If you’re no longer satisfied with local operation, then you might want to consider international SEO. Making your website global can help you grow and extend your reach to an international audience. International SEO gives you the power to drive a healthy amount of traffic from other countries and foreign language speakers to give your conversions a boost.

search engines around the world

What is International SEO?

International search engine optimization is the process of optimizing your website so that search engines can identify the countries you wish to reach. It helps you rank your site for a specific country through preferred keywords in different languages.

International SEO involves coming up with content that’s relevant for users in different targeted areas and time zones who are using several languages and currencies. Depending on your available resources, you could tailor your content separately for each region.

Who Needs International SEO?

Basically any business targeting multiple countries and looking to expand globally should make use of international search engine optimization. You should choose this option if any of the following applies to you:

  • Your business has a significant worldwide customer base.
  • You’re trying to extend your reach to new international markets.
  • You operate business locations in different countries.
  • You have customers speaking first languages other than English.

Going About International SEO

For your SEO strategy to be successful, it’s important that you put together an effective plan. Follow these steps to establish a SEO campaign that works:

1. Research

It’s imperative that you begin your international SEO process with research. This will help you identify the potential in each targeted region of the globe. Research will prove valuable in setting your company’s priorities and goals.

You should start by finding out the current status of your international organic search. You’ll need to identify your top international countries, languages market, and the behavioral trends of your international visitors.

You would then assess your search engine potential in each of those countries and language markets.

Make use of the Google Keyword Planner tool for evaluating the best keywords for attracting visitors from the other countries. All this research will pay off in discovering appropriate keywords to target in your chosen language markets.

2. Targeting 

Next, you’ll target the countries where the keywords have sufficient organic search volume. Make sure keywords are not only relevant, but also reasonably competitive. If the organic search volume is not enough to target one specific country, you could start off with a language-based targeting process.

Starting with language-based targeting could be a good option because it enables you to first garner the ideal traffic and conversion traction. You can then move on to a country-targeted approach to connect with even more audiences. However, eCommerce sites might do better to begin with a country-targeted approach.

3. Optimizing

After you have determined the right international web target, your final step should be to optimize your site accordingly. This means ensuring that your content is relevant, indexable, and crawlable.

You need to guarantee that your site provides ideal targeting signals, so that you can avoid search results misalignment. It’s essential that you deal with duplicate content and other URL issues for various countries. Manage it to get proper visibility by following the Google Webmaster guidelines for multi-regional and multilingual sites.

Best Practices in International SEO

A successful international SEO plan involves using the right URL structure based on your targets. The three different structures you can choose from are:

Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) – ccTLD is the ideal structure for geolocation because of its specific country extension. However, you’ll need to put in more effort to gain popularity because you must start from scratch as a new, independent domain.

Sub-Domain – A sub-domain is a great option for those with a gTLD or Generic Top-Level Domain. It allows you to avoid adding more depth into your web structure. There’s a lot of content-indexing involved in this structure, but it’s recommended to use sub-domain when you have a unique entity or product. For instance, you’d be opting for http://drive.google.com instead of http://www.google.com/drive.

Sub-Directory – If you wish to carry forward the reputation of your current domain and have a gTLD, you might do best with a sub-directory. This is the best choice for businesses with limited resources and/or content.

Comparing ccTLD, Sub-Domain, and Sub-Directory

So, now you have a brief idea about the different domain structures you can use for optimizing your content for international SEO. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each structure to determine the perfect match for you.

ccTLD – Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) is a domain designed for a specific region or country. Search engines can identify the country or region a website is targeting based on the two-letter ISO country code. Eg: http://www.google.co.uk/ and http://www.google.ie/

Pros of ccTLD:

  • Reliable method for search engines and users to quickly identify the origin of a site
  • Ensures higher rank in the search engine results pages for target users
  • Gives out a geolocalization signal
  • Easily marketable
  • Isn’t affected by any Google Panda or Penguin update if another ccTLD is penalized


Cons of ccTLD:

  • Needs a separate SEO strategy
  • Potential for separate hosting costs and technical support for each domain
  • Possible subjection to censorship measures
  • Separate crawling
  • New links to gain for a ranking

Sub-Domain – A sub-domain can be identified as a separate site that’s affiliated with your main URL. Eg: https://images.google.com/ and https://play.google.com/

Pros of Sub-Domain:

  • Ease of maintenance and management
  • Able to have local IP address
  • Easily track conversions and results using Google Analytics
  • Possibility of having a separate local host
  • Best for new product or new entity of an organization


Cons of Sub-Domain:

  • Needs a separate SEO strategy
  • Optimization process for localization is more complicated
  • Harder to have a country sub-domain for different versions
  • Users tend to browse locally
  • Value of main domain isn’t passed to sub-domain

Sub-Directory – Like the name suggests, a sub-directory is basically a directory within another directory. This enables you to have a separate folder for different targeted languages.

Pros of Sub-Directory:

  • Only need one technical support domain
  • Minimal expenditure in comparison to other options
  • Domain authority is consolidated
  • Simple execution


Cons of Sub-Directory:

  • No specific IP address for different sub-directories
  • Provides weak geo-localization signals
  • Users tend to browse locally
  • Harder to maintain country directory for different versions
  • Google penalties affect the whole directory

Major Problem in International SEO

One of the biggest problems in international SEO is duplicate content, which can greatly hinder the success of your SEO plan. Duplicate content compels search engines to waste precious time in crawling, so they’ll serve you up a manual action. The most effective way to sort this issue out is with a hreflang tag. This enables Google to sort out the version of your page it should reveal to each regional audience.

Eg: <link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com" hreflang="en-us" />


You can use the hreflang tag on all URL versions, including ccTLD, sub-domain, and sub-directory. But, using this best SEO practice is virtually mandatory. For beginners, there’s a helpful tool for generating hreflang tags to resolve any headaches.

Please Note: Canonical tags also help in avoiding duplicate content. Using a canonical tag with a hreflang tag isn’t an issue, yet use them properly to avoid these common mistakes.

Essential Checklist for International SEO

When you’re developing an international SEO plan, refer to a handy dandy checklist. This will help you remember the most fundamental aspects. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I researched my international SEO potential?
  • How will I target the chosen audience?
  • Is it better for me to use a country-targeted or language-targeted approach?
  • Which is the best possible international targeted site structure?
  • How will I go about the translation process?
  • Have I used the hreflang tag to steer clear of duplicate content?

Final Words: Case Study

Blurb, a self-publishing platform, didn’t have a good international ranking. There was a limited amount of organic search traffic coming on a global scale. Blurb was depending heavily on paid searches and other methods to acquire international customers.


After implementing a detailed SEO plan by Blastam, Blurb made the transition to ccTLD. Within a short period of time, it gained better search visibility and higher rankings. Eventually, Blurb was able to drive 90% more traffic and generate higher sales. The same results have been seen in the case of Tensar International Ltd. in expanding its reach to different countries.

So, what could international SEO do for your growing business? Let’s start finding out!

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

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