Your international SEO guide: technical edition


You know the importance of international SEO when it comes to growing your business, but do you know how to best optimize your website for a global audience? You might think it’s about translation and localization, and you’re right, but it’s much more than just that.

To go global, you have to plan and prepare by starting from the ground up. This means ensuring you have the right multilingual CMS for your website, researching your target markets with international SEO in mind when building your content structure, having a solid website translation approach, and counting with a team of localization experts for your targeted locales.

When planning a multilingual website, there are really two sides to the SEO coin – technical and content. The technical side of international SEO is a bit more complex – but it doesn't mean you need to have all that expertise in-house. Find a partner that specializes in international SEO for your target markets, and you'll have a team of technical SEO wizards to guide you through all the steps.

All that being said, let’s dive into technical SEO and why you need it to drive your business’s international growth.

What is technical SEO?

Depending on your role in marketing, you may be less familiar with the ins and outs of technical SEO, especially when it comes to the international version. It’s not just adding backlinks or crosslinks; it’s a more behind-the-scenes job that requires some knowledge of URLs, codes, website crawling, tags, and metadata.

Adding the international component to this creates layers of details that need your attention and can have a negative impact if not done correctly. (But no pressure!)

Here are some of the layers you’ll need to understand, as well as implement.

URL structures for multilingual websites

In your day-to-day dealings with the internet, the chances are very high that you have visited a global brand’s website. Sometimes you’ll notice that the website’s URL contains letters that correspond to your location. There are many ways to structure an international URL, and they all have their uses; which one you choose depends on your end goal and your budget.

Country-code top-level domain (ccTLD): This is a code tied to your targeted country or territory that goes at the end of your main domain instead of “.com”. This is good for ranking locally in your targeted location, but can be expensive keep up.


Subdomain: This is a “third-level” domain that lives on your main domain, and while it’s slightly easier to maintain than a ccTLD, it can also have a harder time ranking on Google.


Subdirectory: The page is placed in a subfolder of your root domain. This, along with subdomains is easier to maintain than ccTLDs.


Different domain: You can also choose a different domain for each language’s website, though some may not find this cost effective. While it has the chance to rank entirely on its own, it also creates exponentially more work, depending on how many countries you’re targeting.


Hreflang tags

Hreflang refers to the HTML tags added in the code to your website’s back end. It’s a signal to Google (and some other search engines) that helps them categorize your website and attribute it to a specific language.

Domain example:

But the code on the back end would look like this: hreflang=“en”

Hreflang attributes must be added in order for Google to show the correct content to each visitor, depending on their language or location. It can also help identify which specific country you are targeting if more than one country speaks that language. For example: hreflang=“en-us” for English speakers in the U.S. or hreflang=“en-uk” for English speakers in the U.K.

Some search engines, however, don’t recognize hreflang, such as Bing or Baidu. Instead, they rely on metadata, so you’ll need to ensure that’s optimized as well.

Tech stacks

“Tech stacks” are simply a collection of digital tools that help maximize your SEO, whether through crawling, rank checking, keyword research, and/or competitive research. With the proper tech stacks, your international SEO efforts will be more fruitful.

These days, there’s a large variety of tools from which to choose, and each of them has their own specific benefits.

  • Semrush offers features such as an on-page SEO checker, which audits your existing pages and gives tips on how to improve, allowing your website to really stand out.
  • Moz is a great way to conduct SEO research, and since it keeps up with the changes to Google’s algorithm, it always knows where you have room for improvement.
  • And, of course, we can’t forget Google Search Console. While Google has myriad tools to guide you in your SEO efforts, this one is well-positioned to help you monitor your website’s performance on SERPs.

The best way to find out which tools are right for you is to just do the research. Try out as many tools as you can before deciding. And don’t limit yourself to one tool; it’s difficult to find one that does everything.

Having a multilingual content management system (CMS) with SEO functionalities – such as on-page optimization, SEO-friendly URL creation, control over meta descriptions and page titles, and more – can help implement best practices.

Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) in particular can help accomplish these tasks with various page properties including canonical tag, inclusion in sitemaps, social media tags, and more. Your AEM solution partner can help you decide what works best for you.

Search engines

Here’s one last thing to keep in mind. While Google is the number one search engine in the world, it’s not number one in every country. Some countries have their own primary search engine, so if you want to target those countries, you’ll need to learn the rules of their search engines. Some examples:

  • Baidu – China (222 million active users)
    You’ll need a .cn domain suffix to rank well here, as a .com won’t get you very far
  • Yandex – Russia (20 million active daily users)
    Since it takes longer to discover new URLs and sites, you’ll need to regularly submit sitemaps directly to Yandex.Webmaster
  • Naver – South Korea (200 million global users)
    It’s hard to rank without paid ads, and they are dependent primarily on their own internal websites

Learning how to rank on Baidu, for example, would be on the top of your list for digital marketing in China.

Dos and Don’ts and final thoughts

  • Do ensure you have done research about which regions/countries to target based on your current customer base and your desired growth.
  • Don’t rely on Google (or other search engines) to translate your main website’s content for international markets.
  • Do keep in mind that different search engines have different requirements for ranking.
  • Don’t neglect the idea of international growth just because there’s more work involved.
  • Do find the right tools to help you get the job done correctly.

Remember, SEO isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. If all of this seems daunting, don’t worry – you don’t have to do it alone. Finding a partner who specializes in technical international SEO can help you along the way.


Contact us!