If you’re wondering, “what is international SEO?”, then this guide has all of the answers.
Below, you’ll discover everything you need to know about this topic.
Including, the definition for what is international search engine optimization, the benefits it can provide for your business, and how to do international SEO to rank your website in specific countries.
By the end of this article, you’ll know all of the important aspects of international search engine optimization so that you can use this type of SEO to increase the visibility of a website around the world.
Want Even More SEO Advice?
Sign up for the SEO Chatter email newsletter to get daily SEO tips delivered to your inbox. It's the fastest way to become a pro at SEO.
What Is International SEO?
International SEO is the process of optimizing your website to allow search engines to identify the countries you are targeting. International search engine optimization is also a strategy used to optimize a website for different languages. International SEO focuses on both geotargeting and language targeting.
That’s the basic definition for what is international SEO. Next, we’ll go over how international search engine optimization works, why it’s important, and how to do international SEO.
How Does International SEO Work?
International SEO works by matching organic search results to the language and location of the searcher. International search engine optimization is a strategy that works with geotargeting, hreflang tags, and other localization signals to target content to users in a given country or searching in a specific language.
Why Is International SEO Important?
International SEO is important because you are improving your website visibility in specific countries. International search engine optimization also increases your website traffic from people who speak different languages that are important for your business. International SEO increases the number of organic visitors outside of your host country and native language.
Benefits of International SEO
- You can connect your business with your target audience around the world; not just in your host country.
- You can increase your organic SEO traffic by bringing in visitors from multiple countries and attracting people who use a different langauge.
- You can establish your business as a global brand and develop influence in the countries that matter most for your company.
- You can select the most profitable keywords for your business in specific countries to gain targeted traffic for your products and services.
Now that you know the answer to what is international search engine optimization and why it’s important, we can now move onto some optimization strategies to help you get started implementing international SEO for your website.
How Do I Optimize for International SEO?
There are three primary ways to optimize for international SEO:
- International Country SEO: Specify the target country and/or region with an international-friendly URL structure.
- International Language SEO: Establish the language your pages are targeting with the use of language tags.
- International Content SEO: Create content in the target audience’s language that meets the searcher’s needs and properly optimized with SEO.
How to Do International SEO
1. Create the Best URL for International Sites
The first step for how to do international SEO to get the best results for your site is to create the right URL structure for specific countries.
Below are the top ways to create URLs for international markets:
ccTLD stands for Country Code Top-Level Domain. This is a two-letter code at the end of a domain that indicates which country, sovereign state, or dependent territory the website is registered.
By having a ccTLD that’s targeted for a specific country, you’re sending the strongest SEO signal that Google should rank your content in that international location.
Examples of ccTLD URLs include:
- yoursitename.au (Australia)
- yoursitename.co.uk (United Kingdom)
- yoursitename.mx (Mexico)
A subdomain is an additional part of your main domain name. It can be one or more letters that are placed in the URL before a period that separates the main domain name.
Subdomains are useful for organizing different sections of your website that shouldn’t be mixed together.
International content can be placed on a subdomain so that it is treated independently from the content on your main domain.
Examples of subdomain URLs include:
- fr.yoursitename.com (France)
- de.yoursitename.com (Germany)
- it.yoursitename.com (Italy)
A subdirectory is also referred to as a subfolder. And this type of URL can help you categorize international content on your existing domain.
Subdirectories are a good option for international SEO if you want to create pages on your site that are dedicated to a specific language or country without having to purchase a ccTLD or build out a whole new subdomain.
If you choose this international SEO URL structure, it’s best to use the country’s two-letter code or spell out the name entirely.
Examples of subdirectory URLs include:
- yoursitename.com/br/ (Brazil)
- yoursitename.com/cn/ (China)
- yoursitename.com/poland/ (Poland)
gTLD with Language Parameters
gTLD stands for Generic Top-Level Domain, which is the part of the URL that comes after the period in your domain. The most common gTLDs are .com, .org, and .net.
Language parameters are variables that can be appended to a URL to target specific languages.
By combining the gTLD and language parameters, you can dynamically target content to meet a particular user’s language. This is a good option for multi-regional and multi-lingual websites.
Examples of gTLD with Language Parameters in the URL include:
- yousitename.com/?lang=en-us (For English language in the United States)
- yousitename.com/?lang=br (For Brazilian language)
- yousitename.com/?lang=eg (For Egyptian language)
gTLD with Location Parameters
This is similar to the previous URL structure; however, it uses a locale-specific parameter instead of language.
Although this option exists, keep in mind that Google doesn’t recommend you use it on international websites based on these reasons:
- URL-based segmentation is difficult.
- Users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone.
- Geotargeting in Search Console is not possible.
Examples of gTLD with Location Parameters in the URL include:
- yousitename.com/?loc=gr (Greece)
- yousitename.com/?loc=in (India)
- yousitename.com/?loc=ru (Russia)
2. Target Specific Languages with Hreflang
Hreflang is an HTML attribute used to specify the language for a web page based on the searcher’s country and language preferences. And it’s best used when you have multiple versions of the same page in different languages.
By using the hreflang HTML attribute, you can tell search engines like Google about these variations so the correct version is displayed to the user regardless of the country they may be from. (Hreflang is also mentioned in my guide on how to do technical SEO.)
For example, a person may be living in Spain but their native language is English. And that person could have language preferences set up on their computer to deliver the English-version of content when browsing websites.
There are three ways to implement the hreflang attribute:
HTML Tags in the <head> of the Page
If you have a website that targets both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking users in the United States, then you could include the following HTML tags in the <head> section of the site so that the correct version of the content is displayed to the user:
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.example.com" hreflang="en-us" /> <link rel="alternate" href="https://www.example.com/es" hreflang="es-us" />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.example.com” hreflang=”en-us” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.example.com/es” hreflang=”es-us” />
If you wnated to show different variations of your site to Spanish-speaking users in Venezuela and Mexico, the hreflang annotation would look like this:
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.example.com/ve” hreflang=”es-ve” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.example.com/mx” hreflang=”es-mx” />
HTTP headers are used to implement hreflang for non-HTML content on your website like PDF files.
In this case, you can use HTTP headers to specify the relative language of document variants.
Google gives these good hreflang header examples:
Link: <http://example.com/file.pdf>; rel="alternate"; hreflang="en", <http://de-ch.example.com/file.pdf>; rel="alternate"; hreflang="de-ch", <http://de.example.com/file.pdf>; rel="alternate"; hreflang="de"
XML sitemaps can include relevant markup to specify the hreflang of a page and its variants.
Below is an example from Google on how this would work for international SEO.
This XML sitemap includes an “English language page that’s targeted at English speakers worldwide, with equivalent versions of this page targeted at German speakers worldwide and German speakers located in Switzerland.”
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9" xmlns:xhtml="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"> <url> <loc>http://www.example.com/english/page.html</loc> <xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="http://www.example.com/deutsch/page.html"/> <xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="de-ch" href="http://www.example.com/schweiz-deutsch/page.html"/> <xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="http://www.example.com/english/page.html"/> </url> <url> <loc>http://www.example.com/deutsch/page.html</loc> <xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="http://www.example.com/deutsch/page.html"/> <xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="de-ch" href="http://www.example.com/schweiz-deutsch/page.html"/> <xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="http://www.example.com/english/page.html"/> </url> <url> <loc>http://www.example.com/schweiz-deutsch/page.html</loc> <xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="http://www.example.com/deutsch/page.html"/> <xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="de-ch" href="http://www.example.com/schweiz-deutsch/page.html"/> <xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="http://www.example.com/english/page.html"/> </url> </urlset>
3. Conduct International SEO Keyword Research
Therefore, you need to do keyword research based on the relevant topics you want to rank for in the target country.
This step is important for international search engine optimization because not all topics and keywords translate well between languages and cultures.
A simple example of this is the word “football”. In North America, football is a rugby-type game in which the oblong-shaped ball is thrown and passed as well as kicked. But in many other countries of the world, the sport known as football is usually called “soccer” which is a non-contact game in which a spherical ball is kicked around.
A good keyword research tool you can use for this process is KWFinder by Mangools (try it for free). It’s one of the only SEO tools I recommend as an affiliate because it’s cheap, yet powerful for international keyword research that lets you select between different countries and languages.
4. Avoid Automatic Language Translations
If you’re trying to rank a website internationally, you may be tempted to use an automatic language-translation tool like Google Translate to get the content up quickly.
But you should avoid that practice if you want to succeed with international search engine optimization.
While using a translation tool seems like an easy way to translate your pages into a target language, the fact is that most machine translation is not accurate. And you’ll end up with content that’s not always spelled correctly in the new language or make sense to your audience.
Google even states in their SEO guidelines, “In cases where [automatically generated content] is intended to manipulate search rankings and not help users, Google may take actions on such content. “
In other words, if your content is translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing, you may experience a ranking suppression or manual penalty by Google.
If you’re serious about doing international SEO and entering into international markets, then it’s best to have your content translated by a fluent speaker of the language or native person from the target country.
That way, you’ll have the most accurate translation for your pages so it can serve your users well and gain favor with Google’s search algorithm.
5. Follow On-Page SEO Best Practices
No matter if you’re doing national or international search engine optimization, following a good on-page SEO strategy is important for higher rankings.
And fortunately, the process for on-page SEO does not change based on the country you’re targeting.
Therefore, you can use the same proven on-page SEO techniques to get your content to rank for the keywords you want in any country around the world.
Optimizing for on-page SEO includes putting your target keywords in areas like:
- Meta tags
- Header tags
- Body content
- Image data
- Internal links
- Navigation menus
If you want specific help on how to optimize these areas correctly to maximize the SEO value of each spot to rank your content higher in Google, then check out my Mastering On-Page SEO course.
It contains everything you need to know on how to reach the first page of Google using on-page SEO alone.
6. Use Local SEO Signals for Each International Country
In addition to the other tips mentioned above, it’s also important for you to set up local SEO signals for each international country you’re targeting.
By following a few simple steps, you can further strengthen the authority your content has in a particular country to make it easier to rank for the queries you want.
Here are some ways to do that:
- Include location data such as address and phone number for your local office(s).
- Get backlinks from other websites that have similar ccTLDs.
- Link out to other authority websites in your niche that have the same ccTLD.
- Get your website mentioned and linked to from newspapers and other media outlets in the target country.
- Submit your website to local search engines and directories.
- Use the name of the target country throughout the website and in your content.
- Display prices in local currencies.
- Use local language, slang, and cultural references in your content.
How Does My Website Rank In a Specific Country?
Your website ranks in a specific country when it is optimized correctly for that location. A website can rank in a country when the following search engine optimization strategies are used: ccTLD (or other international URL structure), hreflang tags, proper language translation, on-page SEO methods, and local SEO signals.
By following good international SEO practices, you can rank any website or web page in any country you want.
Want to Learn More About SEO?
Sign up for the SEO Chatter email newsletter to get exclusive SEO tips I only share with subscribers.
International SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Summary
I hope you enjoyed this guide on what is international SEO.
As you discovered, the basic definition for “what is international search engine optimization” is that it is a way to optimize your website to allow search engines to identify the countries and languages you’re targeting for a business.
And the best practices for how to do international SEO to rank content in those specific countries, and for certain languages, can be used by any site owner to increase the visibility for their business in the searches engines around the world.
I’m the creator of SEO Chatter. I’ve been fascinated with SEO since 2005 and have spent most of my waking hours consuming SEO content from the top professionals in this field. My goal is to share the best tips and news about search engine optimization so you can get more traffic to your website.