International SEO or international search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your website for your international markets so that search engines — and users — know which countries and languages you are targeting.
You can think of international SEO like geotargeting. Rather than targeting a local or regional audience, you target an international one, optimizing your website for different countries and languages.
Incorporating international SEO into your digital marketing plan can create enormous opportunities for your business. When implemented properly, international SEO is one of the best ways to reach new customers and expand your business.
International SEO vs. regular SEO
SEO is the practice of optimizing a website to reach new audiences and customers through non-paid, organic results.
Although international SEO and regular SEO share similar basics, there are important distinctions between them.
Specifically, international SEO helps you reach audiences in different countries and languages and ensures that you show users content relevant to their location and language.
Every business website needs SEO, but not every business website needs international SEO.
Does my business need international SEO?
Before implementing international SEO for your business’s website, it is essential to ensure that it is in line with your business’s goals. You’ve done your research. You have the resources available to correctly and strategically integrate international SEO.
Finding your existing international audience and visibility
If you are looking to expand your business internationally, the best place to start is researching what international audience your website already has.
You can do this easily with Google Analytics by going to Audience > Geo > Location and finding your site’s traffic data for individual countries.
You can also check your current website’s international search results visibility using Google Search Console. Be sure to look at search volume and user trends, as well as keywords and pages with higher visibility.
If you decide international SEO offers some opportunities, read on to learn the basics.
International SEO basics
Keep reading to learn all the basics of international SEO:
Country targeting vs. language targeting
The first step to implementing international SEO is determining your target market — or deciding which countries and languages your website will target.
While many people associate a language with a specific country, that’s not always the case.
For example, Spanish is spoken globally in over 20 countries, while India has over 22 spoken languages.
It is also essential to consider that the same language can differ significantly between countries with phrases, spelling, and word usage.
To properly implement international SEO, you need to create separate pages to target each of your global markets and lead your audience to the right website.
There are three main ways to implement URL structures for international SEO:
- ccTLDs: ccTLDs, or country code top-level domains, use two letters to indicate their country of registration. A ccTLD URL has the format domain.us, with “us” being the country code. ccTLDs are the strongest signals that you are targeting a specific country.
- Subdomains: You can create subdomains specifically for the international markets you are targeting. A subdomain URL has the format us.domain.com.
- Subdirectories: You can also create subdirectories specifically for the international markets you are targeting. A subdirectory URL has the format domain.com/en.
There are pros, cons, and implementation implications for each of the above URL structures.
When deciding which URL structure to implement for your international SEO strategy, be sure to research and determine which option best suits your business and website needs.
Conducting keyword research
Just like regular SEO, conducting keyword research is crucial to implementing international SEO. Once you’ve established your country and language target markets for international SEO, you’ll want to find the best keywords for driving traffic and new leads.
Keyword aspects to consider include organic search volume, levels of competition, and your current ranking for these keywords in each of your target markets.
There are many keyword tools available to assist with keyword research.
Localizing your content and on-page elements
Another important aspect of international SEO is ensuring you localize your website content for each of the global markets (countries and languages) you are targeting.
It is vital to make sure that your site content and design are culturally and linguistically appropriate for the target audience.
Content — Make sure your content is culturally and linguistically relevant to your target market. Using a professional translator or content writers from your target market is the best way to ensure it is appropriate and suited for your audience.
Keywords — Make sure your content and on-page elements are targeting the keywords that your target audience uses.
Title tags, meta descriptions and image alt tags — Make sure you update on-page elements for your target audience and incorporate the best keywords for driving traffic and new leads.
Images — Depending on your target market’s culture, you may need to change your site’s imagery. Make sure the images you use are culturally appropriate and relevant to your target audience.
Link building — Ensure you are building links from local resources, as well as linking to local content.
Other aspects — Make sure you update other location aspects, such as currency and time zone, and ensure that phone numbers and addresses are formatted correctly.
Other international SEO do’s and dont’s
A few additional points to remember when it comes to international SEO include:
- Do look at other search engines because Google may not be the preferred search engine in the country you target.
- Do make sure you are implementing the necessary search engine signals, such as language tagging.
- Do remember that flags are not languages — do not use them as a language signal.
- Don’t automatically redirect users to a different language based on their location.
- Do give users the option to select and change their language.
- Do keep in mind that you may not be able to buy some ccTLDs and there may be additional international hosting requirements. Some countries also have multiple ccTLDs.
- Don’t use machine translation — it can be inaccurate, and your pages won’t make sense to your audience.
- Do remember that idioms and jargon won’t always translate across languages and cultures.
- Do maintain and create content for your international target audiences.
- Do implement the proper SEO strategies to avoid duplicate content issues.
- Do look into local laws and regulations of the countries you’ll be targeting to ensure your content complies with requirements.
Implementing international SEO for your business
When implemented correctly, international SEO is one of the best ways to reach your global audience. Before deciding to implement international SEO in your digital marketing strategy, there are many things to consider.
It is vital to ensure that international SEO is in line with your business goals, resources, and budget. It is also crucial to properly research and strategize before undertaking the implementation of international SEO.
If you have leads from different countries that you want to engage in, investing in international SEO and integrating it into your overall digital marketing plan is the best way for your business to reach these global audiences.
So do your research, make a strategy, and go global with international SEO!