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A practical guide to international SEO

Gianluca Fiorelli is a SEO consultant and web strategist specializing in Inbound Marketing and International SEO.

When expanding a business internationally, the following four segments should be considered.


  • When going online internationally, you need to start with data. Use your statistics to inform your decision. For instance, if you have a website and want to launch another language version, check with your sessions by country to find out which country you should localize to. If you have already counted conversion of your users, then see which country converts the most to choose your next localization path.
  • Then, analyze your potential competitors in the new market (using Similarweb), their social media presence (using RivalIQ) and referrals (Similarweb).
  • Decide whether you go multi-country or multilingual. If you have strong traffic or revenue from a country, it is better to target the country.


  • Before thinking of international expansion, optimize your main website –you will avoid copying the problems from the main site to the new one.
  • Next, choosing between sub-directory and sub-domain depends on the business – small ones should go for sub-directories (, while those with large online bases shall stick with sub-domains (


  • do not target huge communities, e.g. the EU; better be targeted to one audience;
  • do not use same URL via scripts;
  • do not use parameters to indicate language;
  • do not leave URLs non-localized!

Options of redirection from home website to a localized one available – via IP, user browser or alert.

What to translate to other languages

Follow Google’s guide on it:

  • keep the main content in a single language and translate only templates (good for user-generated content);
  • have similar content in single language (for small regional variations – the U.S./UK/Ireland);
  • or fully translate it (German and English versions).

Avoid common mistakes:

  • incorrect ISO code for a country;
  • inconsistent Hreflang;
  • cross domain Canonicalization;
  • no reciprocal for an alternate URL.

Hreflang tools to use: DeepCrawl,, Screamingfrog.

Do not forget to do geotargeting in Google Search Console & Bin Webmaster Tools (Bing is especially important for the U.S. market, where it holds 25% of the search).


Content is very important, because it’s where 80% of sites fail. When going international: localize, not translate.

  • Localize your template.
  • Take language differences between similar languages (British English vs. American English) into consideration.
  • Localize not only words, but interests as well.

Content is about culture. The six elements (image below) that make people of different countries and cultures act differently on the Internet (e.g., Russians need clarity, while Swedes don’t care).

When targeting a country, find out what content people like and talk about (using services like Trendsmap or Topsy).

For on-site content:

  • conduct keyword research;
  • say NO to automatic translation;
  • invest in local/national support for content localization.

For amplification:

  • conduct targeted link building;
  • find your competitors and what key words they are visible by;
  • conduct your competitors’ analysis (using Similarweb);
  • verify whether they are really popular (using Cognitive SEO);
  • discover what content is shared and which formats have highest impacts (using Social Crawlytics and Buzzsumo Pro).
  • discover local influencers (using Impactana) – those who are being followed and commented.


Social is about community building, for customers are the best brand ambassadors.

Glocalization vs. Globalization – go global, but pay attention to local discourse of the issue.

Monitor and confront. Social Baker is a good service to use to learn about new and most popular brands and projects across the globe, and about people using social media. This service also shows you differences between countries in terms of number of posts daily, formats, post “nature,” etc.:

  • Italy is about sentiments and emotions
  • UK is about fun and humor, as well as gambling
  • France: visual and verbose
  • Germany: squared punkies (worst-performing Facebook country of Europe)
  • Spain is about any kinds of content.
  • Twitter is most used in the UK, least used in Germany.

Irina Titova