International SEO Strategy

International SEO Strategy - An Introduction

If you've set up your business to operate online, chances are you sell your products through a website - and you hope to reach out to all your target groups and markets. Unfortunately, many businesses fall short when it comes to reaching out to their global audiences and this can be a source of frustration at times.

The aim of this guide is to demystify international SEO and to pinpoint what input is required so as to open up your website to new horizons. Ideally, it will put across strategies that will help you nail international SEO at the first time of trying and avoiding expensive mistakes. It may be a long read, so make yourself comfortable.

Definition of International SEO and Preliminary Thoughts

International SEO refers to the process of optimizing your site to enable search engines such as Google to easily pick which countries are your targets as well as the language your business uses when transacting. As far as international SEO goes, the first question you should ask yourself is: is there any need to go international?

If you come to the realization that a good share of search and search volumes come from a country which is not your residency and speaks a different language to yours, it may be time for international SEO optimisation. As such, you need to make changes to your site to build a better experience for your international clientele.

To make it simple to comprehend, you can think of international SEO as geotargeting, whereby you are not optimizing your site to get traffic from your state but from different nations and languages. Google Analytics is a tool that may come in handy when checking your website's traffic from other territories and languages. Let's now delve into the international SEO strategy.

International SEO Strategy - CCTLDs

When creating your website structure, one route URL webmasters can take to select a certain country as country code top-level domains (CCTLDs). For instance, you can have ( when targeting the United Kingdom or ( when targeting US. This alternative brings out the best geo-targeting signals to Google and other search engines, rendering your server location a non-issue.

One advantage of CCTLDs is that it creates trust not only with search engines but with people as well (when they encounter a domain with their country code). This strategy works like a charm for businesses that only want to target 2 or 3 countries - more than these and you could end up with extra costs for more domains.

In terms of disadvantages, as aforementioned, it can be a costly affair if you are targeting many countries. In fact, you may encounter some hurdles such as unavailable domain names forcing you to search for alternatives. Moreover, link building for multiple sites might be problematic as your domain authority would be divided between each domain.

Subdomains & Subdirectories

Subdomains normally adopt a generic Top-Level Domain Name (gTLD) and have a specific country or language subdomain. For instance, there can be ( Subdomains are easy to set up and come with hosting flexibilities. One of the subdomains' caveats is that they are considered to be untrustworthy and unfriendly by customers, and just like CCTLDs, they divide your domain authority.

Subdirectories incorporate a gTLD specifying a country or language as a subdirectory. For example ( or ( The good thing about this option is that the domain authority of your main website is developed closely with that of the subdirectories making it easy to build up your platform should you decide to venture into other markets.

Unlike CCTLDs, subdirectories are not popular for sending strong international signals with many companies opting for other places such as Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. In addition, one slight con you can have with subdirectories is that they may introduce a design challenge when deciding what pages of your site you can add to your subdirectories.

Pros and Cons

Pros - In General

  • CCTLDs build trust with search engines and people.
  • Subdomains and subdirectories are easy to set up.

Cons - In General

  • With CCTLDs you can only target 2-3 countries.
  • Subdomains are considered to be untrustworthy while subdirectories may bring about a design issue.

International Keyword Research

When it comes to international keyword search, it's imperative you don't go for literal translations of words done in different languages. This is because they will not be accurate at all times and may not end up being what your audience is looking for. At this juncture, getting a native speaker from your intended audience to help out is key.

Furthermore, you need to be keen on the keywords your competitors have adopted in your target countries. This will enable you to alter and fine-tune your research and one particular tool you need to use is SEMRush. Companies find this to be a useful tool given it can show the terms your competitors are advertising with Adwords in your target country.

Other tools that can help you in your preliminary keyword search for relevant and high search volume keywords include Baidu Index and Bing Ads Keyword Planner. Irrespective of the tool you opt for (depending on your resources), choose the best keywords for your websites' landing pages and monitor traffic fluctuations to them using a tool like Google Analytics.

Strong Signals For International SEO

Hreflang tags enable you to cross-reference your website's pages with identical content for multiple target audiences. For instance, hreflang tags notify search engines like Google that although the content is almost identical, a set of pages are meant for French speakers in France, while others are meant for French speakers in Germany. Below are a few examples.

Primarily, hreflang tags are incorporated into the head of a website. Here's one example:. This tells the search engine that this page is the American version and therefore should be indexed in the United States. When you replace "en-US" with "ar-AE" this tells the search engine that this is the Arabic option and should be indexed in the UAE.

The xdefault tag is a default version of the website you decide to serve people with in the event that the language and location tag fails to match one that is available. For example, if you have a French and US version, but a visitor from Germany searches for related keywords – you would need to xdefault them to a certain version.

Local Hosting

Your server's location plays a significant influence on your overall search rankings. If the distance to your server is great, the site's speed will be slower which translates to worse user experiences. With local hosting, speeds are much improved, there is better control and flexibility while the cost is also reduced which is crucial if you are just starting out.

International Link Building

One crucial aspect of SEO is link building. It creates your site's domain authority and helps to advance your international sites and triggers relevant referral traffic. A general and competitor search allows you to locate websites germane to your target market - you might find yourself bumping into interesting content that you take up and create for your audience.

International SEO Strategy - Conclusion

In a nutshell, if you have reviewed your international SEO potential for your target countries, evaluated your competition, compiled a list of profitable keywords and thought about all the technical aspects, it's time to plunge yourself into the international SEO battlefield. Once you go through this guide, start thinking about your website from a global perspective.

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