What is international SEO?

Differing from standard SEO practices, international SEO is a way of defining targeted locations and languages in order for search engines to accurately index a site. Sites can be optimised for multilingual or multi-regional purposes, meaning that if your website needed to operate in different languages, different locations or both, these factors would need to be made apparent via content, url or in the code of your website. 

How do you know if you need to optimise your site for international use? 

In order to determine if your website would need to go international or not, it’s best to look at where users are coming from geographically, and how they interact with your site in order to understand the information, products or services you are offering. 

International SEO might seem a little confusing at first, however, the best way to understand the goals of this approach is to swap ranking for products or keywords etc with reaching your target users in the correct geographical territory and in the right language. By setting this up first, you’ll then be able to work on content SEO and focus on other specific ranking features later down the line. 

The best way to create a completely internationalised site is to first establish which country or region you would like your website to target, this can be achieved via a specialised geographical url. As well as this you can also define which language you need your copy to appear in by using language tags in the HTML of your site. Finally, you would then need to focus on content, publishing material that relates to the specific region with localised ranking ability/purpose.  

To summarise: 

  1. Country – URL (e.g. ccTLD)
  2. Language – HTML language tags (e.g. hreflang)
  3. Content – localised language targeting audience understanding (using correct terminology for example, if you were to target America, correct U.S spellings & wording such as “color” or “sidewalk” would help to make your content relevant/rank better in a U.S location)

 

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What are international SEO best practices? 

What are the different international URL types? 

As mentioned previously, the structure of a site’s URL can determine geographical location or geo-targeting, however, there are multiple ways in which to do this. Each url structure effects locational targeting in different ways: 

 

gTLD – A generic top level domain. These URLs are not country specific but instead are manually geo-targeted via search console or other webmaster tools in order to target specific locations. An example of a domain like this is .com, .net or .org

ccTLD – This is a country specific domain that automatically geo-targets using Google Search Console technology. These urls are defined by a two letter code corresponding to a specific country e.g. example.fr (this would be a site targeting France). This url tells search engines exactly what territory a website is corresponding to. 

Subdirectory – This type of url has a root domain and uses a specific subdirectory or subfolder to internationalise site content. E.g. www.example.com/de

Subdomain – A subdomain is a “third level domain” that shows a search engine which territory the site is aiming for, however it does not pass or receive equity from its root domain. E.g. us.example.com

 

What are the pros and cons of each international url type? 

 

Type Pros  Cons
ccTLD
  • Gives a clear signal to search engines about location
  • Easier to rank locally
  • A  more expensive option
  • Domain authority is separated to each specific site
Subdomain
  • Less maintenance than ccTLD
  • Gives a weaker signal to search engines regarding location & content
  • Can potentially dilute domain authority 
  • A higher level of users choose to browse locally
Subdirectory
  • Less maintenance than ccTLD
  • Combines domain authority
  • Gives a weaker signal to search engines regarding location & content
  • A higher level of users choose to browse locally 

 

Language targeting for your website 

Depending on the business or service a website may offer, alternative language choices may be necessary to reach an intended user audience. For instance, if you were to own an ecommerce site that sells products to both English and French speaking audiences, the website would need to cater to both user groups by displaying products in each language creating a better user experience. 

The best way to show search engines that your website is set up to cater to different languages is by integrating a language tag into the website’s html. The most commonly used language tag is “hreflang”. 

An example of using this tag would be: 

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/de” hreflang=”de-de”/>

By implementing this example onto your website it would indicate to a search engine that the site uses German (de) on this specific page. 

 

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A few language best practices: 

  • Try not to use machine translation. Unfortunately translation technology still isn’t quite there yet and this could damage your user experience by providing inaccurate copy. 
  • Make sure that your whole website is presented correctly in the language you’re targeting.
  • Don’t redirect your customer to a version of a website that correlates to the language they’re viewing the site in. Just because a user interacts with a site in french does not mean that they’re accessing the website from France. 
  • Try to avoid using cookie scripts to identify language variations on your site as search engines cannot crawl this information. 

When optimising your site for language purposes it is best not to use a ccTLD domain, but instead a hreflang tag combined with a subdomain or subdirectory url would work much better. The information is much clearer for search engines to index and this will help make sure your website shows up in relevant search results for the correct type of internet users. 

Now let’s put this into action! 

Now that we have covered some of the key techniques to achieve successful international SEO indexing it’s time to put it into action! 

Other international SEO factors that can also be included in the optimisation process include: 

  • Site hosting using a local IP
  • Local content backlinks
  • Aiming to rank on local search engines for countries e.g. Russia, China etc.

If you would like to get started with international SEO or are looking for digital marketing services the Fresh Pies team are here to help! Feel free to contact us via our online form, or give us a call on 0207 112 9117 for more information.