Guide

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

International search engine optimisation

You can take steps to target customers in different regions and countries through your website. Key international search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques include localising your site content and structure.

You should remember to balance your targeting approach so as not to discriminate against users in particular regions. There are EU rules that prevent unjustified 'geo-blocking' practices.

Websites targeting multiple regions and languages

To target international customers that speak different languages, consider offering content tailored to these audiences.

International website structure

There are three main types of global website:

  • multi-regional – target users in different countries who speak the same language, eg UK, Australia and Republic of Ireland
  • multi-lingual – target users in different countries who speak different languages, eg  UK, Spain and France.
  • multi-regional and multi-lingual – target users in different countries, some of whom speak the same language and others who don’t, eg UK, France and USA.

Think about you how you structure your website to reach these groups. For example, you could have a dedicated site for each country you aim to target, or you could offer language options from a single website.

There are three main options for an international website structure:

  • Country code top-level domain names separate countries into different sites through a dedicated code, eg ‘website.co.uk’, ‘mywebsite.es’, ‘mywebsite.fr’. This option offers an effective method of geo-targeting. You will need to register the country code top-level domain. This is the favoured SEO approach for global websites, but it may be more expensive than the other options.
  • Subdomains allow you to add a country-specific subdomain to a generic top-level domain (eg .com, .org). For example, you could have a Spanish language subdomain ‘es.mywebsite.com’ and a French language subdomain ‘fr.mywebsite.com’. This method is easy to set up. The subdomains can act as separate websites.
  • Subdirectories offer the simplest method. They are different sections of the same website. They will usually appear as a path in the URL, eg ‘mywebsite.com/es’ or ‘mywebsite.com/fr’.  

Before deciding on the best approach to target specific countries and languages, remember to look at your web analytics. Consider if the volume of visits and conversions match the effort required to develop a dedicated web presence for that group.

Localisation

It’s important to localise content for different regions and countries. Remember that there can differences between regions that speak the same language. For example, there are different spellings in US English and UK English, eg color and colour.

You should consider localising of the following elements on your multi-regional or multi-lingual website:

  • URL
  • title
  • meta description
  • navigation
  • headings, text and images
  • currency – this is especially important for e-commerce websites
  • local office address
  • local office phone number (or appropriate dialling codes)
  • local time

International keywords research

Keyword research in other languages can be challenging. You could get the help of a native speaker or professional translation service to assist. Remember that a direct translation of a keyword in English may not be the most relevant keyword.

Online keyword research tools can be a useful resource. See search engine optimisation: keyword strategy.

International link building

Links from local sites are important for SEO in each region. Local backlinks will carry more weight than those coming from other countries.

Build links for your international website by engaging with local media and bloggers in each region. 

See search engine optimisation: links strategy