Getting Started In International SEO: A Quick Reference Guide

For many companies, having a global website is one of the best ways to reach a wider audience to grow their business.

With more and more quick and easy website design services available, even an individual can start a business by targeting foreign countries with a global website.

But the thing is, having a global website does not make you successful in other countries.

Also, following standard SEO best practices does not make your global website competitive in all target countries. While there seems to be unlimited information about international SEO available, the truth is that many of it is either outdated or incorrect.

In this post, I will be covering some of the major areas of international SEO.

What are the differences between international and regular SEO?

Standard SEO best practices are certainly the foundation of international SEO because search engine algorithms are very similar, if not the same, from country to country.

I would say that international SEO is built on standard SEO knowledge and skills.

So, what makes international SEO different? The main reasons are:

  • Languages.
  • multiple sites.
  • popular search engines.
  • local audience.
  • local competitors.

While you take care of each site, you should keep an eye on the overall performance when you have global websites. Otherwise, the local market sites may compete with each other or the worst case may not be indexed at all.

For example, your website designed for Mexico should not outperform or appear in search results in Spain, if you have a different site designed for Spain.

If you misuse the canonical tag or the hreflang tag, certain sites may not be indexed by search engines or create duplicate indexes.

Should I go global? And where is my market?

Before getting into the international SEO process, it is always a good idea to review some market reports, stats, and even your website data to help make a decision.

This is especially important if you are not sure about the opportunities available in different countries or if you have a persuasive relationship with your superiors.

Here are some informational sources that you can use to identify or prioritize which countries/markets to follow:

  • Government websites and commercial organizationslike And Providing the latest international business and trade news and statistics.
  • many Companies provide reports and statistics related to the Internet, like Internet world statsAnd Economic consultingAnd McKinsey & Co. There are many websites that provide information about specific countries as well.
  • Your analytics data. Do you see anyone visiting your site from other countries? Does any country send more traffic to your site than another? It’s worth paying attention to these marketplaces, especially if any of them are already converting.

One global website or multiple websites?

If the market is big enough to invest in, definitely go for a separate website for each target country.

Not only for SEO reasons, but also to provide better user experience to local visitors, it is always better to have a site dedicated to each of the target countries. It also allows you to use different designs and content on each site, if needed.

However, this may not be a viable option for you, at least not at first. In this case, you will have a site for every language spoken in the target countries.

It’s okay to do this as you may want to test the waters first before diving in to great depths.

Fortunately, we can use hreflang tags to tell Google what language and country each site is made for.

Which domain do you have: ccTLD or gTLD?

If you asked me this question in 2008, my answer would always be to use a ccTLD. The truth is that not everyone can get this option due to various reasons.

Fortunately, they don’t have as much of an impact on your SEO as search engines have come a long way. We now have other options for geotargeting sites, especially with Google.

Note that some search engines like Baidu still prefer websites with local ccTLDs.

Also, people outside the US tend to click on websites that have their local TLD over sites that have .com or other generic TLDs.

Is website hosting important?

One of the important international SEO signals related to geotargeting was the location of the website host.

However, it is not important now that we have other ways to correctly indicate the target market of your website to search engines and regionally managed CDNs.

Still, the host’s location has a huge impact on page speed. Ensure that your site can be accessed in target countries quickly.

How should I go about alternative geo-targeting?

Geotargeting is perhaps one of the simplest practices as many websites make mistakes as site owners move on from ccTLDs and host the local market.

There are several ways to geotarget your sites and pages. Here are some common ways:

  • Geolocation in Google Search Console.
  • Hreflang tag for Google.
  • Language meta tag information for Bing.

Side note: Google now generates search results based on the searcher’s location regardless of which local version of Google the searcher is using.

For example, you’re used to getting different search results from than Google UK ( or Google Australia ( even when searching for the same keyword.

But now, you will get the same results on all three Google searches unless you do that search in three different countries.

Google or not Google?

While Google is by far the most used search engine worldwide, in some countries there are homegrown search engines that are more popular than Google.

If your target country is one of the countries listed below, you will need to pay extra attention to monitoring these local sites and to do additional optimization work.

  • China (mainland, Simplified Chinese).
  • Russia and Eastern European countries.
  • South Korea.

Do I need to pay attention to other search engines?

While Google is by far the most used search engine worldwide, in some countries there are homegrown search engines that are very popular.

By ignoring these search engines, you are ignoring the huge business opportunities in those countries.

If your target country is one of the countries listed below, you will need to pay extra attention to monitoring these local sites and to do additional optimization work.

  • China (Mainland, Simplified Chinese) – Baidu.
  • Russia and Eastern European countries – Yandex.
  • South Korea – Naver.

Of course, even in countries where Google is very popular, ignoring other popular search engines including Bing limits your business potential.

Translation and localization

Your global sites shouldn’t be the copied and pasted version of your original country site in different languages, although I see that happens for many websites.

Yes, translating and localizing the site’s content is one of the first steps. But then, you need to optimize the sites for each country’s local audience from messages and offers to the overall user experience of the site.

A website with content that is popular and performs well in the US market may not perform as well in Asia or South America and may require additional content modifications and optimization work.

For these reasons, it is important to do keyword research on each target country from the point of view of understanding local interests and the words they use.

Keep in mind that although translators or translation agencies provide a properly translated document, they may not be using the same words that people use to research the information.

Do I need to build links for each site?

It’s hard, yeah.

Even when you have one global site with all countries or language sites under the same domain, you still want to create links for each site even when you already have a large number of links pointing to your domain.

It is because your country website is likely to contain links coming from external websites located in the same home country.

For your global websites to be competitive in every country, you need links from a specific country to the website.

For example, you want to get links from websites in India or target India for your Indian website. Having links from local websites is a good indicator to search engines that your website is designed and appropriate for that country.

What else should I think about before I go global?

One of the biggest challenges most companies with global websites, even Fortune 100 multinationals, face is local resources.

No one has the luxury of having unlimited resources in every target country, and this can become a huge hurdle especially since SEO is not a one-time project but requires continuous efforts.

The key is to plan the distribution of tasks and responsibilities between headquarters and local offices such as:

  • Technical resources: IT and web operation.
  • Language Resources: Content localization and optimization.
  • Website data analysis: Reporting and identifying SEO opportunities.

Now, you may not have any offices or representatives in other countries, or no resources available in the local offices.

In these cases, you need to consider whether to hire one external resource or multiple external resources.

Bottom line and takeaway

International SEO is built on top of standard SEO best practices.

An optimized website does not always result in an improved global website even after it has been translated, and there are several key points in your content and technology optimization efforts that need to be taken into consideration.

In fact, adding more languages ​​and content creates more business due to duplicate content, geo-targeting issues, as well as link building.

A global website is a great way to expand your market reach, but it also takes extra resources and budget to do your international SEO right.

You don’t need to target many languages ​​and countries.

Research your business opportunities using your own data as well as market reports from trusted authorities to decide where you want to be visible in the search results.

More resources:

  • How do I get a better ranking internationally in one or more countries?
  • 5 ways to find new clients and grow your global business
  • How search engines work

Featured image: Sozina Kseniia / Shutterstock

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