International SEO - A short but concise guide

A company that masters only its domestic market will eventually lose it. Strong foreign competitors will inevitably come in and challenge your company. It is now business without borders.

An effective international SEO strategy is vital to establish your brand’s presence in a global market. International SEO is the process of optimising your website so that search engines can easily identify which countries you want to target and which languages you use for business. So how do you implement an effective international SEO strategy?

If you are planning on taking your business to an international market, then what are the additional elements you need to take into consideration for a successful international SEO process? It’s important to understand what it takes in order to effectively plan your resources and actions with the required time and scope.

Evaluate international SEO opportunities

Not sure which countries to optimise for international SEO? Prior to embarking on an international SEO strategy, your first step is to evaluate your SEO opportunities in your target locations and think about how your digital presence should be organised.

The way to do this is to see how your website is currently ranked in target countries by using Google Analytics. In your Analytics account, go to Audience → Geo → Language or Location. Here you will see the number of sessions from that particular country. If you have a large amount of traffic from a particular location then it makes sense to target that area properly.

You need to answer the question: Is there enough conversion potential in the selected country?

Determine how strong the competition is

Your next step is to determine how strong your competition is in this new market. What is their product/service offering? How do they market themselves? Why is your product/service superior to theirs?

The key to succeed is to work out how they are doing what they're doing and to do it better. That includes your website, your proposition and your strategy. If you want to appear local then you'll need to take care of all of these areas.

Perform international keyword research

Here you'll want to perform keyword research to determine what the top ranking keywords are for your product/service in this new region. You're looking for high volume keywords that are relevant to your brand and low competition keywords that you can easily dominate. Its important that a native speaker with some experience in the industry you work in has checked them out too.

Localise your site

Before you decide on the main technical aspects of your site, its time to start the localisation and translation process. Customers are four times more likely to buy if content on a site is in their own language, but that doesn’t mean poor quality is sufficient. Employ the services of a translator who is knowledgeable about your services is a useful step to take. If they don't understand your product offering then this can be just as bad as translating your site using Google Translate.

Its also worth considering which parts of your site need to be localised. Whilst translating all your main products and services makes a lot of sense, should you translate all your blog posts too (or should you just remove the blog link for international markets). At this stage you're wanting to ensure that everything from site navigation, to content, to help desk, is in the primary language of the region you're targeting.

Decide on the main technical aspects of your site

If your website is focused on a global audience, you've probably spent some time thinking about the best ways to organise and optimise your site for different countries. Here are some considerations:

URL/Domain structure

An important aspect to consider when localising your site is the url and domain structure. You have three main options here:

  • A country/language subdirectory after the domain. (eg. to target German speakers.)
  • A country/language subdomain before the domain. (eg.
  • A country top level domain to replace the existing domain. (eg.

Language tags

Show search engines which languages you're set up to handle using hreflang or language meta tags. These are bits of code that indicate which language your content is available in.

The following example would tell Google that an alternate version of the content is available in Spanish at the link provided:

Example hreflang tag:

<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="es-es"/>

Other technical aspects to decide upon

Other aspects that should be considered for technical international SEO include:

  • Should you redirect users based on browser language, IP location or allow them to choose?
  • Should you use cookies or scripts to direct users to different areas of the site?
  • Which international search engines should you target?
  • Should you host your site on a local IP?

If you know that a good share of your website visitors come from a different country than where you're located, speak different languages, or both, then it may be time to make some changes to your website to create a better experience for all of your international visitors.

If you want to do international SEO correctly then it can be a time consuming but ultimately rewarding prospect. Enlisting the help of an experienced SEO consultant can make the process much more efficient and streamlined, saving you money in the long run.

SEO Consultant

This article was written by Gaz Hall, a UK based SEO Consultant on 30th May 2020.

Gaz has 20 years experience working on SEO projects large and small, locally and globally across a range of sectors.

If you need any SEO advice or would like him to look at your next project then get in touch to arrange a free consultation.