International SEO: The Complete Guide

February 21, 2024
International SEO: The Complete Guide

Do you need to create a global search engine optimization (SEO) strategy for your business? If so, you’re in safe hands. In this article, I’ll talk about everything from site structure to international keyword research, as well as covering the technical aspects of website localization. Consider it free SEO training for those who need to know what an hreflang tag is, whether they should choose a subdirectory or subdomain structure and precisely where technical SEO fits into the picture. 

My aim is to walk you through each element of global SEO, so that you have the confidence you need to create an international SEO strategy for your business. 

Let’s get started. 

What Is International SEO? 

International SEO, also known as global SEO, is the process of optimizing your website to help search engines understand which countries and languages you are targeting. This method unlocks the potential to reach customers worldwide and expand your global reach. 

Why do you need an international SEO strategy?

You need to understand the best international SEO strategy for your specific needs, if you plan to sell your products or services overseas and want to appear on the search engine results pages (SERPs) there so that customers can find you, you’ll need to attend to international SEO. Your competitors will certainly give their global SEO strategy some attention, so you’ll need to do the same if you want to stay in the game. 

Site Structure

One of many key decisions that you’ll need to make when it comes to international SEO relates to your site structure. You’ll need to choose between three options:

• Country code top-level domain (ccTLD)

• Subdomain

• Subfolder/subdirectory

Let me run you through each of these…


A country code top-level domain applies to a particular country, sovereign state, or territory. It is a two-character top-level domain (TLD), such as .UK for the United Kingdom, .AU for Australia or .US for the United States. 

I find this site structure option is particularly useful if you’re targeting several entire countries as part of your international business efforts and want an international URL to suit each location. If, for example, I was planning to sell products in the UK, France, and Italy, and wanted to localize them and present a country-wide service in each market, using ccTLDs might be the best way to do so in order to rank locally in the SERPs. 

However, ccTLD is not without its disadvantages. You have to build up the domain authority of each site and it can be expensive to maintain when compared with other structures. 


If you want to present highly localized sites to audiences in different regions, but consolidate your domain authority, it makes sense to use subdomains. This is where multiple microsites sit under one main domain. With this structure, you have, and so on.  

For global SEO purposes, subdomains provide you with an easy way to shape your content differently for each region. Search engines will consider each subdomain to be a different website, so this is ideal if you’re targeting different keywords in different languages (I’ll talk a bit more about international keyword research below). 


If you’re planning on keeping your content the same across each of the languages you use on your site, then I find that a subfolder/subdirectory structure is usually the best approach. It’s a handy way to keep everything in order and comes with the added benefit that search engines tend to crawl subdirectories more often than they do subdomains. 

Determining Your Target Locales

If you’re planning to take the world by storm, you’ll need to break down your targeting into both countries and languages. This will be influential in helping you to decide the best structure for your site. 

For example, do you plan to target Portuguese speakers with your website? If so, are you targeting Portuguese speakers in Portugal or Brazil? Or are you targeting Portuguese speakers around the world, from Angola to Madeira to London? You’ll need to define this as part of your global SEO strategy, as it will have a bearing on some of the choices that you make along the way. 

Let’s look at countries first. 

Google Stats in Different Countries

Google is a superb resource when it comes to finding the data you need to determine your target locales. One of the most fascinating aspects of international SEO, in my view, is the balance between the globalized elements of the process and the localized ones. Did you know that 46% of searches on Google are for local content? Given that the search engine processes more than 3.5 billion searches every day, that’s a whole lot of local searches. 

The key reason for targeting specific countries with your website is that your business offering needs to be different for each one. If you sell goods to numerous countries, you’ll likely need different payment terms, shipping policies, imagery, payment processing tools, and more. You may well also need to comply with different data protection requirements, which can also lead to changes in your content and offers. 

Of course, it’s entirely possible that you’re localizing your products too. Coca-Cola, for example, uses country-specific recipes and names in order to cater to local tastes, using ccTLDs for different countries. 

Use Google to trawl as much data as you can to support your country-specific approach (this is also known as geo-targeting). Just remember – not all countries use Google as their preferred search engine, and some don’t use it at all. So localize your research to focus on the top search engine in each country you plan to target, rather than just relying on Google. 

International Keyword Research

Any SEO school worth its salt will spend plenty of time drilling the importance of keyword research into you, and it is just as important when it comes to targeting international audiences. 

Google’s Keyword Planner, the Yandex Keyword Tool and the Bing Keyword Tool are definitely your friends here. Be prepared to spend plenty of time using them. You can review the keywords you’re researching by both country and language, which can result is some excellent data to steer your international SEO strategy. There are other international keyword research tools on the market too, so you can shop around to find the tools you are most comfortable using. 

Remember, though, that you still need to carry out market research in each of your target countries. Global search engine optimization is all well and good, but if consumers don’t like the taste of your product or find the packaging off-putting, you’ll quickly come unstuck. 


Creating Content for International SEO

With your keywords in hand, it’s time to think about creating content. There’s plenty to consider here, starting with what’s of interest to each of your audiences. I’ll break this down a bit so that we can look at the different elements of creating content as part of your global SEO strategy. 

Site Localization (Technical Aspects)

I could spend plenty of time talking about building a strategy for localizing your website and content. I’ve already done just that, in fact – you can click the link below for full details. 

Localization is a complex process. It’s about creating content that resonates with your audience, backed up by the appropriate technical infrastructure. To localize your website, you’ll need to deal with:

• UI content extraction

• Linguistic and functionality checks

• Project management

• Localization engineering 

• Source validation

• Quality Assurance (QA) and testing

• Linguistic QA

If you’re not familiar with the technical side of how to do this, I highly recommend using a specialist localization company. Yes, if you’re technically minded you could most likely work your way through all of this. But if you want to move fast and get you product to market in new countries, it pays to use professionals. 

Read more: Developing a Localization Strategy: A Comprehensive Guide

Content Localization

You’ll need to localize your content for each audience. Your goal is a site that feels native to each user, no matter where they are reading it. In some cases that might mean a different homepage for each country. In others, it might mean a site that is largely the same, but with blog posts focused on each audience. 

The nature of your business will determine which elements of your content you need to localize, but rest assured you will need to localize some. For a fuller discussion on the value and concept of localization, along with those of internationalization and globalization, click the link below. 

Read more: What Are Localization, Internationalization and Globalization?


One of the most obvious parts of localizing your content for different audiences is the language in which you write it. You’ll need to use website translation services to ensure your language sounds natural in each country. When you’re trying to crack international markets as part of your global SEO strategy, there’s no room for low-quality machine translation. 


Localizing your site will include various design considerations. Chief among them will be how the language fits within the template. Different languages flow in different directions and take up different amounts of space, so your site will need to account for that. 

You may also need to ensure that you’re able to present the site in different scripts. English is the top language used on the internet, but it’s closely followed by Chinese languages. Will you need to present your content using Hanzi? And is your site set up to do so? Your international SEO strategy will need to factor in these kinds of considerations. 

From a design perspective, you’ll also need to give some thought to how your imagery, colours, logo and other visual elements will resonate with your target audiences. Your market research should help guide you in this. 

Global SEO Factors

As I’ve mentioned above, there are many factors to consider when it comes to global search engine optimization. Let’s take a look at some of them here. 


Any discussion of SEO global considerations will quickly see the word ‘hreflang’ pop up. Hreflang tags are all about targeting languages. You’ll need to use the right hreflang tag for each audience – hreflang Spanish for Spanish speakers, hreflang English for English speakers and so on.  

Hreflang tags help Google to know which language to present your site in for different users. They are small bits of code that you use with a subdirectory or subdomain site structure (you don’t need them for ccTLDs). 

An added benefit of using Hreflang tags is that they can help different pages of your site from competing with each other in the SERPs. 

Local Site Hosting

If you’re targeting specific countries, one clear way to signal that to search engines is to opt for local hosting. A local IP is a clear SEO signal, just like your international URL.

Local Content Marketing

You can’t create a comprehensive international SEO strategy without thinking about local content marketing. This is an excellent way to raise awareness of your brand. From your own blog to guest posts, social content and more, content marketing targeted at each local audience can have a significant impact when it comes to promoting your site. If that promotion is what you’re focusing on right now, you can click the link below for 15 free and actionable ways that you can do so. 

Read more: How to Promote Your Website in 2021

Creating and Implementing Your Global SEO Strategy

Keeping all of the above in mind, it’s time to create your global SEO strategy. And then to implement it. You can follow the steps below to ensure you miss nothing out. 

Step 1: International Keyword Research

With your market research undertaken to establish an appetite for your products or services in each country, it’s time to devote your attention to international keyword research. Don’t underestimate the time that this can take. It’s an intensive but ultimately incredibly worthwhile task. 

Once you’ve nailed down the keywords you’re targeting in each country and language, it’s time to work on your content. 

Step 2: Content Localization

Your strategy should lay out which elements of your content will remain static and which will need to be localized (and in what way) for each of the countries that you’re targeting. Your content has the power to convince browsers to purchase your products, to share something about your brand on social media, to join your mailing list, and much more. As with your international keyword research, this is not a part of the process to rush. 

Step 3: On-Page Content Optimization

On-page content optimization – also called on-page SEO – is a set of tasks that you can undertake to ensure that every page of your site is optimized to improve its position in the SERPs. This doesn’t just refer to optimizing the content itself, but also to your meta description and HTML tags. 

This is a great quick win in terms of doing all you can to improve the performance of your pages.  

Step 4: Technical SEO 

Technical SEO is another element of on-page SEO. This is where you enhance the technical elements of your site in order to improve its performance in the SERPs. Technical optimization of this nature includes making your website easier to crawl, making it more understandable for search engines, and making it faster overall. 

Step 5: Content Marketing

You’ll no doubt want to market your website in various ways. Check out the link below for some inspiration on global marketing. 

One element of this, as I mentioned above, is content marketing. The more quality content you can generate, whether that be in the form of videos, blogs, social media posts, guest posts or anything else, the more interest you can create in your brand. And the more interest you can create, the more potential consumers you have available to convert into loyal customers. 

Read more: Global Marketing Strategy Guide


Are you ready to create your global SEO strategy? I hope this quick SEO training class has given you a good grounding in how to do so. Learning SEO takes time, especially as part of an international SEO strategy, but it’s a time commitment that can pay serious dividends. 

To recap, I’ve run through:

• What global SEO is

• The importance of site structure

• How to determine your target locales

• The key elements of creating content for international SEO

• Global SEO factors

• How to create and implement your strategy

Now, it’s over to you. Good luck. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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