International SEO: Best Practices for Going Global

What is international SEO?

International SEO is the process of making changes to a website to get traffic from multiple countries and languages. It is sometimes confused with multilingual SEO, which specifically aims to optimize a website for multiple languages.

Although International SEO is a combination of multiregional and multilingual SEO, the steps that are involved in both processes are very similar.

Which websites need international SEO?

Here are a few questions to consider when deciding if your website would benefit from international SEO:

  • Does your target audience reside in multiple countries?

This can be the case for businesses like ecommerce stores, news or blog sites, and those with locations in multiple countries.

  • Does your target audience speak more than one language?

This is common for businesses targeting countries with more than one official language.

  • Do your competitors receive significant and valuable traffic from other countries?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions and haven’t implemented international SEO, you might be missing out on potential opportunities.

International SEO means simply adapting your current SEO strategy to an expanded target audience. Except for the potential necessity to produce a lot of new content, this will introduce only minor changes – most parts of your website’s SEO will continue following previous practices.

Keep in mind that just receiving additional traffic won’t guarantee additional customers or profits. You have to also consider if you will be able to effectively convert the new traffic and get a positive return on investment.

The benefits of international SEO

Although most of the searches performed on Google are in English, it powers 91.47% of all global searches. There is a big online search market beyond the United States and the English language. If there is an international market for your business too, implementing international SEO can be strongly beneficial. In that case, you won’t just increase your customer base and revenue. If your competitors aren’t implementing international SEO, you can get a significant advantage over them by expanding your current SEO strategy.

How to implement international SEO

Here are 8 main steps to implement international SEO

1. Determine your target audience

If you have been running your business for a while now, you should already have an idea of your target audience. But in this case, the question lies in uncovering the potential target markets that you can benefit from.

In addition to simple brainstorming, you can also conduct a competitor analysis to determine if any of them already receive international traffic. Run the websites of your competitors through an SEO tool like Ahrefs, Moz, or Semrush to determine which countries they receive traffic from.

Then see which specific pages receive the most traffic from each country and what keywords bring that traffic. In the process, try to understand if the international traffic that they receive has significant value behind it.

Another way to find new potential target markets is to conduct basic keyword research to determine popular search queries in the region and their search volume. This way you can estimate potential traffic from a specific country and understand the search intent of that audience.

2. Understand the difference between multiregional and multilingual SEO

When targeting a new market, it is important to understand exactly which countries and languages you should optimize. There are many potential cases in international SEO where the target countries and languages can be mistaken.

A good example is when a website targets Canada. In that case, the website will most likely target both English and French speakers located only in Canada. In other words, although the target country is only Canada, the website has to have both English-Canadian and French-Canadian content.

3. Create a proper URL structure

The most important step in organizing and categorizing content for multiple countries and languages on your website is implementing an SEO-optimized URL structure. Here, the most popular options are ccTLDs, subdomains, and subdirectories. Let’s explore each of them in detail:


Means country code Top-Level Domain. ccTLDs are domain extensions consisting of two letters that indicate a specific country. For example, the Russian ccTLD is .ru ( and the American ccTLD is .us (

One benefit of ccTLDs is the ability to host websites in their target countries to ensure a faster loading speed. However, this can easily be solved by using CDN, as discussed later in this article.

Another benefit of ccTLDs is the pattern interrupt — instead of the usual .com extension, visitors will notice that they are on a relevant, country-specific website.

Despite these benefits, ccTLDs aren’t recommended for international SEO. The reason is that a new domain has no backlinks — you will have to build its SEO authority from scratch. Linking from the main website to country-specific versions won’t be effective because of PageRank dilution.

In addition to that, using ccTLDs presents the challenge of managing a separate website for each country.

As a root domain extension, we recommend using a gTLD (generic Top-Level Domains). These domain names include extensions like the popular .com, .net, and .org. gTLDs are best for having one main website that targets multiple countries and languages.

The most significant benefit of gTLDs is that they preserve the accumulated SEO authority. Improving general SEO will affect the website as a whole, including all versions of content.



Which URL structure is better, Subdomains or Subdirectories?

Although both URL structures allow you to manage all the content on a single website, Google treats subdomains as separate websites. Therefore, you will have to build up authority for each subdomain separately. This leaves subdirectories as the most optimal choice.

“We typically recommend using subdirectories for multilingual SEO as they are easier to manage and provide better overall domain authority and link equity,” says Tom Molnar, Operation Manager at Fit Design.

“Also, it helps with the overall user experience and makes it easier for search engines to understand the website’s structure and content organization.”

From an SEO standpoint, the subdirectory URL structure is the most flexible and effective. For that reason, many companies, like Ibra Media, use subdirectories in their international SEO strategy.

4. Conduct keyword research

Because of differences in interests, cultures, and popularity, the common search intent can vary across different countries and languages. Don’t rush into translating content yet — some search intent that is popular among one audience can have zero search volume among another. You will likely have to skip translating some articles and create new ones exclusively for that country or language.

For accurate keyword research, we recommend using an SEO tool. Open a tool of your choice and input a seed keyword targeting a different language or country to get keyword ideas for your niche and see their search volume. If you are struggling to come up with seed keyword ideas, find competitors who receive traffic from the target country or language and see what keywords drive most of that traffic.

5. Translate content

After identifying pages to be translated into the new language, you have a few options. We recommend translating content yourself only if you know both languages. In that case, you can use translation tools like Google Translate as assistance.

However, if you don’t know both languages, you risk inaccuracies when translating certain idioms and local expressions. In addition to that, the content should be tailored to the new audience. Therefore, it is recommended to hire a professional translator in this case.

6. Fill up content gaps with new articles

You will likely find new blog post ideas that are in high demand in the newly targeted country or language. You may not need to publish the versions of the content in all languages. If you are unfamiliar with the region and don’t know the language, consider hiring local writers to produce content tailored specifically for the new target audience.

7. Use hreflang tags

Hreflang is an HTML tag attribute that specifies your webpage’s target country and language. This attribute helps Google to understand which users your content is intended for and show the right page to the right searchers.

Here is how the hreflang tag looks like:

  • The link rel=”alternate” part means the URL is an alternative version of this page.
  • href=”” specifies the URL of the alternative page
  • hreflang=”es” means the alternative page is in Spanish.

Hreflang attribute can sometimes also indicate the country. For example, hreflang=”fr-ca” means the alternative page is in French (Canada).

Contrary to popular belief, the hreflang attribute doesn’t pass PageRank. It simply functions as a signal for search engines about the target language and country of the webpage.

8. Enable CDN

CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a technology that improves page loading speed by saving copies of the page to servers located in different regions around the world. This way, when someone tries to access your webpage, it is loaded from the server that is the closest to the user’s location. When it comes to CDN, one of the most popular choices among website owners is Cloudflare.


The search market extends far beyond the United States and English-speaking internet. There is a significant opportunity cost in not implementing international SEO. In addition to more visibility, international SEO can give you a competitive advantage.

It is important to evaluate if there is an international market for your business and to assess your ability to effectively convert international customers. Simply increasing traffic doesn’t guarantee more revenue. If you are struggling to decide if international SEO will be beneficial for you, consider consulting with an SEO agency or specialist.

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A heavy gamer, there's nothing that Faith loves more than spending an evening playing gacha games. When not reviewing and testing new games, you can usually find her reading fantasy novels or watching dystopian thrillers on Netflix.

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