Guide to Getting Started in International SEO

Guide to Getting Started in International SEO
Guide to Getting Started in International SEO

What is International SEO?

International SEO is the process of optimizing your website so you can be found in the search engines in the countries and languages you are targeting. International SEO can significantly boost your reach and is a great way to grow your business if your products and services have the potential to be marketed globally.

What is the Difference Between Regular SEO & International SEO?

There are a couple of key differences which differentiate the two, including:

  • Languages
  • Multiple websites/sub-directories
  • Search engines
  • Local audience & competitors

It’s important to ensure that your local market websites are not competing against each other, however, there are different ways you can prevent this from happening that we will discuss in this article.

Define Your Audience

Think about the resources you have available when deciding to expand to a new country or language, and start small if you need to (e.g., focus initially on just one language). You need to create translations and content assets for each new audience which is not only a time-consuming process, but you also need to ensure you have access to in-house or external translators who understand the culture and language.

You might already have a specific market in mind, but if you’re unsure then it can be worth looking into what countries your website’s users are from. Even though it can be tempting to pick the top country, it’s important that you do some research to understand their behavior and if they have a market for your product/service.

Global Site or Multiple Websites?

You’ll need to consider if you want to have one global site with multiple languages or multiple websites for your target markets. Having a separate website for each target market provides a better user experience and allows you to use different designs and content that are specifically targeted. However, if you’re only just expanding, then it’s likely you won’t have the budget. In this scenario, it’s better to have one global website with the content translated into the languages in scope.

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Technical Considerations – Domain Structures

In order for your website to appear correctly in search engines, there are technical considerations to take into account, including what domain structure is best suited for your audience.

Hreflang Tags

These tell search engines the language you’re using on specific pages, and which region your content is intended for so they understand who to show the results to.

As an example, if I search for Amazon in the UK, this is the result:

Whereas if I search for the Amazon site in the Netherlands, I get the following result:

This is due to country-specific domains such as “amazon.nl,” designed for the Netherlands, and Amazon’s use of hreflang tags. If you want to make your website available in multiple languages, then you may decide to use hreflang tags.

Country Code Top-Level Domains

Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs) inform search engines about the countries and regions your pages are targeting and are the strongest signal. However, it’s important to understand that they target countries and regions, not languages. As an example, if ccTLD was used, then, Amazon.co.uk would default to target users who are in the UK; within this, you can target English or another language but will generally only show to users in that location.

There are a couple of advantages to this approach if you have:

  • A lot of content that you create as it allows you to focus on one domain and keep all the content focused on just one location.
  • Multiple products/services are available depending on the location.
  • The resources internally or externally, and the budget to build, maintain and market each site.
  • A physical presence in multiple locations.
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There are also a couple of disadvantages to consider:

  • There is a lot of maintenance and upkeep if you use several domains.
  • Each site will need its own unique SEO strategy, so you need a lot of resources to implement content strategies, keyword research, and link building for each site.


These allow you to create pages for specific countries and regions that are separate from your main site.

Examples of subdomains:

  • fr.yourwebsite.com
  • de.yourwebsite.com
  • us.yourwebsite.com

It’s generally the least favored option for international SEO and should only be used if you:

  • Don’t have the resources or budget for other options.
  • Have products/services that are very similar or the same based on language and/or country.
  • Have content that is very similar apart from small language/regional changes.


Subdirectories are also known as subfolders; they allow you to host all your site’s languages versions on one generic domain, with content stored in separate folders for each country or language.

Examples of subdirectories:

  • yourwebsite.com/en/
  • yourwebsite.com/fr/
  • yourwebsite.com/it/

It’s generally best practice for SEO to use subdirectories; it’s beneficial as they:

  • Gain link authority from the main domain, which is especially important if your current site has a lot of value and high-authority backlinks.
  • Provide simpler reporting as if you’re tracking performance with an analytics platform such as Google Analytics; that data will be consolidated for the whole site.
  • They are less time-consuming to set up, which is beneficial if you don’t have the time or resources to set up ccTLDs or subdomains for every country and/or language you’re targeting.
  • Easy to maintain than multiple websites as everything is in one location.

There are a few issues using subdirectories for international SEO if:

  • Site language versions have differences in content and site structure.
  • The products and services you offer have variations between languages and/or countries.
  • You have a physical location/store in the countries you’re targeting.
  • They are a weaker signal to search engines in comparison to ccTLDs.
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All of the domain structure options have pros and cons, it’s better to either go down the ccTLDs or subdirectory routes, but it’s important that you base your decision on what’s best for your specific website.

Create New Content in Different Languages

When considering this next step, it’s important that you don’t use Google Translate or another automatic translation service. Google Translate gives literal translations and doesn’t consider local expressions and cultural differences. Using translation software can cause your website to make no sense in another language or even accidentally offend. If you’re only using direct translations, then there can be misinterpretations.

Using native SEO specialists and copywriters like at GA Agency which is an international SEO agency is the best way to ensure your translations are correct and use effective and captivating language for your target audience.

Additionally, you don’t want to just translate your content but conduct keyword research in the native language of your target audience. This doesn’t just help you rank better in the search engines but could uncover hidden opportunities.


These are just a couple of the considerations you need to make when expanding your business internationally to reach global markets. As there is a lot of technical work that needs to be completed and the importance of fully understanding the language of your new target markets, working with an international SEO agency like GA Agency can be hugely beneficial. They have an in-house team of international SEO specialists and copywriters covering 14+ languages, with projects in over 15 countries. There’s no better time to start your business’s international expansion.

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