34 Actionable Checks

Rank in Other Languages

Rank in Other Countries

Adjust for Cultural Differences

Improve Your Website

Earn International Business


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Should you do international SEO?

Most founders want their creation to be as big as possible.

But not everybody is ready for international SEO.

Before getting into how we do it, these first steps ask should I?.

What are the brand's audience goals?

What expanded audience are we attempting to reach?

This could be relate to a language(s), country(ies), or both.

Document this to the right.

Can the brand deliver a consistent experience to international clients?

Many brands find that international SEO is a short-term win with long-term woes. This happens when international clients are not met by an equal customer experience. This can ruin a brand's reputation.

If the brand does not have an interface, transactional emails, and equivalent customer service lined up that speaks the target language, log an issue.

Does the brand have domain authority to spare?

There's no magic rule here, but this is a common mistake. We call it "the willow tree disease". The overall authority of a site (and by extension, its ability to rank) is divided by total # of pages.

Therefore, expanding too rapidly can be harmful.

Log an issue if:

  1. The brand's primary site is already struggling to rank in its home country.
  2. A very low Domain Authority/Rating (relative to ranking competitors) as reported by Ahrefs or Moz OSE.
  3. An extremely high # of pages indexed (check here), relative to Domain Authority in #2. Significantly more pages will divide up Domain Authority and spread an effort too thin as well.

Is there a strong international link acquisition effort (ie. links being acquired from "site.fr" sites, in French, for a French site)?

This is something that an inbound strategist should probably just know, but the temperature of this situation can be taken using Ahrefs.

Decided what search engines matter, and to what degree?

One common international SEO mistake is assuming that Google is the #1 priority everywhere. It's not. Luckily, most search engines rely on mostly the same ranking signals, but this will still have an impact strategy and attribution.

This chart probably holds your answer.

Has separate keyword research been done for each target country?

Even when using the same language, different people in different areas search differently.

Don't assume too much. Apply unique keyword studies for each.

Have other key audits been applied to each international site individually?

Brand reputation, server signals, website performance (run regionally), user experience should be top priorities, and the other "Core SEO" audits are all a good idea as well. An updated analytics audit should also be run once, as a lot of attribution tactics will change in the transition to international SEO.

Take a few moments to review all SEO audits to plan out complementing pieces of strategy.

Is content isolated properly?

Our first many steps relate to isolating content that's intended for different regions and languages.

There are a number of ways to signal what content is intended for whom to search engines, but the best practice is to use all of them.

Mixed signals, wrong signals, and/or undiscovered signals can result in Google not "understanding" that you are doing international SEO. That results in not only a lack of international rankings, but potential devaluations/penalties when highly similar international content is misunderstood.

Is our goal to target multiple languages or multiple regions?

This decision requires careful thought with regards to the brand's target personas and goals.

For example, if we only want to reach Spanish-speaking users globally at this time, a site.com/es/ section of the site is the right answer. If we want to target significant audiences in Spain and Peru, site.es and site.pr are the correct answer.

What URL taxonomies denote regions?

Are target regions isolated using different ccTLDs (ie. site.co.uk), subfolders (ie. site.com/uk/), or subdomains (ie. uk.site.com)?

ccTLDs are best, subdomains are worst. Score "Issues" as follows:

0: ccTLDs (site.co.uk)
1: Subfolders (site.com/uk/)
2: Subdomains (uk.site.com)
3: No isolation of country-specific content.

This piece elaborates on much of the reasoning behind this.

What URL taxonomies denote language?

If our targeting is language-focused instead of region-focused, are target languages isolated using subfolders (ie. site.com/uk/) or subdomains (ie. uk.site.com)?

Subfolders best, ccTLDs are worst. Score "Issues" as follows:

0: Subfolders (site.com/uk/)
1: Subdomains (uk.site.com)
2: ccTLDs (site.co.uk)
3: No isolation of language-specific content.

Is international targeting defined in Google Search Console?

Inside of Google Search Console, you can define geographic targeting of domains under Search Traffic > International Targeting > Country. Targeting for ccTLDs should be detected automatically.

Regardless, verify that this is setup correctly. This provides one more method of nudging Googlebot in the right direction and avoiding unexpected issues.

Are all alternate versions of the same content associated using hreflang HTML tags?

This is important. It can be done using an HTML tag, a web server header, or a sitemap. Because crawlers crawl incrementally, make mistakes, we strongly recommend using both HTML and Sitemap hreflang tags. More on this. Sample:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href="http://es.example.com/" />

TIP: You can check for this sitewide using Screaming Frog by searching for this Custom Field:

 rel="alternate" hreflang="x-X"

Are all alternate versions of the same content noted using hreflang in the sitemap?

Just like the check above, but in the site's sitemap. More on this.

Is it possible to toggle between internal versions of the site in the header/ or footer navigation?

A simple, obvious way for users to reach their desired region/language experience is ideal. This will also distribute link authority evenly.

Does the brand use all geographic signals properly?

There are a variety of geographic signals that above all, strengthen a site's claim to providing value to a particular international audience.

Do domains use regional ccTLDs?

We're asking this twice because it's that important. There's evidence that ccTLDs (country codes, like .uk for United Kingdom, .ie for Ireland) get a direct ranking boost in their respective countries in Google.

Additionally, in the case of Baidu (China) and Yandex (Russia), .cn and .ru domain names enjoy a very-not-subtle ranking boost. Using ccTLDs for international SEO may not be critical, but these lost "ranking points" should be documented in this step, should they not be used.

Are domains hosted using regional server IPs?

Search each international TLD using the DomainTools Whois, verifying their IP Location.

Hosting a website in the same country as the target audience is an additional geographic signal, and when traversing continents, drastically increases performance for local users.

Is currency localized?

Euros, pesos, dollars, etc.

Check product pages and any ecommerce features.

There are 14 more steps in this audit.


... to continue.

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