worry about developing an international SEO strategy as it won’t always be relevant to your business’s offerings (for example, you may just be looking to target audiences in your locality or country, so international SEO wouldn't be worth the time and resources).That said, if your site is attracting visitors from different countries then you may wish to create content designed specifically for them.

Final thoughts

So there you have it, a first look into international SEO, what it looks like and how it could help your business. Wherever you are, there’s opportunity for you to branch out and reach audiences on a global scale to evolve your business, but you need to figure out the right strategy moving forward to get your content and products in front of an international audience. Here at Adido, we can help with that. Contact us today and learn more about how we can help you to develop your international SEO strategy and continue to grow your business.

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Meet the author ...

Olivia Gilchrist

SEO Executive

Liv works in the SEO team and loves blending creativity with technical strategies to help our clients' webpages reach the top of the rankings! Having recently graduated from ...