How To Do International SEO

Author - armstrong-admin

If you want your business to appear in the search results for more than one country then doing International SEO will be an important aspect of marketing to consider.  What do we mean by international SEO?  This is simply the process of setting up your website to appear prominently in the search results of more than one country – or several countries and regions depending on the size of your business. 

If you are considering expanding your web presence beyond national boundaries things can get complicated. There are a confusing range of options for your website setup with pros and cons to all of them. So let’s look at the process and include the advantages and disadvantages of the various approaches.

First things first, how many countries should you be targeting with International SEO?

There are no limits on the number of countries you can expand into. While many business owners in some sectors like to deal with local companies some will look for the best products or prices no matter where a product originates. If you believe you can offer products or services that will find customers abroad, then the opportunities to grow your business will increase dramatically if International SEO is done correctly.

The first thing to consider is which countries do you need your website to appear in? For this you will need to look at the Google Analytics country report to see where your website visitors are coming from. Depending on what this report shows it may be better to start with one country at a time and wait to see how your site performs in one other country before targeting several all at once. The scale of SEO work involved will be multiplied with each country being targeted so you can expect this to eat into your marketing budget.

Once you have decided which countries to target it is time to consider how you will be targeting them.

Using translation for International SEO

The quick way if you have a .com domain is to simply add a translation function to the website which allows the user to translate content into their language using Google’s translator tool or similar. Some business owners will see this as the best option to save on extra web development costs. The disadvantage of this approach is urls will all be the same and in the language of the country of origin. Machine translations are also unlikely to be user-friendly.

Another problem with this approach from an SEO point of view is that pages will be missing crucial relevancy signals such as keywords in urls. Urls won’t be translated or changed even if the page content of the page can be translated.  With no distinct pages written in the native language of the target country, web pages are unlikely to feature prominently in search results.

So having established that simply adding translation for content isn’t a good idea for SEO, let’s turn to the various url structures that can be used to target multiple countries and (or) languages.

Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) for International SEO

While it might sound complicated, the ccTLD is simply the national abbreviation that appears on the end of the domain name such as, and so on.

This is potentially the simplest and probably the best way to target search results in another country. While a .com can and does do reasonably well as a one fits all option, having ‘’ in UK search or in France is likely to provide an advantage over using a .com because it will be seen as more local. Local signals will be further strengthened if there is a business presence and Google My Business maps listing for the target country. If not, then a ccTLD is still likely to outperform a .com at a localised level.

Using a Subdomain for international SEO

Another option for businesses targeting different countries is to use subdomains. The url will appear as in the example with the content of the site on a domain that is a level down from the primary domain.

While this option does make it easier to separate your international content pages, there are too many downsides to using this method for it to be a recommended route to go down. Firstly the subdomain will likely be viewed by Google as a new site which means you will be starting from scratch building authority. There is also a high probability there will be problems with duplicate content with Google usually favouring the root domain if pages are duplicated.

Using a subdirectory for International SEO

Using a subdirectory means your content is hosted in a subdirectory or subfolder of the primary domain. This means all the authority built up for the root domain is then passed on to each new version of the site. It is also far easier to use this method than setup and maintain multiple sites covering several different countries. SEO would only need to be done on a single site rather than having several different SEO campaigns running at once as would be the case with subdomains or ccTLDs.

One potential downside of having sites separated in subdirectories is the risk of having the wrong version of the site showing up on search results. This risk should be reduced by the use of href lang tags which inform Google which country the content is targeted at.

These are the three basic international SEO setups but what happens if you want your pages to target different languages within a target country?

Someone viewing the site in some European countries such as Belgium may be viewing in one of three official languages spoken in the country.

In this case you could use language parameters e.g, to target English speakers in the US. An alternative would be to use an extension such as if for example you are targeting Belgian visitors who speak French.

While these provide a way to more effectively target users in countries where multiple languages are spoken, this does create an additional level of complexity and work with the benefits unclear. It may be more straightforward to simply use the country target in the url and leave the language choice for the user.

There are pros and cons with each of the approaches outlined in this guide, much will depend on the size and scale or future ambitions for the business. For some businesses, it may not be worth the extra expense to satisfy every country and language requirement.

Whichever route is taken, it will be important to consider the benefits to the business and whether starting off targeting one country at a time is the better option rather than spreading resources too thinly across multiple countries.