What is International SEO, & How To Do It

Ashley Poynter    By under International SEO.

Do you sell to a market in more than one country or language? If so, you need to start thinking internationally.

So What Is International Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

International SEO consists of all the things that you can do to rank better in different countries, languages, or both.

In most cases, this means offering a better and more personalized experience to those users. Unfortunately, these optimizations are often far too unintuitive.

Why Do International SEO?

Well, the stats speak for themselves. Optimizing for Google in one language and in one country is simply not enough for many brands:

search engine market share

A business may consider international SEO if they know a decent portion of website visitors originate from another country than your domestic one. Another clue is if many of your website visitors speak different languages than the language of the country in which your business resides.

If both of these hold true, it's probably a good idea to consider international SEO, but there are other questions to answer before ultimately deciding if you should do international SEO. International SEO can create a better user experience for all of your visitors and make your business more easily findable by search engines.

How To Do International SEO

Make Your Initial Strategic Decisions

First you will need to decide how fundamentally you want to internationalize your site. Your international SEO strategy will look one way if you are simply targeting other countries but still seeing English as the primary language. It will look another way if you are targeting other countries and other languages in tandem.

For the latter, you will have a few necessary steps to optimize:

  • Country targeting: Update to an international-friendly URL structure to specify your target countries/regions
  • Language targeting: Use language tags to establish the languages your pages will target
  • Content creation: Create content in your target languages at a regular cadence to help you rank for international keywords

In other cases, you may only need to optimize certain things. If you're only trying to target a specific language (but not a specific country), you'll only need to handle the last two bullets. If you're selling widgets to Spanish speakers, for example, you'll optimize for Spanish language targeting but you may not necessarily be targeting specific countries.

Use Our International SEO Audit

We have compiled a detailed and actionable international SEO audit checklist that we use for our own clients. Use this to check the status of your international SEO and to plan what to do next.

Be Strategic With Country-Code Domains

Take a look at our blog post about country-specific domain names for our thoughts. Some takeaways:

  • If your market is entirely regional, use a country-code top level domain
  • If your market is international and you are using only one website, don't use a country-code
  • If your market is international and you are looking to scale into new regions, you should start using country-codes at some point, but it's a question of how best to do that, since you don't want to abandon authority that you are earning from your existing links. Read the post for more details.

Translate With SEO In Mind

Simply translating your site from one language to another isn't going to localize its SEO to the new region. Take a look at our post about SEO translation to approach this correctly.

Understand Regional Technical SEO

See our post about regional SEO's technical requirements for guidance on:

  • URL structure
  • hreflang
  • Meta language
  • HTTP header language
  • Search console settings
  • Toggling
  • Localized servers

Implement The Best International SEO By Considering Other Experts Tips

We collected these 7 tips from fellow SEO professionals

  1. Host separate domains if feasible
  2. Use country specific sub-directories
  3. Make sure the copy is as unique as possible
  4. Understand how search engines differ in other countries
  5. Optimize page load time based on location
  6. Localize keywords with keyword research, not just translation
  7. Localize the design and content, not just the technical SEO, if possible

This guide was created to help you plan a roadmap for international SEO and expansion online. It will help you send the right signals to Google and ensure the right users are seeing the right content when they search online. The technical tips included will help you streamline your international SEO process and make sure all your i's are dotted.

That's really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to international SEO. Every business wants to see growth, whether in web visits, conversions, or revenue. But doing international SEO for the sake of growth alone is not the best strategy. Expanding internationally and growing requires time and resources and its success depends on your business - and your customers. It's not a one-and-done campaign. It will take time, consideration, and planning. Some of the changes required to your site will render big structural changes that are hard to undo.

Before jumping headfirst into international SEO, sit down and look at the facts of your business and target audience.

Also, visit our main international SEO page, where you can download an in-depth guide that will walk you through all the important considerations in catering to your international audience.