For any company that trades overseas, or hopes to in the near future, reaching those potential customers online requires a crack international SEO strategy. What is International SEO? It is essentially geo targeting, and it offers a scalable and cost-effective way to grow and reach your desired foreign target market.

Setting up a site to attract international traffic presents a number of questions and choices that often don’t appear as part of a regular SEO campaign, making it an interesting and exciting challenge. But be warned though, overlooking the right International SEO approach for your business can lead to underwhelming organic results. Marketers need to be aware of the pros and cons that accompany each method when it comes to structuring a successful international site.

Identifying opportunities

Take a closer look at your website’s analytics and you will probably notice that your audience isn’t just coming from your own country. It’s hardly surprising given that 73% of internet users speak languages other than English. So if you are receiving a good share of visitors from other countries, or that speak other languages, your site will likely benefit from international SEO.

To really identify whether it’s time for international SEO, use your preferred analytics software to identify the volume and trend of total and organic traffic from other countries and languages. Do this along the used keywords and pages of the visits and conversions per country and language. This will help to identify whether your foreign users are using your site for its intended purpose, i.e. that they’re generating conversions, and aren’t just there by accident.

The technical elements of international SEO

Deciding on your site structure for international SEO really comes down to whether you are targeting languages, countries, or both. If location is a factor that influences your online goals, products or services then country targeting is probably the best route for you, if not, then take, or start by targeting languages.

This choice will help influence which of the three main types of site architecture you choose.

Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD)

A ccTLD like or .ca emits the strongest possible geo-localisation signal to search engines, ensuring better ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs) for the countries you plan on targeting. However, this method will require setting up an entirely new site for each country you plan to target. The new site will also require a separate SEO strategy, including content and links to help it rank in the SERPs. A ccTLD is therefore best left to large brands that already have a presence in the countries they’re targeting.


Creating subdomains for the countries and languages you want to target is a more suitable option than ccTLDs for small businesses and new entities. They are easy to track and easy to manage within your existing Google Analytics property. Each subdomain can also be hosted on servers within the countries you are targeting, which is viewed as a geo targeting signal by Google and other search engines. This approach also has its negatives, as subdomains are treated as separate sites, and like ccTLDs, will require their own link building campaign and SEO strategy.


Adding subdirectories for countries and languages is the easiest route and is inexpensive compared to other solutions. It also only requires one domain to look after and consolidates that domain’s authority. Choosing this method however, does mean you’ll miss out on some of the geo-local benefits of subdomains and ccTLDs.

Best practices for all of these methods are to make sure your content is localised and that you’re directing your target audience to the right page for their language. This may sound obvious, but by using the local language, currency and even time zone together with contact information for your business, you’re sending strong signals to users and most importantly to search engines that they’re in the right place.

Directing users to the right page and showing search engines that you use their language can be done by using hreflang or language meta tags. These are bits of code that indicate which languages your content is available in. Placed in the on-page markup, HTTP header, or sitemap the hreflang attribute uses a combination of country and language codes to make sure users in foreign countries end up on the pages you’ve created for them.

Measuring your results

After launching the international version of your site, you’re going to want to measure its performance for each language and country. Track each of your individual site versions independently to help separate out the data from each site and ensure that international visitors are converting according to your goals.


By Euan Leopold, outreach executive at Equator


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