International SEO: Strategies and Best Practices for Global Success

Do you serve customers in more than one country? Do you want to expand your business? If you answered yes to either of those questions, then it may be time to discuss international SEO.

When it comes to international SEO, many people think it’s all about launching sites with translated content. It’s wrong!

In this article, we’ll explain what is international SEO, why is it important, and how to build an international SEO strategy that will win over your global audiences.

Let’s begin with the basics first.

International SEO

What Is International SEO

International SEO is the process of optimizing your website(s) to drive organic traffic from

  • multiple regions (called multiregional SEO)
  • and/or languages (called multilingual SEO).

International SEO ensures that search engines can easily identify which countries your company wants to target. It also shows search engines which languages you use to attract customers from different countries or speak different languages.

Using geo-targeting, hreflang tags, and other localization signals, you can target content to your users around the world.

Why Is International SEO Important?

International SEO can be a great way to improve the visibility of your product or service in global markets. In other words, you can build a stronger customer base, and ultimately, get more conversions.

Here are some of the reasons why international SEO is essential for the growth of your business.

1) Reach Audiences Globally

International SEO enables your business to gain audiences globally by expanding the reach of your business to many countries at once.

If you have a business ready to be recognized as a global brand, you should include international SEO in your marketing strategy.

2) Acquire Massive Organic Traffic

Most websites often target audiences only in their native country, leading to maximum traffic acquisition from just one nation. Depending on the scope of your business, you can target as many countries as possible to acquire massive organic traffic to your brand.

3) Increase Conversions

With increased traffic comes increased conversions. When your website starts ranking globally for your target keywords with high-purchase intent, you can increase the number of conversions on your site.

Every business is looking to improve its bottom line. If there are opportunities available in international markets to generate more leads and revenue for your business, you should not lag behind.

4) Become an International Brand

Becoming a reputable international brand is challenging. But with powerful international SEO strategies, your brand can evolve to rule in the global market 

International SEO Strategies: How to Optimize Your Site for International Audiences

There are two different aspects of international SEO that website owners need to consider when building a comprehensive strategy. One is international technical SEO and the other is international content SEO.

Both international technical SEO and international content SEO are instrumental in telling the search engines which content is the most relevant for any given searcher.

International technical SEO manages how your site is crawled and indexed, which involves structure, coding, tags, and hierarchy.

International content SEO, or localization SEO, is the process of translating or creating your content for a specific location, going deeper than shifting from one language to another to ensure that you’re providing the language- and region-specific content that will resonate with your market. 

Here are some international technical SEO and International content SEO tips that you need to follow for a successful international SEO campaign that brings results.

1. Do Research

An international SEO process should begin with initial research to validate the starting point and the potential for each international market, which will allow you to prioritize and set your target.

1) Do Your Market Research

  • Decide Where You Will Expand Your Business

Is there definitely a market for your products or services in the countries you are looking to target? There are two signals that give you hints.

  • You notice a spike in organic traffic from a foreign market that piques your interest.
  • You notice a spike in users or customers from a particular country or region.
  • Figure Out What Exactly Is Attracting Your International Audience

This includes keywords, webpages, and backlinks. The top factors that win foreign visitors over would form the building blocks for your expansion strategy.

  • Know The Search Engines Used in Your Target Countries

Google is the largest search engine globally, and in many countries optimizing for Google alone will allow you to reach your prospective clients. That said there are several large countries that mostly rely on local search engines. Here are some examples of international search engines:

  • China – Baidu
  • Russia – Yandex
  • South Korea – Naver

Once you have chosen a number of countries to start with, it’s advisable to first analyze how users search for your products, services or problems these can help with, on each of those markets, and define if there is a potential demand that justifies the investment.

2) Do Competitor Research

As you move into new markets, you’ll also need to identify your local competitors. Just because you compete with other international brands in the United States does not mean that those companies will also be your primary competitors overseas.

You also have to consider local companies. Examine the SERPs related to your industry and see what kind of content local search engines are rewarding for your most valuable keyword groups. As you begin to identify your top competitors, you also want to look at their digital strategy. 

2. Determine International SEO Targeting Choices – Language, Country, or Both?

Do you want to optimize search results based on language, geo-targeting, or both?

How do you make that decision? And what’s the difference?

The first question you need to ask yourself:

  • Does my product or service change if a person in a different country uses it? (Excluding the language differences.)

SaaS and cloud-based companies may answer “no.” In this case, you will want a language-based international SEO strategy.

Let’s say that’s not the case. The product or service you sell in Germany is different than what you’ll need to sell in France.

That will be true for:

  • Brick-and-mortar Retailers (McDonald’s)
  • E-retailers with Country-specific Offers (Amazon)
  • SaaS Companies with Regulated Offers (Netflix)
  • Mixed Retailers (Brick-and-Mortar/ E-commerce) (H&M)

In that case, you can make your international SEO strategy country-specific.

3. Set Up an International SEO-Friendly URL Structure

There are a few URL structures that webmasters can use to target particular countries. Here are the most common options:

  • Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs for short): example.de
  • ccTLDs, or global top-level-domains (gTLDs for short), in combination with subdomains: de.example.com
  • ccTLDs or gTLDs in combination with subfolders: example.com/de/
  • ccTLDs or TLDs with a combination of subdomains and subfolders: de.example.com/de-ch/

Let’s face it – the debate is ongoing about which URL structure is best for international SEO. You can compare them and choose the one best for you.

URL structure optionsProsCons
Country-specific domain
example.de
* Clear geotargeting
* Server location irrelevant
* Easy separation of sites
* Expensive (can have limited availability)
* Requires more infrastructure
* Strict ccTLD requirements (sometimes)
Subdomains with gTLD
de.example.com
* Easy to set up
* Can use Search Console geotargeting
* Allows different server locations
* Easy separation of sites
* Users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone (is “de” the language or country?)
Subdirectories with gTLD
example.com/de/
* Easy to set up
* Can use Search Console geotargeting
* Low maintenance (same host)
* Users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone
* Single server location
* Separation of sites harder
Website URL Structure

4. Geo-targeting with Hreflang Tags

Another key practice for international multi-language SEO is the proper use and placement of the Hreflang attribute.

Hreflang tags tell search engines which URL to show to a user based on their language and country settings.

Learn how to implement hreflang attributes.

5. Local Keyword Research

Now, let’s do keyword research for the region and language you’re targeting.

You can’t just translate your keywords using Google Translate or other AI translation tools. You’ll have to get inside the heads of your new audience. You need to know which words they are using. The same words can have different meanings in languages used in multiple countries.

Learn how to do local keyword research.

6. Adjust Content and Products Across Countries

Cultural and colloquial differences are big considerations when creating content for an international audience.  

To be successful in international SEO, you need to cater to the cultural differences in each language or country you want to provide content for. Put another way, it’s important to localize your content rather than just translate it.

Taking the time to tailor content and product lines to local sensibilities will make it easier to gain footing within the region’s market and begin to secure more leads and customers. Work with native speakers to create product names, pages, and content that fits the needs and interests of local audiences. Consider what’s most important to them and how your product can fill local needs as you progress. 

Regardless of which international SEO strategy you use; you will have to build links to the international site. Ideally, they should be links from domains in the same location.

Unfortunately, getting links from foreign countries is often the most difficult international SEO activity. Many factors affect the international link building project — that could be anything from a different language, market, or audience, to the competitive landscape.

Here are five ways you can use to build localized links.

  • Audit your current backlink profile to identify potential links from your target market.
  • Local citation
  • Evaluate your competitors’ backlinks and steal them.
  • Run country-specific and language-specific guest posting campaigns to acquire relevant links.
  • Sponsor local events in your target countries. Often, local events are covered by regional news channels, and you have a good chance of securing a brand mention.

8. Work Towards Customer and User Experience Optimization

Exceptional customer experience results in customer loyalty. Here are some ways to boost the user experience of your website:

  • Improve site speed. Use the Page Speed Insights tool to analyze the score of your website and implement the suggested recommendations to boost your page speed.
  • Ensure that your site is mobile-friendly. Use Google Search Console to regularly review any mobile usability issues in your site and make efforts to fix them.
  • Ensure that you have user-friendly navigation and a search bar to enable visitors to easily find products or services they are looking for.
  • Take care of the feelings of your target audience and avoid displaying messages that might offend or hurt people.

9. Add Your Site on Search Console and Analytics

Make sure to add all your websites as separate properties on Google Search Console and Analytics.

If you are using a single domain to target different countries or regions, you should add a single property.

Google Search Console will automatically tell you if there is an issue with crawling, hreflang tag implementation, mobile user experience, page speed, core web vitals, and other problems that might affect your site’s organic visibility, so make sure to check the messages you receive in your Search Console account and promptly fix them to boost the SEO of your website(s).

If you target users in countries where Google is not the preferred search engine, such as China, you should use the Webmasters tools and Analytics of the target search engine.

10. International SEO and Local SEO Unite for Brick-and-mortar Locations

And last but not least, brick-and-mortar retailers should not forget local SEO while doing international SEO.

Your international SEO strategy needs to include the following local SEO tactics:

  • Standardize your NAP information for easier distribution among local listings.
  • Fill out a Google My Business Profile for every physical location that’s opening.
  • Research all local, online listings and add your standardized NAP information.
  • You will want to create all new social media profiles for your new locations.
  • You will want to be sure to include yourself on all local and relevant review platforms.
  • Customize your schema markups to reflect local aspects of your business.
  • Add your new location as a point of interest to GPS devices and navigation apps.

Get Started with International SEO

International SEO is a must for global businesses that serve customers in multiple countries or who speak different languages. It helps to build your brand and offer customers an optimum user experience with localized content that adapts to cultural differences. 

If you haven’t inverted in international SEO, it is the time to get started. Remember, the three most important SEO strategies for international SEO are:

  • Selecting your preferred domain/URL structure
  • Optimizing your content for users in your targeted countries
  • Acquiring links to your domain(s)

However, your exact approach to international SEO will depend on the needs and goals of your business as well as various factors including:

  • Available resources
  • Budget
  • Technical structure (CMS platform)
  • The ambition of the business
  • And many more.

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