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Nicola Björk

United Kingdom

+44 7432 209 464

Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7JF


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Lavender Bay, Sydney, NSW, 2060


+91 8626 879465

Sector 74, Mohali, Punjab, 140308

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International SEO – How To Optimise Websites For Other Countries?

October 15, 2020

Multinational organizations need to consider international SEO to grow and scale their business in foreign markets. Optimizing the website and formulating region-specific content can help companies to connect better with their international target audience. Implementing the right international SEO practices can help companies to grow their business regionally and improve ROI. Organizing the website as per the target region can improve the customer experience of the international audience.

What is an international SEO?

International SEO is the process of optimizing websites to enable search engines to understand which countries and languages are being targeted by a business. International SEO involves organizing website structure as per the region it’s targeting. In other words, international SEO is about geotargeting to attract the target audience of other countries and languages.

What is the difference between regular SEO and international SEO?

The primary difference between regular SEO and international SEO is the localization of website content for specific countries or regions. Optimization of websites helps to personalize the content for region-specific audiences and enhance the overall user experience. Organizing the website content to appease the local audience can help companies to be competitive in foreign markets.

Misuse of canonical or hreflang tags can lead to non-indexing of sites by the search engines or generate duplicate indexing.  

How to start an international SEO?

A good place to start international SEO is to do an audit to define the objective, budget, and target marketplace.

Research the current organic search in the international market
The first step would be to audit and analyze the current organic search volume. Analytical tools like Google Webmaster can help collect data about metrics such as search visibility, site traffic, conversion rate, and CTR. These metrics can help businesses to understand the current market trends and behavior of the target audience. If there is medium to high organic search visibility and traffic in a particular market then it’s the right time to capitalize on it. If the search visibility and traffic are low then more time and resources must be allocated to improve organic visibility rather than on international SEO.

Evaluate organic search potential
The next step would be to evaluate the scope of organic search volume in each country and language. Thorough keyword research should be conducted to assess the keyword or keyphrases being used by international consumers when searching for a company’s products/services. The research would also provide key information about the search volume of relevant keywords per country, the competition of these keywords per country, and the company’s ranking for these keywords in each country.

Research relevant search engines in the international market
Although Google is the de-facto search engine used in the majority of the countries, there are other search engines that are more dominant than Google in some countries. For example- In China and Russia, Baidu and Yandex are the predominant search engines. It’s important to evaluate other search engines and optimize the website as per their guidelines (these guidelines may differ from Google). Creating an SEO strategy for other search engines will help businesses to improve their reach and visibility in each of the countries.

What are the best international SEO practices?

1. The URL structure for international sites

There are three URL structure architectures that companies can adopt for international sites.


Subdirectories are one of the easiest options to create region-specific localized content. Subdirectories can be geotagged in Google Search Console. Subdirectories can expand the existing website which results in lower technical management and overall maintenance cost. Also, subdirectories inherent authority from the parent domain. The con of subdirectories is the complexity of the web structure. An example of a subdirectory:

  • Parent site targeting Australia
  • the USA
  • the UK

While subdirectories are cost-effective but users may not recognize geotargeting from the universal resource locator (URL) alone. Subdomains use generic Top Level Domain Name (gTLD), with a country (or language) specific subdomain. They are easy to implement and offer hosting flexibility. However, subdomains are not very user-friendly and they don’t inherit authority from the parent domain. Also, they are less trustworthy to customers because it makes it difficult for customers to understand what content will appear in that URL. An example of subdomain- 

  • Australia
  • USA

Country-code top-level domain or ccTLD uses two-letter codes to indicate to users and search engines in which country, sovereign state, or dependent territory a website is registered. ccTLD provides the strongest geotargeting signals to both search engines and users. ccTLD is better suited for companies targeting multiple countries rather than languages. The con of this TLD is that it is expensive and requires separate link building for each site. An example of ccTLD-

  • UK
  • Australia

2. Language target for websites
To signal search engines the language the company is targeting the following tags can be used:

hreflang tag

These tags allow websites to cross-reference pages with similar content for different audiences. Hreflang tags are used by Google and Yandex to identify the language (and also country) targeting of a page to make sure they always show the right version to the relevant user. hreflang tags can be featured as an HTML link, an HTTP header, or in XML Sitemaps.

Xdefault tag

The xdefault tag is a default version of the site that one can choose to be served to people when the language or location tag doesn’t match any of the available ones and no other page is better suited.

Schema markup

Schema markup is a very simple and effective method for indicating to search engines about the company and the website content. It’s a collaboratively created, universal language that all top search engines in the world use to understand websites easily.

Meta content language tag

The meta content-language tag indicates what language the HTML content is written in (and can include country too), and therefore signals to search engines the target audience for the page. These tags send a much weaker signal than hreflang tags.

3. Content marketing
The focus of the content marketing strategy is to create relevant content for the local audience. It’s important to take into consideration cultural differences in each country or region so that the content resonates with the target audience. Using local language, time zones, currencies, and contact information can help users feel at ease and send strong signals to search engines who the target audience is. Localized keywords must be incorporated into the web content to ensure a good ranking on SERP. 

4. Geotargeting
In addition to specifying local languages, businesses can use geotargeting for individual international websites. This would require installing Google Analytics and Google Search Console for each web version. These tools can help to identify potential technical and indexing issues.

5. International link building
International link building will help companies to maintain domain authority in search engines for each location. International link building will help drive local referral traffic and improve the search visibility of international websites. Link building will require local citation, competitor research and analysis, and content management.

Final thoughts

International SEO can be complicated and it is a long-haul game. Each country would require a unique strategy to address local issues and competition. Thus your SEO strategy will have to be dynamic. At Alkye, we offer clients SEO services to help them build domain authority not only in their native country but also internationally and expand their businesses overseas.

BacklinksccTLDGeotargetinghreflangInternational SEOSchema MarkupSEOSERPURL
Nicola Bond

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Nicola Bond

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