International SEO: What is it, Why it Matters and Best Practices

If you know that a good share of your website users come from a different country than where you’re located, speak different languages, or both, then it may be time to make some changes to your website to improve its experience for international visitors.

Think of international SEO as geotargeting, but instead of optimising your website to attract traffic from a local village/city/region, you’re optimising it for countries and languages,

For beginners, international SEO can get confusing – quickly. To help, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about international SEO and how you can create an effective strategy.

What is International SEO?

Search engine optimisation, SEO, is the process of optimising a website and the content within it to ensure visibility on search engines such as Google. International SEO is no different, only the stage is much larger. Instead of targeting cities or regions, international SEO targets entire countries and languages.

International SEO ensures search engines understand the context of your content and the audience you wish it to be displayed to.

How does international SEO benefit my company?

An international SEO strategy for websites hones in on creating content that’s applicable for local markets. A company that sells products in the UK and wants to branch into France needs to consider factors such as French locations, shipping times, fees and costs, and local languages.

Your website would need to contain a web structure that includes both UK and French pages, making sure that the correct metadata is used to display the correct page for their current location.

Differences between local SEO and International SEO

- Cost: Due to increased competition, as well as investment in additional domains and translations, International SEO comes with significant costs. 

- Content: To get your website ranking successfully, you’ll need to create significantly more content than for local SEO efforts. 

- Competition: Instead of competing with local businesses, and perhaps the odd national business, you’ll be competing against global businesses for the same keywords and ad positions. 

Factors that affect international SEO 

- Customer reviews: customer reviews on your website or on local listing sites can either create a positive or negative impact on your SEO. The better and more relevant the reviews, the better the visibility.

- Mobile responsive: Making sure your website is mobile responsive and fast will ensure your users have a positive experience with your site, helping your international SEO.

- Google My Business: This tool can help boost your SEO efforts as long as its up to date. This can be a starting point for Google to find geographic and language metadata on your website.

- Link Building: Ensuring your website receives backlinks from international sources not only improves your domain authority, but it also provides context to Google regarding the markets your business operates in.

How to develop an international SEO strategy

Deciding who to target

You first need to get specific about who you wish to target. The more accurately you can define your “where” and “who”, the more successful your strategy will prove to be.

Conduct international keyword search

Different countries will have differing names for products and services, influenced by their national and local dialects. For this reason, keywords you have focused on in your origin country, may not be as successful internationally.

By conducting international keyword research, you can identify these differences and use them to your advantage. For example, lets suggest you’re a company selling baby products, looking to expand into the US. You would need to update your content accordingly,

Optimise content for the region and language

Ensuring your content is optimised for your target location and its local language is critical to international SEO success. This includes checking ccTLD’s, translations and content assets for their accuracy. Don’t make the mistake of using an AI based translation tool, such as Google translate, to copy across your existing content. Hiring a local translator is recommended best practice, as they’ll understand the local language and the way in which to structure sentences for the best clarity - something AI translators will fall short of.

Remember, the hreflang tag is your best friend when it comes to international SEO. This HTML attribute provides additional content to Google regarding the geographic area and language of a webpage. This ensures users receive the correct version of a website (in their language) and that Google doesn’t penalise a site for duplicate content.

Best practices for International SEO

Translate existing content carefully

While translation tools provide a literal conversion, the locals aren’t likely to be using them in the same context. For this reason, a translator is essential for altering content.

User experience

International SEO doesn’t purely focus on keywords and content. It’s about the user experience as a whole process. This could include filling out forms, viewing prices, or reading blogs. All these need to be perfectly aligned with your site.

Avoid automatic redirects

Whilst serving unique content to users based on location, avoid automatically redirecting users based on their IP address. There are a number of scenarios where a user may be in a certain country but want to view your website in an alternative language. For instance, expats living in Spain will likely want to be served the UK version of a website, in English.

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Who are you targeting internationally?


Depending on location, your international SEO would change to the country. For example, in Russia, Yandex is the popular choice for search engines and in China, Baidu is preferred. Each search engine has a different approach to their SEO, so doing your research into parts of the world where you’d like to expand is crucial.

Should you target language or country?


This depends on your overall goal. If you’re looking to appeal to a broader audience regardless of country, language would be a better choice whilst if you’re wanting to grow brand awareness in a specific part of the world, country-based SEO is the better approach.

How can you build local links?


There are a number of ways to build local backlinks. A few popular suggestions include contributing to local blogs and new publications, connecting with local social media influencers, and sponsoring local events.

What about keyword research?


Keyword research should be undertaken at the country level, to ensure you’re optimising your website according to local variations in search queries/terms. Competition for keywords will also vary from country to country, so a viable keyword in the United Kingdom might not be viable to target in France or Germany. Tools such as Semrush, SE Ranking, Moz and Ahrefs provide country specific data on search volume, competition and average CPC.