International SEO Best Practices


Most small businesses run SEO activities that focus around generating leads within a defined physical area (for example Toronto and surrounding area). But what about the multinationals and the online stores of the world?

Here are some tips for you to make sure you’re (1) showing up in search engines around the world, and (2) serving your international visitors’ needs:

1. Understand your audience

First off, you need to understand the regions you are targeting, so you can use phraseology, language and tone that they’re familiar with. What someone may consider a joke in North America, may be considered offensive elsewhere in the world. Pricing in one country may be different than in another country.

Do your research and take notes. Reach out to past and present customers in other regions and try to understand their buying cycle, needs, customs, etc.

2. Translate and localize

Do you know the difference between translation and localization? Translation is the act of changing words from one language into another language… but is that enough to reach your audience? Use what you learned in #1 (understand your audience) to speak to the various cultures you’re marketing to as you build out website copy for new regions.

The process of translation and localization can be a daunting task, especially if you’re expanding to multiple countries at the same time. Companies in this situation will often focus on a few regions initially, and rather than introducing full-fledged translations of their current site, will introduce “light” versions of their site for these new regions. They then monitor engagement metrics for each region to determine where their business will get the most traction and double-down on those regions while paying less attention to the lower-performing ones. Great strategy if you ask me!

3. Define your site structure and stick to it

Here are some ways to set up your multilingual site:

  • Different language by subdomain – i.e.,,, etc.
  • Different language by domain – i.e.,,, etc.
  • Different language by folder – i.e.,,

Choose a structure that you think would work best and be easiest to understand for your audience. If you’re using a Content Management System, you should be able to find a multilingual plugin that aids in keeping track of translations and will likely suggest the best site structure to use.

4. Use the link hreflang tag

Most CMS’ multilingual plugins automatically implement this but it’s worth mentioning so you can ensure you have things set up right.

This is what a link hreflang tag looks like:

<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="fr-FR" />

Consider a scenario where you have a website in French and in English. is the English version and is the French version. On the English home page, you would include the above tag which Google and web browsers where to find the French version of the home page. When Google serves up search results to someone in France, it would show them your French home page (located at rather than the English one. Pretty cool, right?

Following this example, your French home page would have this tag in it’s <head>:

<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="en-US" />

As mentioned previously, if you’re using a popular CMS (like WordPress for example) there are plugins available that put this code on all of your pages automatically so you don’t have to worry about it.

5. Consider using regionalized languages

The bonus of using the link hreflang tag is that there are lots of variations available for one language. People in France speak a different dialect of French than people in Canada. In that case, you could create even more variations of your site (fr-FR and fr-CA). The nice thing about this is it not only allows you to use regionalized language, but also regionalized content. You can show different content (offers, pricing, etc) to people in Europe (France, fr-FR) vs. people in North America (Canada, fr-CA). Think of the possibilities!

Click here to view a list of all of the available language codes

Of course, if you just want to have one version of your site for each language, that’s fine. Google is smart enough to show French content to people using French web browsers no matter what country they’re from.

Bonus tips

Consider the following tips if you want to go the extra mile:

  • Hosting your site on an IP address local to the country you’re targeting (if you’re using subdomains or domains for your different languages)
  • Linking to local content on your localized sites
  • Building links from local resources
  • Connecting with local search engines like Yandex in Russia and Baidu in China

If you have any questions about international SEO and localization, feel free to reach out to me. We’ve done many projects like this in the past and I would be happy to share my experience in more detail!

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