Jolina Pettice

5 Cheat Sheet Basics for International SEO

Jolina Pettice     Online Marketing, Search Engines, SEO

International SEO 5 TipsThe growing Global Economy has significantly increased the number of companies seeking search marketing strategies to connect with target audiences all over the world. Many clients we work with at TopRank Marketing are either already global organizations or aspiring to deliver products and services in different countries. As a result, we routinely field questions as clients begin their journey into International Search.

Many companies don’t know where to start with International SEO, so here are 5 basic and tactical SEO considerations for companies looking at expanding into International Search:

1. Domain Name
3 common domain setups include Country-specific, Subdomain and Subfolder.

Whenever possible, a country-specific domain name is preferred. i.e.

The country-specific domain is a strong signal to the search engine and may provide better visibility for country-specific searches.

In addition, this domain typically provides better usability for the searcher as it’s the familiar and more common domain structure.

For some countries, registering a country-specific domain requires a physical address. If you are launching international ventures without a country-specific address this type of url may prove difficult or impossible to attain.

In addition, with a new domain, time and resources for marketing a new website (think content, links etc) will be required.

Subdomain (

If a country-specific url is not an option, a subdomain is likely the next best solution.

The pros for this type of url structure include:

  • Easy to implement
  • Can be hosted separately, in native country
  • Can create a different sitemap for each country folder
  • Ability to set geotargeting in Google webmaster tools


The downside to this approach is the URL will still require country-specific promotion/links and will not have the added credibility of the country-specific domain.

Subfolder (i.e.

The pros of a subfolder are that it’s easy to implement and you still have the ability to set geo-targeting in Google Webmaster tools.

As with the subdomain, this type of URL structure provides no country-specific SEO value. In addition, a subfolder set up can potentially create duplicate content issues if the content is similar across multiple countries/subfolders.

Also, a subfolder is typically an indication of content subordinate to the top-level domain, which isn’t in line with creating a unique website for a different market.

2. Where the site is hosted
Where the site is hosted is an important factor and one of the hundreds of items the search engines take into account when returning search results. Whenever possible, the site should be hosted in the target country. This is especially important if your site uses a generic Top Level Domain (TLD) like .com .net .org. In that situation, a search engine like Google will use the location of the hosting server to determine location for the site.

If you use a country specific TLD, then that will be the primary signal for your site’s location and hosting in the specified country is not as important.

3. Addresses Published on the Site
In fleshing out the on-page company information, be mindful to lead with the contact information for the target country, even if the company headquarters might be elsewhere. This is good user experience as much as it’s good for search engines. The content of the website should be explicitly clear for the geographic target audience and that means displaying location information. Think of it as good keyword optimization. If you want your UK based company to rank well in for geographically specific phrases, then those phrases should appear in the site’s content, internal and external links.

4. Localize and Optimize Content
As with any other search engine optimization endeavor, content and the optimization of that content is key. Best practices will hold true and include:

  • Creation of unique content for the site that is not only translated, but optimized after translation
  • Content presented in the native language of the country – Optimized English that is then translated to another language does NOT result in content properly optimized for that language
  • Optimization of content for popular keywords, according to country-specific keyword results

Whenever possible, have native speakers review (if not, write) content for the site. International SEO isn’t simply a matter of publishing a site translated into a different language. There are a host of localization issues to be addressed. There are intricacies and interpretations with any language and the content on your existing site may not translate well.

5. Inbound Links
In creating a marketing plan for the site, be sure to include content creation that will be useful to the target audience, easily shared and ultimately be something people want to link to.

Building authority for the site will be critical and plans should include the acquisition of links from country-specific and native-language sites.

Creating a website which will produce results in country-specific search takes the same planning and coordination that’s likely being invested to achieve results from Google (US) search.  Keeping the target audience in mind and delivering a site customized for the visitor is the first step to International visibility. And don’t forget, Google isn’t King everywhere – so be sure to research how/where visitors search online in each specific country.


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  1. Hi, let me point some issues

    01. “subdomain is likely the next best solution” based on what you make this statement?
    I always ask the same question on that: have you tried to move subdomains to directories per language or the other way round to evaluate results?

    I’ve done it several times and outcome was always positive in favor of directories.

    02. “Where the site is hosted” Not relevant for ccTLDs. Since Google, at WebamsterTools, introduced the option to associate a generic domain with a country long time ago, where you host your site is not so relevant anymore.

    I always hosted in Canada and getting good organic traffic for generic TLDs in many European countries it was never a problem.


    • Hi Ani, thanks for the comments. 

      I’ll start with #2. It says in the post that country specific TLD’s do not necessarily need country specific hosting. 

      The recommendation in the post is specific to gTLDs like .com. Even if geo-targeting is set within Google Webmaster tools for a .com there’s a belief that the additional signal of the host server location (along with content and regional links) is useful to the search engines.

      Content and inbound links can explain your Canada hosting with good organic traffic from European countries. 

      Most of our clients aren’t looking for “good” traffic though, 🙂  with international SEO. They want the vast majority of traffic to come from a specific region because it represents their target market. Therefore, creating as rich a set of signals as possible for geo-focus is the approach. We are assuming to some degree, that readers of this post have a similar interest.

      For #1 – the subdomain recommendation is a result of a variety of factors. 

      One is the “How to start a multilingual site” post on Google which simply provides sub-domains and sub-directories as viable options.

      Then there’s our preference for sub-domains in marketing a web site. Sub-domains appear to users as a distinct and different website moreso thana sub-directoy. 

       Sub-directories for different language sites are often excluded from certain listings because they are directories and not domains. Therefore, a subdomain like complies with requirements of only top level domain names as eligible for inclusion.  

      Essentially, the sub-directory recommendation is as much about the overall marketing benefits as it is about the potential SEO benefits.

      • Hi Lee, let me try to explain better what worries me about this article.

        I understand the challenge to list 5 basics on a complex topic like international / multilingual SEO bit it can lead to misunderstandings and this is the last thing we all want.

        and Directories
        Of course every scenario is different and no one for all solutions here but I’ll keep asking the same question on an on every time I see someone preaching in favor of subdomains: did you ever test if moving from subdomains to directories (or the other way round) was working better or worse?

        People are taking important decisions based on non-tested assertions.

        If I defend stubbornly directories is because I’ve tested that not one but 4 times. Whenever I see evidences of the contrary I’ll change my talk.

        Google article “How to start a multilingual site” doesn’t recommend one solution over the other, it is a list of options. Matt Cutts’ opinions change with time. Not conclusive.

        Subdomains by lang. / country
        • Considered almost a completely different entity than their domain by S.Engines(take a considerable amount of time to gain traction within the SERP’s)
        • They don’t inherit most of the domain’s relevancy
        • Contribute poorly to increase the domain’s relevancy

        In any case I rather advice based on tests result.

        specific hosting

        “there’s a belief” Yes, it makes sense and usually the most reasonable option is the valid one but let’s go further because SEO cannot be build in top of beliefs.

        Country specific hosting is the last of my priorities when facing an international project, why?:

        • Can you do it? Tons of technical i$$ues ahead
        • Is it a cost effective solution? In general terns NO. The extra bit of a benefit you could get compared to Webmaster Tools solution is way more expensive
        • Any test or experience on that? Yes. I moved projects hosted at European countries to Canada/US servers with no impact at all. Some other projects hosted from start in Canada work really good from SEO standpoint in European countries.

        Content and inbound links can explain that. Of course, I agree 100% with you but we are talking about a very specific topic hosting.

        At international SEO scenario “good” traffic means traffic coming from a specific region. I never said otherwise.

        “Much about the overall marketing benefits as it is about the potential SEO benefits” Didn’t think about in that terms. Probably another interesting discussion.

        • Thanks for the reply Ani. 

          The context for sub domains in this post is exactly for the reasons you argue against them. They are indeed different websites. They are not meant to pass authority to the primary domain, but to gain their own, relevant to the target country or region. 

          Whether the subdomains are considered a different entity, take time to gain traction with and not inherit or contribute to, the main domain’s relevancy are moot points because these are independent sites with a unique audience and content.  It’s not like they’re being used as doorway pages or microsites purely for the benefit of the main website. 

          This is all secondary of course to the preferred route of using country specific domains where subdomains or subdirectories wouldn’t be necessary. 

          As for country specific hosting, I see you feel strongly 🙂 

          From the post above: “If you use a country specific TLD, then that will be the primary signal for your site’s location and hosting in the specified country is not as important.”

          The reality is one where resources need to be managed in accordance with projected benefits and outcomes. For the handful of companies we’ve worked with internationally, resources and cost for hosting in the desired country are a non-issue. 

          Also, we’re not talking about moving hosting, but establishing new websites (which we failed to mention in the blog post and should be corrected). I would not recommend a company move their hosting to another country just to gain SEO benefit.

          Again, hosting in the country of interest is only a recommendation if the client is looking for all possible advantages according to their situation and resources and they can only work with a generic TLD. 

  2. thanks for sharing this!

  3. Might want to update the title (and possibly the permalink) to reflect the updated post title….just sayin

  4. Avatar Sydney @ Social Dynamics says

    I always wondered why there are some domains with a country specific domains. I wonder though, how can you properly localize a content in detail?

  5. Interesting to see the other internet marketers on here. I always wondered where you people were, lol.Here’s a little trick I use. Find an industry related event in the country your promoting whatever product or service and review what keyword patterns there.

  6. I meant to say international internet marketers oops…

  7. Thanks for your post. Our company has a website for .com and another for .ca for our Canadian audience, but with duplicate content. Our About Us and Contact Us sections specify the locations for each, and we have country flags on both directing visitors to the country where they want to go. But as of September, results in are showing our .com site. Our Google Webmaster settings are correct and we do have one domain for .com and one for .ca. Any suggestions for how to fix this issue?

  8. Hi.

    I have another website with a very localized concept that i even am using the local dialect in it.  

    Traffice is decent for a new localized website such as mine.  I’ve done my own SEO one step at a time.

    But the trouble comes with my Adsense Ads.  It does not display the ads i think mainly because the adsense system is unable to find a suitable ad related to my localized site.

    Traffic is there, but it does not give me a decent dime.  Would you know how should I deal with this?


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