Mastering International SEO Strategy: A Comprehensive Guide

Cover of International SEO Strategy blog post

In today’s digital age, SEO has become a crucial element in any digital marketing strategy, as it is the key to being found by potential customers when they search online. While traditional SEO is a basic element in any marketer’s tool belt, there’s a bigger opportunity waiting for those looking to grow beyond their borders: International SEO. 

Learning how to do International SEO could be complex for businesses that are starting to grow, but this is where a guide like this one can become useful. At Optimanova, we are well-equipped to craft an International SEO strategy. Our team is made up of multilingual marketing experts who are fluent in more than 6 languages. But it’s not just about languages; it’s about understanding different cultures and how they search online. 

We’ve applied our knowledge and expertise to help many international clients expand their businesses around the globe. Through this guide, we want to help you do the same.

Understanding International SEO

International SEO is the area of SEO that ensures people from different countries and who speak different languages can find your business online. These actions can significantly increase your website audience, bringing in more visitors, potential customers, and, ultimately, higher sales from across the globe. 

Key components of your International SEO checklist should include:

  • Technical Setup: Ensuring search engines understand your target countries and languages through your web structure.
  • Content Localization: Adapting your content to fit the cultural context and language nuances of your target audience.
  • Link Acquisition: Building a backlink profile from reputable local sites to boost relevance and authority in target regions.
  • Measure success: How you are going to measure the success of your International SEO strategy and how to identify insights to help you grow.

Let’s dig into those points one by one.

Technical Foundations of International SEO

Technical SEO foundations for International Website

When you start thinking about International SEO, understanding and implementing the right web structure is crucial. These foundations ensure that search engines can accurately identify and serve your content to the right audience across different countries and languages. 

Website Structure: ccTLDs, Subdomains, and Subdirectories

One of the first decisions you will need to make when creating a multilingual website is the structure. Choosing the right URL structure is the key to your global SEO strategy. Each option has its advantages depending on your business goals, resources, and how you plan to target different regions or languages.

  • ccTLDs (Country-Code Top-Level Domains) such as for the United Kingdom (e.g. or .fr for France, are strongly geo-targeted, making it clear to users and search engines that the content is specifically designed for that country. They can be more expensive and require more maintenance but are excellent for targeting specific countries.
  • Subdomains (e.g., can be used for different countries or languages. While they’re easier to manage than ccTLDs, they might not carry the same strong geo-targeting signals.
  • Subdirectories or subfolders (e.g., are the easiest to set up and maintain. They benefit from the main domain’s authority but might not be as effective in geo-targeting as ccTLDs.

Google provides detailed documentation about the use of different web structures for international websites. The best option will depend on your needs and resources, but if you already have a strong website and are planning to expand globally, here at Optimanova we recommend using subdirectories for simplicity and to take advantage of the main domain strength.

Hreflang Tags for Language and Regional Targeting

Hreflang tags are critical in International SEO. But what is an Hreflang tag? Well, it is a piece of code that tells search engines the language and the region you are targeting on a specific page, so the right content is shown to users in their language. 

The hreflang tag can specify a language only, or a language AND a country.

Consider a website that has English, Spanish (Spain), and Spanish (Mexico) versions. Here’s how you would implement hreflang tags for each language version of a specific page:

English version:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en” href=”” />

Spanish (Spain) version:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es-es” href=”” />

Spanish (Mexico) version:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es-mx” href=”” />

The English code doesn’t specify the country, only the language (en), but the Spanish pages do specify the country because in this example the website has one version for Spain and another for Mexico. This prevents search engines from showing content with incorrect currencies or words to the wrong users.

Hreflang tags are one of the most complicated elements in SEO, so make sure you get them right. 

Things to consider when implementing hreflang tags:

  • Identify Your Target Audiences: Determine the languages and countries you’re targeting. Each language and country combination should have a unique hreflang tag.
  • Apply Hreflang Tags Across Your Website: Each page that has a version in a different language or for a different country should include hreflang tags in the <head> section of the HTML. Alternatively, you can also place hreflang tags in the HTTP headers for non-HTML files (like PDFs) or in your website’s sitemap.
  • Use the Correct Language and Region Codes: Hreflang tags must use ISO 639-1 format for language codes and ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 for country codes. Ensure accuracy in these codes to avoid misinterpretation by search engines.
  • Include a Self-Referencing Tag: Each page should include a hreflang tag that references itself along with tags for any other language or country versions. I.e. the Spanish (ES) pages should not only have an hreflang tag pointing to the English (EN) and French (FR) versions, it should also have a Spanish (ES) code pointing to itself. This self-referencing tag confirms to search engines the page’s intended audience.
  • Implement a Return Tag: For every hreflang tag pointing to another version of the page, there should be a reciprocal tag on the targeted page pointing back. This confirms the relationship between the pages and their alternate versions.

Implementing hreflang tags correctly is a key step in a “Multilingual SEO Strategy,” as it helps prevent duplicate content issues across different language versions of your site and ensures users find the content in the language they prefer. If you are having trouble setting up your hreflang tags, we recommend Aleyda Solis’ Hreflang tags generator tool to help you with the process.

General Technical SEO Best Practices

To ensure search engines are indexing and serving your content to the right audience globally, it’s essential to integrate technical SEO best practices with specific international considerations. This includes:

  • Create an XML Sitemap for each language (And submit them to separate Google Search Console properties)
  • Ensure your robots.txt is correctly configured
  • Perform regular web audits: Identify and fix crawl errors, broken links, and incorrect redirects. 
  • Ensure canonical tags are correctly implemented, especially when using hreflang tags
  • Ensure a mobile-friendly website
  • Improve site speed and keep Core Web Vitals in mind
  • Optimise images
  • Secure your site with HTTPS
  • Use Structured Data

Adapting to Regional Search Engines

When expanding globally, it’s crucial to recognize that Google isn’t the only search engine on the map. Regions like China and Russia prefer Baidu and Yandex, respectively, each with its unique algorithms and rules.

Tailoring your SEO strategy to accommodate the guidelines of these local search engines can enhance your visibility in specific markets. 

Crafting Content for a Global Audience

Global audience for an international website

In the realm of Multilingual SEO, content plays a pivotal role in connecting with global audiences. Because if your audience cannot read your content, how are you supposed to connect with them? Even less sell them anything. 

It’s not just about translating text; it’s adapting your content to the local language and culture while maintaining your brand’s voice and identity.

Researching and Integrating Local Keywords

Keyword research is the foundation of any Content strategy, but in International SEO, it requires an additional layer of complexity. You need to identify how people in different regions search for your products or services, which can vary widely due to linguistic and cultural differences. 

In American English, for example, the word Vacation is used for time off from work, but in British English, the word Holidays is used instead.

In Spanish from Spain, we use “gafas de sol” to refer to sunglasses, but in Mexico, they use “lentes de sol”.

Use local keyword research tools like the Google Ads Keyword Planner and insights from local teams or experts (like us in Optimanova)  to understand the peculiarities of each market. Incorporate these localized keywords into your content to improve visibility in local search results and user experience.

Localization vs. Brand Consistency

Once you have identified your local keywords, it’s time to localize your content, but this might prove more challenging than you think.

Localization involves adapting your content to meet the cultural, linguistic, and commercial needs of your target markets. It’s about understanding that what works in one region may not work in another due to differences in cultural norms, values, and behaviors. This includes sentence tenses, local sayings, measurement metrics, regional holidays, etc.

However, while localizing content, it’s crucial to maintain a consistent brand message. This means ensuring that, regardless of language or location, your brand’s core values, tone, and identity remain recognizable. Make sure to share your tone of voice guide with your localization team to ensure it doesn’t get lost in translation.

Understanding Cultural Nuances and User Behavior

Cultural nuances can significantly impact how your content is perceived. From imagery and color symbolism to social norms and taboos, every aspect of your content should be tailored to fit the cultural context of your audience. For example, red is used for danger or alerts in Western countries, but in China, it is associated with happiness and good luck.

You also need to consider other elements, like the location of your images and CTAs. While most websites appeal to Western countries, in certain languages the script is written from right to left, like in Arabic countries. In these cases, it might make sense to mirror your design to ensure that the “BUY” button converts effectively.

Additionally, understanding local user behavior, such as preferred devices, social media platforms, and online shopping habits, can help you guide how you structure and promote your content.

Building Global Link Equity

Just as backlinks are crucial for traditional SEO efforts, they remain important when targeting audiences across different countries. To improve your presence in each market, you should earn backlinks from local websites.

Acquiring High-Quality, Region-Specific Links

The core objective in international link-building is to acquire backlinks from websites that are authoritative and relevant within your target regions. Some good tactics include:

  • Local Influencers and Industry Leaders: Engaging with local influencers and industry leaders can lead to valuable backlinks or mentions. Even if you don’t obtain a backlink, their mentions can improve your brand’s visibility and credibility in new markets. 
  • Leveraging Local Content: Creating content that caters to local interests, challenges and questions can attract backlinks from regional websites. This includes local news outlets, blogs, and industry forums. Have you opened a new shop in Paris? There is an opportunity for a PR campaign right there!
  • Participating in Local Events and Communities: Involvement in local events, webinars, and online communities can open opportunities for backlinks. Sponsorships or partnerships with local events can also be beneficial.
  • Competitor backlinks: You can use tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs to identify competitors’ backlinks and try to obtain links for your international website.
  • Building Relationships with Local Sites: Establishing connections with local publishers, educational institutions, and organizations can lead to high-quality, locally relevant backlinks.

Remember that quality is better than quantity when it comes to backlinks. The benefit of a backlink is influenced by its local relevance and the authority of the linking site. Links from websites that are well-regarded within a specific country or region can enhance your site’s SEO performance in that region. Remember to obtain regional links for each of your international websites if you want to rank well in each region.

Measuring the success of your International SEO strategy

Graphs measuring the success of an international SEO strategy

In the dynamic world of SEO, measuring success and adjusting strategies accordingly is essential for sustained growth.

Tools and Metrics for Tracking Success

Several tools are indispensable in the arsenal of an International SEO strategist, including:

These platforms provide a wealth of data on website performance across different regions and languages. 

Key metrics to monitor:

  • Organic sessions/users: Track the volume of visitors coming from each country to measure the effectiveness of your International SEO efforts.
  • Conversion Rate: Bringing traffic is not enough in SEO, you want to make sure you attract quality traffic that converts. Measure how many of these visitors are taking desired actions (e.g., making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter) and consider if you are targeting the right audience or if the user experience is clear enough.
  • Keyword Rankings: Although not a great measure of success due to volatility and the intricacies of the SERPs, you can still monitor how your targeted keywords rank in different countries to understand visibility.
  • Bounce Rate and Time on Site: These metrics can indicate how engaging and relevant your content is for international audiences.
  • Indexation: Use Google Search Console to ensure your content is indexed in the correct country and ensure Google is following your hreflang tags.

Uncover insights from your reports

Create custom reports for your website to help you visualize your selected metrics and your goals. Then, use them to identify insights that can guide your International SEO priorities.

  • Identify performance differences between regions: Focus more resources on regions where you’re seeing the best results or identify the reasons why some regions are underperforming.
  • Adjust for Underperforming Keywords: If certain keywords aren’t ranking well in specific regions, reconsider your keyword strategy or content localization for those areas.
  • Optimize for User Behavior: Analyze how users interact with your site in different countries. Adjust content, design, or UX to better meet their preferences and behaviors.
  • A/B Testing: Experiment with different elements of your multilingual SEO strategy to see what works best in different markets.

Ready to embark on your Global SEO Journey?

From understanding the technical foundations to creating localized content that resonates across cultures, crafting a robust International SEO strategy is critical for businesses aiming to connect with audiences worldwide.

If you’re ready to expand your horizons and take your business to new heights, Optimanova is here to guide you every step of the way. Our International SEO services include site auditing, content marketing and global market analysis. Contact us now to start your international journey and unlock the full potential of your business on the world stage.

Marcos Alvarez Martin
Marcos Alvarez Martin
Marcos is Optimanova's SEO and Content Specialist and also our resident trainer. He has +10 years of experience in Digital Marketing, managing web migrations and creating engaging content. And, from time to time, he also loves sharing his knowledge in SEO (and videogames).