5 Steps to International Technical SEO

Photo by  Lopez Robin

Photo by Lopez Robin


Are you ready to take your SEO strategy internationally? If you and your team members are highly proficient in another language, then there is promise of success. But if you are not sure you are ready, check out this other post that I wrote on how to know if you are ready for international SEO.

If you know you are ready, this article addresses the technical SEO considerations for an international marketing focus. This post will look at how to change your top level domain, subdomains, tagging, schema markup, and geo targeting.

(1) Get A Country-Coded Domain

Option 1: Country-Coded Top Level Domain

The letters after the period of a domain will point to what country or sovereign state the site is optimized for. For example, https://example.com points to the U.S., https://example.fr points to France, and https://example.de points to Germany. This mean that the most effective way to adjust your technical SEO is by acquiring a top level domain for the new country you are targeting. This is called a ccTLD, or a country-coded top level domain, and is strong branding for those who prefer to click on a top level domain that they recognize and are accustomed to. However, this means that you’d have to purchase domains for each country you are marketing to, and this would split the domain authority of your original domain, requiring further increased SEO efforts to build back up authority.

Option 2: Country-Coded Subdomains

An alternative to purchasing a country-coded top level domain is setting up a subdomain specific to a country or language. For example, you may have seen something that looks like https://fr.example.com for France or https://de.example.com for Germany. This option is more cost-effective, but it is a bit trickier to set up. Users may also not trust the domain and as a result they will be less likely to click through and explore your content.

Option 3: Country-Specific Subdirectories

If a country-coded top level domain or subdomain presents you with difficulties, you may look into getting a country-specific subdirectory. This is when you have generic top-level domain (gTDL), and have specific subdirectory for a targeted country or language. You could have https://example.com/fr or https://example.com/fr-fr or https://example.com/fr-ch. The first two letters after the / point to a language and the second pair of letters points to a country. This option may be preferable since it allows you to consolidate all link building efforts and does not negatively affect your site’s domain authority. This also makes redirects simpler as you grow your site. This option is not as strong as an SEO signal as options 1 and 2, but there are ways to compensate with other SEO strategies.

(2) Add HrefLang Attributes

This type of tag communicates to search engines what group of information points to content in the same language. For example, if you are an Italian photographer marketing to Americans, you can add to the <head> of your site this tag: <link rel="alternate" href="https://www.example.it/" hreflang="en-US" />. This will communicate to Google “Hi Google, I’m based in Italy and I have a lot of buddies in the U.S. Can you tell them about this English language content.” You won’t have to remember all of the Hreflang tags, because you can use this tag generator provide by Aleyda Solis.

(3) Be Wary of Canonical Tags

In the case that you may have duplicate content, canonical tags tell search engines that a URL is what they should read over any other possible duplicate content. Some SEO specialists may suggest that you use canonical tags along with hreflang in order to send a stronger signal to search engines, but that is an advanced strategy and difficult to implement. For more information on this topic, see this article in Search Engine Journal and this article on Moz.

(4) Add Schema Markup

Schema markup is the result of a collaboration among search engines to index content in the most effective way. To optimize your site for international markets, you can use the Google Tag Manager to help you create schema markup that you can copy and paste in the code for any one of your pages. You can customize the schema for each of your international pages. For a description of how to do this, see this article in Search Engine Land.

(5) Set Up Geo Targeting In Google Analytics

Once you have added all of the correct signals on your site for your international market, then it’s time to set up your new pages in Google Analytics (GA). You should track the analytics of your top level domain, subdomains, and subdirectories. For each of these domains and directories, set up Geo Targeting in GA so that you are pointing to the correct country. Here you can also check that your hreflang tags are correct.

Be confident this will work.

This post went over the most salient technical SEO strategies for international markets. If you are sure that you are prepared to offer your products or services to an international market, then you should follow these strategies: (1) get a country-coded domain, (2) add hreflang attributes, (3) be wary of canonical tags, (4) add schema markup, (5) set up geo targeting. When you have this set up, you should also work on your link building on a continuous basis and make sure you have all the proper on-page tags. If you’d like to check out more information on international technical SEO see the below articles:

SEOBryn Bonino1