In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about international SEO and provide an essential checklist to get you started!
There are several key elements in crafting a solid SEO strategy — and they mainly involve getting to know your target audience.
They also involve using the most relevant keywords per country or geographical region and using the correct HTML and domain setup.
Once those are covered, your SEO will be leak-proof!
Below are all the boxes you’ll want to check off for your future international SEO strategy:
Define your approach based on the exact markets you’re targeting.
If you’re targeting audiences that speak different languages, opt for a language-based segmentation approach. Then, create content for every target language.
For example, this might be your use case if you’re targeting the Canadian audience, where some may speak English and others French.
Zara offers both English and French browsing experiences to its Canadian audience members.
If your product or service offerings differ based on location or you operate under different brand names, develop a unique approach for on each country.
Zara also localizes their content - for example, it’s the beginning of winter in Australia, so they’re displaying winter collections – while they’re displaying summer collections for the Netherlands, which is approaching summer.
Don’t forget about competitor research - understand who’s competing for your target market and how they do it. It helps to use tools like Similar Web. Then, understand if you’re competing against sites that are also internationalizing or local sites.
In international SEO, I recommend choosing between the following three methods:
- Different subfolders with gTLD (example.com/en-us)
- Different, country-specific domains – ccTLDs (example.ca and example.de)
- Different subdomains with gTLD (ca.example.com and de.example.com)
Each international website structure type has pros and cons, which you can learn more about here.
If you want to keep your SEO juice between different country variations, go for the different subfolders or the different subdomains method.
If possible, get a local IP address – especially if you use dedicated domains. It clearly shows you’re geo-localizing your content and serving visitors in that area.
If you’re competing against local sites, a local IP is a really, really good idea.
The hreflang tags will indicate what language your content shows up in and the specific geographical location your content is for.
Hreflang attributes can also prevent duplicate content issues on the various language versions of your website, such as the English variants of the US, UK, and Australia.
The hreflang attribute can be easily implemented by including it in the following parts of your site:
- The <head> section of your HTML coding
- Your XML sitemap markup
- Your HTTP headers
When implementing the hreflang tags, follow the best practices:
- Reference both the page itself and its translated variants.
- Ensure you have bi-directional hreflang attribute references.
- Appropriately design language and region combinations.
- Always set the hreflang=”x-default.”
- Ensure that the attribute and the authoritative URL match.
- Use absolute URLs to define the hreflang attribute.
- Use and stick by one method only for the attribute’s implementation across your site(s).
Whether you’ve chosen to create dedicated websites for each country or subfolders on a single domain, you’ll need to ensure the correct language is used for each page and its target audience.
This way, your website can tell search engines that your content is relevant to the specific user’s search.
Language targeting will also give your global users a better experience, encouraging them to return to your site often or make a purchase decision.
You can specify the country and the language with the “content-language” meta tag in the HTML header.
In addition to using the domain localization and hreflang tags, include a self-selector so people can navigate to the correct site version even if it goes bump in the SERP. (I’ve explained this thoroughly in the guide to international website structures.)
Relevant keywords look different on an international level.
It’s not enough to simply translate your keywords — they need to be transcreated. In other words, you’ll need to conduct relevant keyword research based on each language, country, and region you’re targeting.
For example, let’s say you want to target “best juicers” for both the US and NL audiences.
You can directly translate the English “best juicers” phrase to the Dutch “beste sapcentrifuges.”
Then, run it through your keyword research tool to ensure it’s used how you’d expect it to be. Each language has its own phrases, which don’t always translate directly from English, so double-check and avoid using machine translation!
Once you’ve found the perfect keywords (based on the location and language of your audience), check their volume using keyword research tools.
Every piece of content you put out should be relevant not only to the language and country but the culture and current events of the people there.
What’s trending in the United States won’t necessarily be trending in the United Kingdom or Australia. What’s trending in Spain likely won’t be trending in Mexico.
The seasonality will be different, too! For example, you can expect barbecues to be hot in July in the US, while the same will only be true in Australia in December.
Make sure your images and their alt texts are localized, too. (This is great for international SEO, as you can rank images in different languages separately!)
Translating and adapting your content to your audience’s culture is just one part of a larger task.
You’ll also need to localize the rest of your site for a better reach. For example, you’ll want to:
- Use different images.
- Update the addresses, phone numbers, and other contact details.
- Update all cultural references that apply to the culture and region.
- Update the meta descriptions and alt texts if automatically translating.
- Translate or update the social OpenGraph tags.
- Update currencies.
- Use local measurement units.
- Adjust the time & date formatting. For example, some countries follow the day/month format, while others follow the month/day format.
It’s never a good idea to automatically redirect visitors and search engines based on IP addresses or browser settings! You can accidentally direct people to the wrong variant or confuse the search engines.
Instead of using redirects, use banners at the top or bottom of your pages with a message and version links to direct users to a potentially better alternative.
Links will have different values depending on their origins.
For example, if your website receives a lot of backlinks from URLs ending in “.de,” Google will take that to mean that your content is very relevant to German audiences. Then, it will rank your pages accordingly according to Germany’s local SERPs.
The same goes for other domains.
So, if you’re doing international SEO, especially with country-specific domains (.de, .nl), know how that will affect your SEO juice.
In the case of country-specific domains, your domains won’t share the backlink juice, so you’ll need to create a backlink-building strategy for each domain specifically.
If you’re setting up sub-domains or sub-folders for your localized site versions, make sure you create separate properties for them in Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and any other tools.
This will help you keep track of the metrics per site, so you can easily see what’s working (and what’s not) – on a per-site basis.
If you plan to scale your business internationally, it’s time to consider international SEO. Fortunately, it’s nothing too outlandish – set up the technical basics and then focus on tailored keyword research and content creation.
And if you need help with monitoring your international SEO, take SiteGuru for a spin! It’ll keep track of your hreflang tags and other technical SEO errors, so you get a prioritized to-do list every week.