International SEO: What, Why, & How to Get Started

Every business or organization needs a good marketing strategy to keep them operational and target foreign audiences. Technology has been continuously revolutionizing the way marketing is being done. Businesses are now forced to put a lot of focus and resources to a more digitally-backed marketing strategy.

One of the best digital marketing strategies today is search engine optimization, or SEO. In the US alone, 53% of consumers mentioned that they research products on search engines before purchasing. This figure represents the pool of consumers that businesses can target using SEO.

But what exactly is search engine optimization? SEO is a set of techniques that are designed to improve a website’s position in different search engines. A good SEO strategy is necessary to improve a site’s traffic and ultimately improve business sales.

However, since most search engines operate location-wise, the effects of general SEO strategies may be limited. That is why considering international SEO techniques is a way to improve your search engine optimization campaign.

Below, let us discuss more about international SEO and the best practices to launch a successful international SEO campaign. 

In this article, you’ll find…

What Is International SEO?

International SEO, just like any other search engine optimization technique, aims to attract more website traffic. The difference comes in the way your web content is packaged to be more appealing to audiences from other locations.

This involves optimizing your content so that search engines can identify which locations you are trying to reach or target. It involves multiregional SEO or location-based SEO and multilingual or language-based SEO.

However, it is best to note that international SEO goes beyond creating multilingual websites. This technique involves more complex efforts to make sure that your website appears more appealing to the locals of the location you are targeting. This involves the language used, how the content is written, images on the web pages, and many other factors.

International SEO basically handles everything that involves search engine optimization for multiple countries. To perform this efficiently, you need to conduct market research for the specific target audience and incorporate cross border digital marketing techniques for your brand.

Below are some of the best international SEO practices to incorporate.

7 International SEO Best Practices

The following are 7 international SEO best practices that helps you in overcoming cultural differences in online marketing and target foreign audiences:

7 Best International SEO Practices
7 Best International SEO Practices

1. Conduct Market Research

The first thing to do when you have a marketing idea in mind is to conduct a market research. Blindly launching a campaign is not advisable as this might lead to wasted resources such as time and money.

When venturing into international SEO, you must analyze all local competitors doing the same. Market research also includes analyzing competitors from other regions targeting the same location and the local competitions from the target area.

Look into the similar products and services you and your competitors are offering at this specific location. You can list down the SEO strategies they have been incorporating and how well these strategies are doing. 

This step will give you an overview on what type of search engine optimization techniques are most effective and what techniques you can improve to have better results. This will also give you an opportunity to come up with something new to offer to this location. 

2. Decide on Your Audience

Once you have analyzed the current market situation, proceed to clearly define your audience. You can further trim down your strategies when you know who they are for exactly.

You can decide on your audience by sorting them out based on demographics such as age and gender. Since people in varying demographics have different preferences, knowing which ones your products and services are for will help maximize the impact of your international SEO campaign.

3. Location-Specific Keyword Research

After the first two, you can now focus on creating appealing content. In SEO, content should be well-planned so that it attracts the right audience and rank on search engines.

The keywords that drive high volume traffic in your local area may not be as interesting in this new location you are trying to target. There are online tools that you can use to research location-specific keywords. Google Trends is one of the tools that can help you search and compare potential keywords for your content. 

Boost SERP Results - LinkDoctor

4. Find Native Speakers 

Another fool-proof practice is to hire native speakers from the area you want to reach. Under this point, make sure that you hire real native speakers and avoid those that have learned the language as their secondary language.

Languages are very complex and native speakers can help you penetrate a deeper level of connection to your audience. Simply translating words into their literal meaning may come off as stiff and too formal to the locals. Native speakers can help you create content that is easier to comprehend.

5. URL Structure for International Sites

One of the most important factors to consider when launching an international SEO campaign is the site catering to your target location. 

Components of a URL
Components of a URL

Here are the URL options to choose from:

  • ccTLD or country code top-level domain: these are two-letter codes used to tell users which location or country they are currently in. These two-letter codes are specifically assigned to specific countries, sovereign states, or dependent territories. This type is usually used by relatively bigger companies or organizations.

    One example is Amazon which uses for US users and for those in the United Kingdom.
  • Subdomain: this places your website content on a different third-level domain. The difference can be seen at the beginning of the main URL

  • Subdirectory or subfolder: from the name itself, this type creates a subfolder under your main domain which acts as a separate area of your website.

Here’s a quick video to understand more about URL structure of a website…

Understanding URL Structure

6. Language-Target Your Website

Although search engines can detect your website language, you will still have to tell them what language you are currently using. Through hreflang attributes, you are able to designate what language your site is in.

As an example, Spanish is es, English is en, while German is de.  These let search engines such as Google know which language is used on your site.

One of the most important aspect to ensure that your international SEO efforts bears fruitful results, you need to leverage multilingual websites. To help you reach new markets online, and build a brand image targeting foreign audiences and reaching new markets online.

Hreflang tags help you maximize the impact of venturing into international SEO campaigns. Here are the three options when setting up hreflang:

  • Add them to the HTML.
  • Include them in your Sitemap.xml file.
  • Add them to your HTTP header.

7. Work on Local Opinion

When venturing into new waters, it is also important to stay flexible. Not every strategy that works in your location will work in another. You must always be open to user opinion and reviews to help you deliver better products and services in a certain area. This will help you stay one step ahead of your competition.

This process of adapting your website to a new local market and optimizing it for their local culture is called as website localization. For instance, when geotargeting advertisement or marketing strategies for your brand on different countries, you first need to have a clear idea of the local culture and work on multicultural SEO strategies.

Other Factors to Consider for International SEO

  • Even if you are trying to target a new pool of audience using their native language, do not assume that they want to browse your site in that language. Provide your users with global customization language options for better browsing and higher customer satisfaction.
  • Always take culture into consideration. Make sure that all website elements are culturally acceptable to the location you are trying to reach. Remember that Google highly takes customer experience into consideration when ranking websites.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the difference between international SEO and local SEO?

The basic strategies applied to these types of SEO campaigns are similar. Local SEO usually involves less work as it is easier to target an audience within the same location. With international SEO, factors such as language and culture should be well thought out before you target an international audience. 

2. Is international SEO the same as translating website content?

The short answer is, no. International SEO efforts go beyond translation as there are many other factors in the effect, including but not limited to, cultural and local preferences.. 

3. Why is international SEO important?

For businesses or organizations that want to reach a new pool of potential customers, international SEO is highly advisable. Structuring your web content based on a specific location can help you attract more customers and secure more conversions.


Marketing in the world we are moving in today has become both easier and more complicated. Technological advancements have undoubtedly introduced better ways to reach more audiences but the competition has also become tighter because of this.

If you have decided to venture into international audiences and want to take your marketing campaign to the next level, make sure that you have researched your options and know the current market situation. Knowing what you are getting into and what you can do to thrive in new markets helps you lessen potential risk.

Related Reads 

How Link Shortening Affects Your Site’s SEO

The Importance of SEO Link Building

Impact of On-Page SEO on Link Building

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