International SEO: It’s Not About YOU by @5le

International SEO: It’s Not About YOU by @5le

International SEO: It’s Not About YOU by @5le

Most posts on international SEO will delve into the technical differences that you need to put into place to succeed outside of your primary market. And while there are things that need to be done, you can read about them elsewhere (here’s more info on which Domains to use, Hreflang, and CCTLD). Many authors and bloggers have written extensively on how to structure multi-location and language sites, how to translate content, and what sort of branding to use.

There is no reason for me to rehash them since essentially this advice has not changed in the many years I have been doing international SEO.

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What is International SEO?

Instead, I want to focus on search user experience, the area of SEO that’s guaranteed to pay dividends even if you don’t rank as highly in other languages as you do on your primary English keywords. First, let’s clarify exactly what international SEO is and isn’t.

While many people might refer to any non-English or non-US SEO strategy as international SEO, this definition is far too narrow. International SEO is any organic search campaign that is targeted outside one’s native language or country. This means that a UK marketer working for a British company building an SEO strategy in the US is practicing international SEO; likewise, an American creating an SEO campaign for Canada is also international SEO.

Acting as if all English-speaking countries are one and the same when it comes to SEO misses out on all the cultural nuances between nations. Having spent the last two years living in Singapore, an English-speaking country, I have a better understanding than I did before on how a non-US searcher might feel seeing their search results “polluted” with foreign websites, even with a well-known brand like BestBuy (which doesn’t ship products to Singapore).

Due to the vastness of the US internet, US search users would rarely come across a domain or website that was not meant to service the US market.

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With international SEO defined in such a broad context, you might see why getting this right reaches far beyond whether you use a ccTLD or subdomain for different locations. The most important component for such complex SEO scenarios is localized marketing – or more specifically, a focus on the localized search user experience.

Search Engines

Google might be the world’s largest search engine in the world, but it is by no means the only one. Yandex is the most popular search portal in Russia, Baidu (and others) in China, Naver and Daum in Korea, and Szenam has a significant user base in the Czech Republic.

You need to understand how to optimize for these engines if you are targeting these locations, but you must also learn how locals use these engines. Long non-specific searches might be feasible on Google, but on other engines with less advanced algorithms, you can’t rely on spell checkers and even RankBrain to surface your webpage. There are even things like font size and image usage that will affect your rankings.

Yandex search box

Yandex search box


Before any discussion can begin on building out target keywords in another language or even another geographic location, it is vital to recommend that the source for all translations or localizations be an actual native speaker.

Translating based on machine translating tools like Google Translate or simply modifying spelling for another locale skips out on all the specificity required. Hire an actual native speaker to help with localization, and unless you are targeting the most obscure locale or language, someone is always available to hire on Craigslist or similar classifieds site.

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Your native translator will help you understand which cultural references are inappropriate for a different location, slang words that need to be added, and ideas on keywords to use. For example, you might be aware that Independence Day sales in July might not be relevant to anyone not in America, but did you know that imagery on websites also needs to be made appropriate for a target audience?

Once you have all of your research on phrases and culture, you can build this out into target keywords that you could sprinkle into your traditional SEO taxonomy.


The guidance from Google might be unclear about whether local links are necessary to rank internationally, but let’s look at links in another way. If you can’t get websites or media in your target countries to even link to you, how can you get people to buy from you or trust you? Additionally, links aren’t just for domain authority and rankings, but can also send valuable referral traffic and branding your way. While in-country links might not be negligible for ranking, no one can argue that obtaining them is a bad thing.

Focus on the efforts necessary to get in-country links. Build a content offering and link worthy pages that would make websites in that country want to link to you. Pursue media campaigns in the specific country, and don’t just expect your brand strength to carry over from your primary country.


No international guide can ever be complete without mentioning mobile. You may have heard of mobile first economies, but some countries are really mobile-only economies. If the only computing device available to your target audience is a mobile one, make sure your webpages are lightweight, and your value proposition is easy to grasp on a small screen. While from personal experience, I have not seen Google’s mobile algorithms have a huge impact outside of the US, your site would only benefit from being more user-friendly to mobile users.

Action Items You Can Take Right Now

Depending on the nature of your site and business, international SEO may not have been on your roadmap. Regardless of your focus, it is very likely that you already receive traffic from visitors outside your target area. Here are three steps you can take today towards improving your international SEO traffic without making a single technical change.

  1. Verify your site on the webmaster tools for all global search engines not named Google or Bing.
  2. Check your web analytics dashboard to see if there’s a particular page receiving international interest. If there is, provide a link to another page that might be better targeted to those international visitors by taking into account any keyword or cultural needs
  3. Look for low-hanging link opportunities outside your target market.

If international SEO is important to you, then you should certainly not neglect the technical aspects. But you will find that you can get a lot further with a lot less money if you simply improve the way you present your website to international users.

Image Credits

Featured Image: Deposit Photos

Screenshots by Eli Schwartz. Taken January 2017.


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