International SEO: international search engine optimisation

ÁLvaro Vázquez

Álvaro Vázquez

Digital Marketing Manager

Do you think your customers are in multiple markets? And can your company’s products or services be distributed globally? Do you think there is a demand in the digital market for them and that you can explore it at the level of online searches?

Then you have a simple answer and it’s called international SEO and we are your international SEO agency 🙂

What is international SEO?

We could define international SEO strategy as the set of techniques used to manage the digital presentation of a company in relation to different types of consumers who speak different languages and live in different countries or regions.

Google (and the other search engines) makes a lot of effort to understand the target audience of a website, and takes many factors into account.

Our job is to make it as easy as possible for Google to crawl these pages and make it as easy as possible to understand them. For this reason, any sign of localisation is not enough to make the search engine’s life easier.

International SEO is the set of techniques used to manage the digital presentation of a company in relation to different types of consumers who speak different languages and live in different countries or regions.

But, where to start with international positioning? Is it easy or difficult to position in other countries?

At DDigitals we have already faced different international SEO projects and we are very clear about the way.

How to make an international SEO plan

Road map estrátégico para hacer un plan de SEO internacional
Our international SEO project roadmap

Let’s start at the beginning.

An international SEO agency can start an international targeting project in one of two ways: right or wrong.

My recommendation is that you do it the first way, because if you don’t, you will waste hours, money and the work of many valuable people.

Getting it right is not that complex either, just start with these three points:

  1. Think and then execute.
  2. Find the right partner, not everyone can execute this kind of projects.
  3. Get advice from SEO professionals.

Once you have this in your head, keep in mind the foundations on which any international SEO strategy is built:

  1. Specify the country and/or region of the website with a url structure that is suitable for international segmentation. In other words, orientate the page to a country.
  2. Correctly establish for which language or languages the pages are oriented, for this purpose language tags (hreflang) will be used.
  3. Generate content for each of the country-language consumers.

Any international SEO project is based on these three points, my recommendation is that you have them well defined before starting, otherwise it will be very complicated and very costly to straighten it out afterwards.

1. Local market research

To position a website in another country or countries, the first thing we have to control is the market we are going to target.

And controlling the market does not mean doing a keyword reseach; it means doing an in-depth market research of the country.

At DDigitials we have parterships with local destination agencies that help us with this research, as it is impossible for anyone to control the jargon, manners and local sensitivities of a country outside their own or a specific region.

Of course, we also work hand in hand with our clients who are the ones with the market intelligence and who provide us with valuable information.

We talk to their marketing directors, their sales force or their local agencies, in order to draw up an international strategy that makes sense globally and not in a piecemeal fashion.

By the way, you might be interested in the post on Trends in Digital Marketing for 2022; where I talk about this trend of centralising strategy and execution in a single company to achieve a solid alignment.

Some of the benefits of conducting market research are:

  • Understanding which search engines are used, as a Euopean is not the same as a Russian, for example.
  • How potential customers search, because my English is not the same as an Englishman’s English (I assure you).
  • The search motivations, what is hidden underneath the search intention.
  • The size of the companies in each country.
  • Investments.
  • Perception of value, think about the price that consumers in one country or another are willing to pay.
  • Devices.
  • Network connectivity.

I could go on, but I think you can get an idea of how important it is to have the indigenous wisdom of a country.

Don’t hesitate, if you can get someone local to start the project, do it.

2. Web architecture, the soul of international SEO strategy

There are different url structures that can be implemented in this type of project.

This is one of the most important keys to international SEO; since the type of structure conditions the strategy.

That is, depending on where you want to take the business, one structure or another may be more beneficial when it comes to achieving objectives.

These structures include using domains called ccTLD (code top-level domain); subdomains, subdirectories or subfolders.

The first thing to note is that this choice segments countries and not languages.

ccTLD domains

This type of domain limits the website to a specific geographic area; they look like this.

What is being segmented here is the country and not the language.

That is to say, it seems obvious (and Matt tells us in the previous video) that if we choose a domain with an ending such as .es, presumably the content will be oriented towards the Spanish market.

Google indicates the advantages and disadvantages of using this type of domain, but here I summarize them for you:

Type of domainAdvantagesDisadvantages
www.example.esYou tell Google very clearly which market you are targeting.It is much more expensive
No matter where your server is locatedYou need more infrastructure at all levels
Sites (different languages) can be separated easilyThere are restrictions depending on the type of domnimo
Advantages and disadvantages of ccTLD domains

One of the biggest drawbacks of this strategy (which, in the end, is to have a different domain per country) is the cost of SEO maintenance, as we would be talking about totally independent websites.

This type of international strategy therefore requires a great deal of financial muscle.

One company that has opted for this strategy is Amazon (,,, for example.


Google calls them “generic top-level subdomains” and that’s what they are:

Type of domainAdvantagesDisadvantages configuration is simpleWe lose UX because a user or customer may be confused by not understanding whether he/she is in a certain country or in a certain language.
We can rely on the geographic segmentation of Google Search Console
Servers do not have to be in the same location, which is beneficial for international SEO.
We can easily separate the sites
Advantages and disadvantages of subdomains

An example is WordPress which uses this system to divide its territories.

Subfolders or subdirectories

In this case, the countries hang from the main domain.

In this case, the domain authority is transmitted to all the subdirectories, so when positioning a web page in another market, the link juice can be distributed.

However, it is a more complex strategy to manage and, in addition, it can only be on a single server, which can affect the loading speed of the web page.

Type of domainAdvantagesDisadvantages configuration is simpleWe lose UX because a user or customer may be confused by not understanding whether he/she is in a certain country or in a certain language.
We can use Google Search ConsoleThe server can only be in one location
By being in the same hosting, we reduce costsIt is more complicated to separate the sites
Advantages and disadvantages of subfolders

Recommended reading: Boost the loading speed on your website and fly.

Nike has chosen this configuration (,

gTLD with parameters

I already told you that this option is not recommended by Google.

It consists of using the main domain and parameterizing it according to the user’s country.

Type of domainAdvantagesDisadvantages recommended by GoogleSegmentation by url becomes more complicated
Users will not recognize geographic segmentation
We could not use Google Search Console

If you want to know more about how these parameters work, take a look at these contents.

3. Segmentation by language

There are a couple of concepts that need to be clear before proceeding: language and regional variant of a language.

A language is an abstraction of language that is materialised in regional varieties. Thus, we can have Spanish (from Spain), but also Spanish from Latin America.

If we continue segmenting, we will find that, for example, in LATAM we also have regional varieties of Spanish.

A language is an abstraction of language that is materialised in regional varieties. So we can have Spanish (from Spain), but also Spanish from Latin America.

Thus, we can find Mexican Spanish, but also Colombian or Peruvian Spanish, and we can indicate these varieties to Google if we consider it strategically relevant.

I recommend that you take a look at the video above; it talks about the most common mistakes that are made when indicating to Google the localised versions of your website.

According to the search engine itself, there are three cases in which we should indicate to Google that we have variants of a website:

  1. The main content is in a single language and only the template is translated, i.e. the main menu and the page request.
  2. There are regional variations of the same language with similar content where words change depending on the region (think, for example, Spain, Mexico, Argentina).
  3. There is content that is translated in its entirety into different languages, such as our website: and

In these three cases it is recommended to make it easier for Google to understand the content we generate for the user.

Main problems of language targeting in search engines

These are the most common problems that search engines encounter when distinguishing content in several languages.

  1. There is a url created for a specific user but the search engines omit it.
  2. The search engine finds two almost identical urls for a site when they are, in reality, different (confusing the user).
  3. The search engine does not detect that new pages have been created and therefore removes them from the search results.

Our question is, then, how can we avoid some of these three cases?

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    Sending signals to the search engine that we have created alternative language versions of a web page with the famous hreflang.

    Hreflang and the segmentation by language and regional variety

    The famous tag rel=”alternate” hreflang=” was admitted by Google in December 2011 so that webmasters can indicate to Google the language or language variants of a web page.

    In this sense (and now yes) this is the way to segment by language.

    Remember, in any case, that hreflang is a signal and not a directive, so Google is not obliged to follow it.

    How and where can hreflang be implemented?

    Google tells us very clearly: choose only one implementation, it is not necessary to implement it everywhere.

    So it is of these three ways, we will choose one.

    1. html tags.
    2. http headers.
    3. Sitemap.

    That is, you don’t need to implement this tag in all the sites of the website, it is more than enough to be in one place.

    In the code of your website, this tag will look something like the following:

    As this is not a technical tutorial, I leave here the link of how to implement them, in case you are interested in rock freak a bit.

    Combining geographic and language targeting

    I hope it is clear that geotargeting and language targeting are achieved in different ways and it is the combination of the two that makes for an efficient international website.

    In the following table I give you an example of some combinations of geolocation and language targeting to make this clearer.

    UrlInterpretation of the search engineType of segmentationNomenclature
    www.example.esUsers in SpainCountryccTLD y hreflang=enEnglish speakers in SpainCountry and languageccTLD + subdomain y hreflang=enEnglish speakers in the worldLanguageSubdomain + hreflang=enEnglish speakers in SpainCountry and languageccTLD + subdirectory + hreflang=enEnglish speakers in the worldLanguageccTLD + subdirectory
    Domain and language combinations for international SEO structure

    In addition to these combinations, there are other signals that can be activated to make it easier for google to understand the language of your website.

    1. Host the website on a local server.
    2. Link content to websites that are hosted in the same country or where the content is local.
    3. Get links from local websites.

    5. Make an international content plan

    Plan de contenido internacional

    The international content plan must be adapted to the varieties of dialect, product and market behaviour.

    In this sense, we may need to make new content or adapt existing content.

    It is also possible that searches are similar and the same content can be used, which is sometimes great.

    Never do an automatic translation of content as Google perceives it as spam.

    The content plan should always be linked to the business or brand objectives, as nothing makes sense if we do not back it up with data and mediate it correctly.

    To get to this point and make a truly international SEO content plan we apply a well-defined methodology that consists of:

    1. Find the voice of the brand.
    2. Analysing and auditing the content that is made to understand what makes sense and what does not, and what we can take advantage of and what does not.
    3. Team meetings to understand the local market.
    4. Understand the competitive gap between the brand’s direct, indirect and aspirational competitors.

    From here, international content generation will make sense.

    6. Local servers and CDNs

    When setting up your company’s e-commerce or service website, you have probably opted for a structure in order to reduce costs.

    Some of these structures, which we have already discussed above, can only have a single server.

    Of course, this is not good for SEO. Requests from a user (I’m making this up) who lives in London to a website hosted in Spain will take longer than those from a user who makes the query from Spain.

    And speed is a clear SEO factor for Google.


    One of the solutions to take into account and worth considering are the CDN (Content Delivery Network).

    These serve to speed up the loading speed of websites that cannot be hosted on different servers and that are penalised in terms of their loading speed.

    It is a simple way to improve the experience of an international user.

    7. Cuadro de mando internacional

    In an ideal world, customers foresee what they need at the technical level to develop their business strategy.

    However, nothing could be further from the truth.

    In the end, companies are living animals that grow organically and are built up little by little, so not everything is perfect, nor can it be.

    For this reason, when we work with international clients we are not surprised to see, in many cases, how disjointed the data and strategies are.

    On the business side, the same is true.

    There are no clear and concise dashboards to help department heads make quick and reliable data-driven decisions.

    It is important to generate an international business scorecard that starts from the most general or the most specific and supports different parts of the company.

    This will significantly improve the efficiency of decision making and, of course, the cumulative business results.

    8. Linkbuilding internacional

    As I mentioned before, linkbuilding not only improves the domain authority of a page, but also serves to indicate to Google which audience and countries you want to target.

    So with orthodoxy in hand, a Spanish site should not receive links in English or in another language or vice versa (something that as you know is not fulfilled).

    It is important to emphasise that the links obtained in this type of strategy do not serve to bring referred traffic to the website, but are used to improve the page authority.

    To do this, it is necessary to carry out a previous media curation from which to link and define an appropriate anchor text strategy.

    Our roadmap as an international SEO agency

    Our steps in International SEO

    As an international SEO agency, I can summarise this process in these 5 points.

    The important thing, apart from having a methodology, is undoubtedly to connect with the client and understand their market well in order to be able to offer quality content.

    It won’t do us much good to start without having a clear idea of where we are going and who we are going to compete against.

    I leave here a case of SEO success in the travel sector in case you want to take a look at it.