Level Up Your Website: The International SEO Checklist for 2024


Google processes more than 3.5 billion searches per day, with search contributing up to 80% of all trackable website traffic. It’s no wonder 82% of marketers say SEO has a positive impact on business goals.

“SEO is an excellent form of inbound marketing, where the consumer has a need and finds you for the solution,” says Greg Bernhardt, an SEO strategist at Shopify. “SEO is about positioning your web content to communicate the relevance and value of your offering to search engines, who can then better pair the search they receive with the solution you offer.”

What Is International SEO

International SEO is a subset of SEO practices that businesses and individuals use to rank on search engines. However, with international SEO, websites can rank in different countries and languages.

So no matter how great your international SEO strategy is, the best practices you follow, and even if you rank at #1 in those countries, you still won’t see any traction.

On the other hand, if you’re a US company considering expanding to Canada, your snow jackets will see strong traction.

Using international SEO best practices will help you rank on Google when people look for products that are similar to yours.

Using international SEO, you can direct your Canadian customers to pages that offer Canadian price tags and shipping information.

“You’ll need a website structure that includes both U.S. and Canadian pages and leverages enough metadata that search requests from users will direct them to the right page for their current location,” explains HubSpot.

It’s worth noting that international SEO is called multilingual SEO when different languages are involved.

The international SEO checklist outlines a few steps you should take when developing and optimizing a website to target international territories and visitors:

  1. Researching potential markets
  2. International trade logistics
  3. Your website targeting strategy
  4. Defining your website structure
  5. Best practice HTML
  6. International keyword research
  7. Localizing your content
  8. Geo-targeting
  9. International link building
  10. Leveraging international social advertising

In brief, you want the site to rank well in the specific countries you sell to, and you want the correct pages to appear with the right messaging in the right language. That is what this guide will help you do.

Most importantly, this guide will help you create a website that creates the best possible user experience for your international visitors and ensures you have the best opportunity for ranking well and attracting traffic.

So let’s get started. Your very first step to take is to do your market research

1. Researching potential markets

Many businesses often jump straight into forming their international SEO strategy without first analyzing the data they have. It is very likely that even if you haven’t previously put any time or effort into developing your website to target more than one country, your website is still visible (albeit in a very limited capacity) in other countries. 

Therefore, you may already be getting a small amount of traffic from other countries. To assess this, use Google Analytics to check your current traffic from other countries and languages.

On the “Audience” navigation on the left of your Analytics account select the  Geo > Location tab to assess your current international visibility.

example above, the website in question is getting traffic from multiple regions, despite not being explicitly set up to target those countries, which is encouraging.
Your goal, of course, is to drive up the volume of traffic your website can capture in each country. This can be significantly increased by developing well-structured, localized content for each of the regions you serve.

You can also check your current organic search visibility in other countries using Google Search Console.

Search Console lets you assess your international search visibility in the Performance section seen below.

google search console international research

In this report, you can see Clicks, Impressions, Average CTR, and Average Position by specific countries. With Search Console data now going back up to 16 months, this is a really powerful resource to use for your international SEO strategy. This data helps you understand which country your customers are based in, any potential markets, and specific queries each country may have.
Perhaps certain keywords have a higher CTR in the United States and not the UK? Or, over the last 6 months, you’ve seen a large rise in the number of Impressions from Germany. 

The granularity Search Console data can give you around specific queries and pages is a real bonus when you are analyzing your international organic visibility. Don’t be overwhelmed by the amount of data you can see – read our Google Search Console Guide to help you demystify and understand the reports you are seeing. 

Another tool you can use is SEMrush which is particularly useful for researching your competitor’s international search engine visibility, as seen below:

semrush international seo competitor research

Here we can see your competitor’s international organic visibility, what their top-performing keywords are, and an indication of how much traffic they could be driving to the site.

Finally, in addition to Analytics and Search Console, Google has its own tool to help you better understand potential international markets for your business, Google’s Market Finder.

international search engine market share

Above is the data for the Search Engine Market Share Worldwide. However, if we break down this data we see a different picture to the Google domination seen above. For instance, Baidu dominates the search market in China and Yandex is used in Russia and much of Eastern Europe. Knowing this will help you to know what signals you need to be sending and to which search engines, in order to get local traffic. If you’re interested in doing your own research you can see a full breakdown of each country’s search engine market share here.

2. International trade logistics and the impact on your SEO

While this guide focuses on international SEO, we cannot ignore the fact that your business has to be geared up and ready to deliver your product or service internationally.

Readiness to trade internationally also has an impact on your SEO. Local addresses, local phone numbers, and localized content are all SEO ranking factors.
This may sound obvious, but you should ask your business the following questions.

  • Do you have local phone numbers for the international territory?
  • Are there physical offices in the location?
  • Do you have alternative pricing for alternative currencies?  
  • Are there delivery plans and prices available?
  • Is your business GDPR compliant?
  • Does the international business comply with local law on all levels?
  • Are there sales teams in place there?
  • Do you have native speakers to handle calls?
  • What about Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)?

3. Your site focusing on strategy

There are three key sorts of worldwide site structures, and knowing which one is most suitable for your commerce procedure will offer assistance direct your web improvement and shape your universal SEO strategy:

Multiregional locales target clients in distinctive nations who all talk the same dialect. For case, your commerce has an English-language site with distinctive substance particularly composed for clients in Canada, the USA, the UK, and Australia.

Multilingual destinations target clients in distinctive nations who talk diverse dialects to clients in other focused on nations. For case, your commerce site has substance in French, English, and German. The substance is the same but in distinctive languages.

Multiregional and multilingual locales target clients in diverse nations who talk the same dialect as clients in a few, but not all, other focused on nations. For case, your site has substance focusing on clients in Switzerland, with distinctive substance composed in French, German, and Italian all focusing on your Swiss customers.

4. Characterizing your site structure

Regardless of whether you select for a multiregional or multilingual location, the way that it is organized is fundamental to its potential perceivability in different locales, however this is an issue numerous webmasters ignore. It’s imperative to highlight that you shouldn’t blend and coordinate these choices. Choose the one that best fits your commerce structure and client base and adhere to it.

Google advocates three main options for structuring your website on a global scale:

4.1. Country code top-level domain name (ccTLD)

The ccTLD is an effective method of geo-targeting (targeting searchers by location).

Amazon is a good example of using top-level domains for internationalization, with different websites that enable them to use different product offerings, different pricing strategies, as well as different languages and different currencies:

  1. www.amazon.co.uk
  2. www.amzon.fr
  3. www.amazon.de
  4. www.amazon.za

This strategy works well if you are targeting a range of countries.  If you’re aiming to target a language, subdirectories or subfolders are better. See below:

Pros for choosing to use top-level domain names

  1. Users trust that a site bearing their country domain will display information that is relevant to their country
  2. The strongest geo-targeting signal used by Google
  3. Easy separation of sites
  4. Server location is less relevant as a geo-targeting factor
  5. You can build your brand presence in each target country

Cons for choosing to use top-level domain names

  • Some ccTLDs have strict conditions imposed on their use and are not available to all businesses. This may be a benefit to businesses that can use the ccTLD as it reinforces trust
  • More expensive
  • Subject to availability
  • More demands on infrastructure
  • Link building may be harder as each country or language has a totally separate site, with less overall domain authority
  • Has the potential to cause issues with duplicate content if geo-targeting methods are not used effectively across all domains
  • Generally speaking, .com domains are thought to outrank .co.uk domains for English content

4.2. Subdomains

Using a gTLD with different subdomains to create totally separate websites.
For example, Wikipedia uses this method to organize the international versions of its content:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org
  2. https://fr.wikipedia.org
  3. https://de.wikipedia.org

Pros for choosing to use subdomains:

  1. Easy to set up
  2. Allows different subdomains to be hosted on different servers, in different countries (which may help geo-targeting)
  3. Sites can be easily separated
  4. An effective way to establish sites as separate identities while still retaining the overall corporate branding
  5. Able to target different languages used in one country in conjunction with subdirectories, e.g. https://ca.example.com/fr and https://ca.example.com/en

Cons for choosing to use subdomains:

  1. While this allows users to see at a glance where they are on a page, they might not recognize geo-targeting from the URL alone, as they would with a ccTLD
  2. Generally less trustworthy to customers 
  3. Treated more as separate sites by search engines – although links between subdomains do not generally carry as much authority as external links. This means that each subdomain will need a separate link-building campaign. We will address this later on in the blog
  4. Unclear what should be included on the https://www.example.com homepage

4.3 Subdirectories

Subdirectories are the simplest way of organizing content, as all subdirectories are usually stored in the same space. For most businesses, they are the easiest and most effective way of structuring your website to target international audiences. In a nutshell, the international content indicator appears after the first slash.
Sites like Adobe use subdirectories to organize their international content:

  1. www.adobe.com/fr
  2. www.adobe.com/de
  3. www.adobe.com/pt

Sites like Ryanair use subdirectories for both language and country

  1. https://www.ryanair.com/ie/en/ is English content for the Irish market
  2. https://www.ryanair.com/gb/en/ is English content for the UK.

Pros for using sub-directories

  1. Easy to set up
  2. Low maintenance – as files are usually on a single server
  3. All links point to one domain, which then has greater authority and a higher Page Rank
  4. A good way to target multiple languages in a single country

Cons for using sub-directories:

  1. Harder for users to recognise geotargeting from the URL alone
  2. A single server location is a missed geo-targeting opportunity
  3. Difficult to separate sites, as all targeted information is part of a single website
  4. Searchers, especially European searchers, often favor ccTLDs and prefer to click on these domains
  5. Unclear what should be included on the https://www.example.com homepage.

Conclusion :

International SEO continuously begins with a reasonable URL and site structure so that nation websites can be doled out. Multilingual substance and code ought to be optimized for each nation so that the positioning of your worldwide site increases.

Without back, universal SEO can be exceptionally overpowering, so it is prudent to get a worldwide SEO organization with specialists on your side. They can work with you to create the right procedure for your commerce circumstance and objectives and take care of legitimate usage.