Top 5 Things to Consider for International SEO Strategy

published by on 23rd April 2014 under Digital Strategy, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Internatioanal SEO

International SEO is the phrase used for optimizing websites targeting multiple countries or multiple languages or both. Have you thought about how Google and other search engines will treat your website when you want to appear in search results for multiple countries? Here are 5 most important things to consider when building website for multiple countries and languages:


1.       Domain & URL Structure

When you think about international reach, this is the very first factor that you must consider. Making decision on URL structure can be vital. There are many factors that you may want to consider when looking at improving your reach internationally. Here is a chart to explain pros and cons of each from Google webmasters help:

URL structure





  • Clear geotargeting
  • Server location irrelevant
  • Easy separation of sites
  • Expensive (and may have limited availability)
  • Requires more infrastructure
  • Strict ccTLD requirements (legal)

Subdomains with gTLDS

  • Easy to set up
  • Can use Webmaster Tools geotargeting
  • Allows different server locations
  • Easy separation of sites
  • Users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone (is “de” the language or country?)

Subdirectories with gTLDs

  • Easy to set up
  • Can use Webmaster Tools geotargeting
  • Low maintenance (same host)
  • Links to all the pages count towards domain authority
  • Users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone
  • Single server location
  • Separation of sites harder

URL parameters

  • Not recommended.
  • URL-based segmentation difficult
  • Users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone
  • Geotargeting in Webmaster Tools is not possible

The selection between ccTLDs and gTLDs comes down to the resources & time available for SEO of the websites and availability of domains. If you operate in more than 2 countries, we recommend that you should be looking at sub-directories with gTLD (.com, .org, etc.) option. These are easy to manage and have a clean structure. Moreover, from an SEO point of view, the efforts put in to building links to any part of the website will benefit to build overall domain authority of your website in search engines.

2.       Geo-targeting of Websites

The use of ccTLDs ( is generally considered as a strong signal to tell users and search engines about your targeting location of the website. But as mentioned above regarding the cons of using ccTLD and limited availability, most of the SEOs prefer subdirectories or subdomains.

So, how to approach geo-targeting for gTLD (.com, .net, etc.) with different locations? You may also have your servers located outside New Zealand due to your infrastructure needs. So, by default your website geo-targeting may be totally wrong to search engines.

This is not very hard; you can always use Google webmasters tools to tell Google about your targeted location of the website. Here are your options:

a)      If you have a .com or any other gTLD and want to target users in NZ only:

-          Set up Google Webmaster Tools

-          Go to the specific URL after logging in

-          Click on the settings button in top-right corner

-          Go to “Site Settings

-          Set country to “New Zealand” under Geographic Target

b)      If you have .com or any other gTLD and want to target users in multiple locations:

-          Submit different sub-directories/subdomains as different sites in Webmaster tools. i.e.,, etc.

-          Now you will have different sites under Webmaster tools dashboard

-          Set specific locations for each as shown above

-          This will tell Google that any pages or content on these sub-directories /subdomains targets different locations. i.e. targets NZ users

Remember, you can register subfolders separately in Google Webmaster Tools and designate a different geographic target for each subfolder.

Find more information about geotargeting here.

Also, there are many types of global-TLDs that you must be aware before picking your domain. You can find a complete list of geotargetable domains here.

3.       Duplicate Content

Websites built for different regions and in different languages may present content that is same or similar and available on different URLs. According to Google, this is generally not a problem as long as the content is for different users in different countries. But, we recommend that you should use the previously mentioned techniques to differentiate geo-targeting of the content.

If you are providing same content to the same users with different URLs, you should pick a preferred version and redirect appropriately (i.e. if you have domain and .com/nz version on gTLD with same content). You can also use rel=canonical link element. But we prefer to set 301 redirects to the preferred version, so that you carry over the SEO value from the old version if there is any.

Moreover, make sure that the content is tailored to the specific audience. For example, if you are an e-commerce store, use local terms and addresses where possible. Here is the list of major On-Page elements you should consider updating according to the targeted country:



H1 & H2 Tags

Copy on the pages

Internal linking on country specific directory/domain

Easy navigation to switch to other countries

Currency & forms

Local content

4.       Different Languages

Language is critical to success of international SEO of the website. When you want to provide content in different languages with the different locations, you should be looking at this carefully.

According to Google, the best way to target users for that language is to use visible content in that language on a specific URL. Don’t just translate the content with an automatic translator and create multiple pages, Content must be translated by professionals to make most sense out of it. Google suggests using robots.txt to block search engines from crawling automatically translated pages on your site if you still want to use automatic translators to generate multilingual content.

You should also perform a native keyword research to target the best keywords for targeted countries. Even, there are different types of English languages available for different countries i.e. UK English and Australian English are different. Use of local words and phrases enhance long tail SEO and improve visibility in the search engines.

Language Meta Tag

With the help of rel=”alternate” herflang=”x” tags, you can specify multi-language URLs in the same domain as a given URL, or use URLs from a different domain.

Find more information on this topic here.

5.       XML Sitemaps

When optimising your website for different locations, make sure that each version uses XML sitemap and register this with search engines. For the gTLD websites using subfolders/subdomains, create a separate sitemap and submit it in Google Webmaster Tools as a different website under specific profile for each country.

In conclusion, SEO for multi-regional and multi-lingual websites is the key to get more qualified traffic to your website from different locations across the globe. Getting your basics right is very important, so that you have the best chance of success.

Should you want to expand your website internationally or you have any issues regarding your international online presence, talk to FIRST today for expert advice.

Useful Resources

Google’s Official Guidelines for Multi-regional and Multilingual sites

 Setting Geographic targeting in Google Webmasters Tools

 Help Google Serve the correct language to your visitors

 40+ Tools to help your International SEO

 International SEO Checklist

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