International SEO

What is international SEO


International SEO, short for international search engine optimization, is the process of organizing and optimizing your webpages to allow search engines to identify the countries you are targeting, the specific content and language for each user in a given location.

  • Why is international SEO important?

    The biggest reason to take a close look at international SEO is to ensure that your website’s visitors are enjoying an optimal user experience. Ultimately, websites that can best accommodate the cultural, linguistic and content expectations of their highest-traffic user groups will have higher long-term value whether that comes from increased sales, engagement or raw traffic numbers.

  • Boost a site’s value to its users

    The main cases where international SEO can really help boost a site’s value to its users involve sites that have strong traffic or growth potential from multiple countries where cultural and linguistic differences come into play. The risk in not having a strong international SEO strategy in place is that your website’s potential growth may never be realized.

  • Realize potential growth

    Take a site that is getting 5 percent of its traffic from China but whose content is exclusively geared towards English-speaking Americans. That company may be stifling massive future growth by not creating a separate website, hosted within China, and with Chinese-language content. In this case, creating content that is specifically targeted towards that significant China-based user group makes sense.

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International SEO works by first determining who is your target audience, your website users are and then deciding if taking a targeted approach to SEO is worthwhile. Check your site’s international traffic, organic search visibility from other countries and the volume and types of keyword searches that are taking place by your target audience.

The first step that international SEO calls for is determining how a website’s domain should appear for its country- or language-specific content. There are mainly three main domain types that international SEO can make use of: country-code top-level domains, subdomains and subfolders or subdirectories.

Country-code top-level domain names that end in two-letter country codes, such as example.es, are generally best for targeting users from a specific country. Subdirectories like example.com/es are best for targeting speakers of a given language wherever they happen to be located across the globe. Subdomains such as es.example.com are not recommended as they’re seen by Google as a separate website which have to build up their own authority.

International SEO usually also involves the customization of content in order to make it both appealing and familiar to a target demographic or region. This can also extend beyond language. Many regions and cultures have starkly divergent tendencies when it comes to everything from customs to humor. Making sure that your website is appropriate to your targeted region or user group, both in terms of language and message, can go a long way towards successfully attracting traffic from targeted locales.

Search engines as Google and Bing recommend using hreflang tags when a website targets different language groups and has alternate webpages that it serves for each one of those groups. Hreflang tags can hugely improve user experience where a website has pages that are fully translated into multiple different languages. Sites that change content in slight but important ways between regions, such as gearing one page towards the UK and another towards Australia, can also see big improvements in conversion rates through the use of hreflang tags.

Websites that field multiple requests within very short timeframes or that have diverse user bases that are located across the globe may benefit enormously from what is known as a content delivery network. At their most basic, CDNs are a sort of webpage syndicator, allowing people across the globe to be served a site’s webpage by a local server rather than an internationally located server. This can significantly reduce loading times, greatly helping retention.

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To keep in mind with international SEO


  • Website in the target language

    When optimizing your site in order to target a certain region or speakers of a specific language, it is important to make sure that every aspect of your users’ experience will be engaging and welcoming. This means that everything the user encounters on your website should be in the target language while maintaining cultural appropriateness. For example, a website in Arabic should never feature a help page or chat support that is exclusively in English.

  • What to avoid with international SEO?

    Machine translations into the target language should be avoided. And you want your language-targeted site to be crawlable by the major search engines. This means staying away from scripts that automatically bring up geotargeted or language-specific content. Finally, stay away from automatic redirects based on geolocation. You never know for certain if someone from a country actually wants to be viewing content in the official language of that region, not to mention that many places across the globe are increasingly occupied by groups that speak different languages.

  • Who can benefit most from international SEO?

    Websites that are primarily aimed at multiple regions or language groups can benefit significantly from international SEO. Also, companies that have indicators of strong interest from regions or user groups that are starkly different from their primary target audience can see strong gains from international SEO. An example of the latter might be a manufacturer in Brazil that has also gotten a significant volume of low-engagement, high-bounce-rate traffic from California due to its content being in Portuguese.

Digital Experts


We're amongst the best international SEO experts in the world, and as such, we'll leave no stone unturned.

Carlijn van de Star
Carlijn van de Star
Global Search Consultant
Miranda Gahrmann
Miranda Gahrmann
Global eCommerce Consultant
Anne Rakhorst
Anne Rakhorst
Global SEO Specialist

How can we help you?


  • International SEO experts

    Our firm is comprised of international SEO experts who have decades of combined experience helping companies large and small to achieve their digital marketing goals. We help firms establish their goals and then to develop detailed roadmaps to reach them.

  • Identify markets with strong growth potential

    We can help identify markets with not only strong growth potential with respect to traffic but also with respect to earnings. And our skilled international SEO specialists can help your company from optimizing country-specific search engine results to creating locally relevant content that will drive strong engagement throughout a variety of international markets.

  • Helped enterprises to reach international SEO goals

    We’ve successfully helped enterprises to reach their international SEO goals. And we can tap into that deep expertise to identify where your company might benefit from a concerted international SEO program and then help you to implement it.

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