How to Optimise Your Site for International SEO

26 April 2021
by Archie Williamson
5 mins
How to Optimise Your Site for International SEO

International SEO refers to the process of optimising content and web pages to increase your organic search presence in countries and for languages other than your own.

When targeting expansion into new markets, you need to consider the steps needed to prepare your site for a target audience that may speak a different language, have different cultural norms and exhibit distinct buying behaviours and habits.

You also need to optimise pages so search engines will still index and rank your content and then serve it correctly in the right country and language. By using technical SEO elements such as hreflang tags, for example, you can tell Google what content is best for each location.

In addition to being a vital cog in getting content ranked and viewed by international audiences, this form of SEO will also improve the quality of experience for people in different countries who use your website. This is very important if you want to keep visitors engaged and ease them through the sales cycle.

Where is the best place to start?

Broadening your horizons and targeting growth and expansion by entering into a new market is an exciting time for your business but you need to take care of the technical fundamentals related to your website to give yourself a foundation for success.

You can run through a quick checklist to determine exactly what you need to do to get a website SEO-ready for international markets. This involves deciding on an appropriate domain architecture and implementing localisation signals. You need to:

  • Select a URL structure that is best suited to your target country or region.
  • Use language tags to target the right language for your new market.
  • Optimise and create localised content for your market and its language so you can rank in search engines.

International SEO is basically a broader form of geo-targeting, where you will be optimising content and experiences based on geographic locations. While you may have done this by city, county or state in the past for traditional SEO tactics, targeting by country requires notable changes to your site, beginning with its structure.

What’s the best domain structure?

Arguably the most important decision is selecting a domain structure. This is where everything else will flow from. You basically have three choices when opting for a URL structure: ccTLDs, subdomains and subdirectories.

A ccTLD is an acronym for country code top-level domain and is where a two-letter ISO country code, such as uk or ca, is used at the end of the domain. This will give Google and other search engines the clearest indication out of the three options that content is tailored for a specific market. However, it is expensive to set up and maintain, and in terms of SEO, will operate with a separate domain authority from your core site.

The second structure you could use is a subdomain where you set up a country or language-specific subdomain on your site. While this is easier to implement, SEO signals are weaker than country-specific domains and they generally deliver subpar user experiences.

A third option is a subdirectory, which is often a preferred option for most websites as it brings together your link building and SEO signals from your main site and is generally easier to manage and maintain than a ccTLD. A subdirectory adds a folder to your generic top level domain (gTLD) to target your new market.

If you are exploring global markets for the first time, subdomains are likely to be the best option as they are cheaper and an extension of your current site. Apple uses this structure to serve its users in the UK via the domain.

Do I need to use hreflang tags?

Technical signals help search engines understand the content on your website and serve it to a country or language-specific audience. As the majority of your copy is probably very similar but translated, the snippets of code known as hreflang tags will help Google to differentiate between each of them.

You can use hreflang tags in the source code on each page, in HTTP headers and in your sitemap. It is also important to set the xdefault tag so a default version of your site is used when geographic and language tags don’t match. Google says this will tell its algorithms that ”this page doesn’t target any specific language or locale and is the default page when no other page is better suited.”

Should I conduct any marketing and SEO-related research?

Understanding your target markets is crucial if you not only want to sidestep potentially costly cultural faux pas but actually provide content and experiences that will resonate with overseas audiences.

You should know which particular audiences in new regions will want to buy your products or services and have a good idea about how you will market your unique selling proposition to them. To make sure there is demand, you can analyse data to see if traffic and conversions are already being driven by a market that you want to move into.

Could partnering with an SEO agency help?

Widening the scope of your business away from a single, domestic market does carry a degree of risk and the work involved in getting a site prepared for new customers while remaining on top of SEO and other content marketing activities can be stressful, even for the biggest corporations.

By partnering with an SEO agency, you will be able to work with a third party and a team of individuals within that have previous experience in helping modern companies break new ground on the international stage. Calling on experienced agencies that may have a better understanding of the laws and cultural idiosyncrasies that are inherent to countries in Europe, Asia and North America, among others, will make it easier for you to make the right changes for your site.

If you are thinking about venturing into new markets and need to complete a website audit before you get started, or require assistance with any form of SEO or content creation, contact us today and we will help you to put your best foot forward as you target expansion.


Have a question?