International SEO

International SEO is an excellent way to attract traffic from other countries.

It's one thing to rank locally in your home language, and another to target different countries and the languages spoken there. SEO specialists agree that it's worth the effort.

When you take the time to optimize your website for other markets, you will experience an upswell in traffic and sales for your business.

Knowing how to create a strategy for internationalization, is an important step in correctly optimizing your global business website for the SERPs.

Here's what you need to know about international SEO

Google, Bing and the other search engines need to know which countries you want to target, and which languages you use to generate business. The process of optimizing your website for this goal, is called international SEO.

You have most likely used many websites employing international search engine optimization. Think of large brands like Apple, who have country specific domains, with much of the same content – but in the language that bests suits that target market.

This is the brand's attempt at tapping an international market, using SEO internationalization.

Why Does it Matter?

The ability to source and convert international traffic is key to growing your global business, using the internet as a doorway to alternative customer markets. Companies that employ this strategy will have the ability to drastically improve their traffic and sales as a result.

With search engine optimization internationalization, it’s important to be aware of what works and what doesn’t, because it affects your website structure and content. Doing it incorrectly will negatively impact your ability to rank well in the SERPS.

Photo of a globe

What Does International SEO Entail?

There are many ways you can optimize your website for international SERPs. The first thing you should do is read Google's policies on optimizing websites, for global reach.

If you don’t follow these rules, Google may flag your site for duplicate content!

What domain should you use?

The first international SEO consideration should be focused on your domain. Creating your architecture begins here, and you have 3 choices. Using these will help Google and the other search engines easily identify your targeting intention, and you will not suffer SEO penalties.

Country Subdirectory after your gTLD

A subdirectory follows your generic top-level domain or gTLD (your .com, .org, .biz). You can use subdirectories for country or language notation.

In this instance, your domain would change from website.com to website.com/dutch/ for Dutch speakers or website.com/au/ to target Australian users.

Country Subdomain before your gTLD

A subdomain is a domain that is part of your primary website domain. In this instance, your subdomain structure would come in before your gTLD extension.

If your website is website.com, your subdomain for the UK would be uk.website.com. The location comes before your gTLD.

Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) which replaces your gTLD

You can also replace your gTLD with a country code top-level domain instead. It can be more expensive to go this route, but if your market is large enough it may be worth it.

Your site as website.com would become website.co.uk or website.com.au for example.

In terms of international SEO, whatever domain version you choose – you will have to create unique language-specific meta tags for your translated pages as well. If you develop multiple domains - you will have to dedicate time and investment to building up domain authority for each of them.

Subdirectories (but not subdomains) with the same TLD, receive SEO credit and are less expensive to implement. With subdomains, you need to build SEO from scratch, but subdomains offer the benefit of being tied to the root domain of your original site, which means you get a running start for your ranking value. The ccTLD route will require its own organic strategy.

Mostly, if you want to keep costs low and ranking value high – a subdirectory is the way to go.

Worldwide

There are pros and cons for selecting which domain structure you will need, so be sure to review Google’s policy before you choose one, and to indicate which country you are targeting in Google Search Console.

Avoiding Duplicate Content with Hreflang Tags

The leading method of preventing duplicate content penalties, is to use something called a hreflang tag. This tag lets Google show the right version of your page to the regional audience you’ve selected, and it can be used with all URL structures. 

The hreflang attribute looks like this in code:

<link rel="alternate" href="https://example.com" hreflang="en-us" />

Example

Say you have 2 country-specific marketing websites for Germany and the UK. You also have a .com-website that targets the US and the rest of the world.

On your .com website, you would add the following href-lang tags to show Google where the localized pages can be found:
 <link rel="alternate" href="https://example.co.uk" hreflang="en-uk" />
<link rel="alternate" href="https://example.de" hreflang="de" />

On the German website, you not only add hreflang tags to the other websites. To cover the rest of the world, you also add a default. This would look like this:
<link rel="alternate" href="https://example.com" hreflang="en-us" />
<link rel="alternate" href="https://example.co.uk" hreflang="en-uk" />
<link rel="alternate" href="https://example.com" hreflang="x-default" />

According to Moz , the attribute allows you to show search engines the relationship between web pages, and the alternate languages being used.

To create hreflang tags you can use this handy generator by Aleyda Solis.

The world is yours

Different Languages vs Different Countries

If you plan on targeting different languages as opposed to countries, you should language target your website, or specific website pages, using the same hreflang tag.

  • Do not use automatic redirects to a different language, based on location. You cannot assume someone speaks a certain language based on where the searcher comes from.
  • Avoid cookies and dynamic scripts that show different language versions. Google and other search engines cannot crawl these scripts, so you lose SEO value.

On the whole, Moz recommends using ccTLD for country targeting and hreflang, subdirectories or subdomains for language-only internationalization.

Search Console and Hreflang Tags

To correctly monitor your international targeting, Google Search Console offers you specialized reports to keep your user experience error-free.

  • You can monitor your hreflang tags
  • You can set a site-wide country target for your website

Read more about monitoring hreflang tags.

Quick International SEO Checklist

With these elements in mind, you should have no trouble optimizing your website for international markets. Run through this quick checklist to make sure you’re on target.

  • Research your current market, and your international market
  • Choose either a country or language targeted approach
  • Select a domain structure that makes sense for your brand
  • Remember ccTLDs work best for country targeting
  • Subdomains, subdirectories and hreflang tags work better for language targeting
  • Get your text content translated and add in your unique meta tags
  • Use the hreflang tag to avoid duplicate content
  • Make sure it works using the report tool in Google Search Console

Executing these steps will ensure that your international SEO is on target, and attracting the regional traffic that you need to grow in new markets abroad.