International SEO: A Basic Guide To Understand How To Get Started

  • June 21, 2021
  • SEO
No Comments

Background and fundamentals of classic SEO

Before getting into such deep waters, it is always good to refresh your memory with basic aspects, so before talking about International SEO, you must put yourself in context about facts and fundamentals that will make you remember what are the bases of this important technique in the present to do digital marketing.

The word SEO corresponds to its acronym in English Search Engine Optimization. Initially, SEO was about executing two actions simultaneously:

  1. Fill the pages of a website with certain terms that we continue to call keywords or keywords regardless of consistency, context or user experience. 
  2. Externally, generate hundreds of links pointing to a specific website . It is what is known as Backlink. 

Since then, link farms were born as a Black Hat technique with the aim of manipulating the rankings and obtaining the first places over time.


But it did not take long for Google to verify this fact and began to establish certain guidelines that would improve the user experience. Thus, he was adding new terms, creating new parameters and, in general, rules that would allow websites with Black Hat techniques to be taken out of the game, and reward those who were doing well by giving them a good place in the ranking.


We see how from basic algorithms capable of understanding what a website is about, I move to algorithms capable of understanding the context of a sentence. Let’s take a look at the progress they have been experiencing:


  • 2005 : Google creates Allegra, an algorithm that had the function of restricting those backlinks of dubious origin. During that same year, creates another update called Bourbon, with é l, Google wanted to help determine duplicate content.
  • 2007 : there is a new update in which Google integrates elements such as videos, images, news, etc. in the search results.
  • 2010 : ” May Day” was the main update of that year, since it was in charge of punishing those sites that had been created to be monetized only through Ads.
  • 2011 : the creation of Panda, was undoubtedly an unprecedented algorithm that aimed to destroy those sites incapable of generating quality content.
  • 2012 : another hard blow for those who had been generating poor actions for the user experience; the arrival of Penguin, to give Panda continuity in its task of ending those websites that were rising in the ranking by over-optimizing using links characterized by spam, low-quality or artificial sites.
  • 2013 : the situation is starting to get moderately hot. Google brings Hummingbird into the ring, with him, the efforts to understand “humanly” the context of the question asked by the user began.
  • 2015 : the year of Mobile Friendly , since then mobile and tablet optimized sites were gaining a better place in the rankings.
  • 2016 – The birth of Rankbrain, an improved version of Hummingbird in its efforts to understand the context of users’ questions and improve their search experience.
  • 2018 : Google releases the most important update of the year in which it begins to consider the loading speed as a key element for the ranking.
  • 2019 : an update that aims to eliminate repeated links from the same website. Previously when the user did a search, it could be the case in which Google returned a list with two links to the same website. With this update, it is intended to remove one of them to improve the user experience.
  • 2019 : continues to redouble efforts to improve the semantic context of searches and creates a new algorithm called BERT
  • 2020: In January 2020 Google made a major basic update. The analogy he used to explain the effects on rankings was compelling; compared the ratings to a top of the best movies. Let’s imagine a list of 100 best movies that by their history have been preserved in the list, but some new films are also impressive and deserve a place in it, so naturally, some old ones will not be. And it’s not that they’re bad, just that the new ones are better. The update wreaked havoc on the rankings and many websites fell, so it was up to him to re-evaluate which elements Google was considering to rank for.


Despite the many changes that Google has made over time that have affected the way a traditional SEO strategy is applied, there are still key fundamentals when creating a strategy to position in search engines. These are:

  • Keyword Research : is the foundation of any SEO strategy, both classical and international, for what c or how a website is optimized without creating an architecture tailored to the terms used by the audience that efforts are directed? Although in these times, it does not have the greatest weight, it is still important.
  • SEO On page : it is the second step that must be carried out based on the results suggested by the keyword research or keyword research. The metadata of the website is created with the terms that best fit the traffic generation and positioning strategy.
  • SEO Off page : not only internal efforts should be made, you also have to tell Google that you have a website that is influential enough for other websites with medium or high authority to link to you. It’s all about making a solid backlink strategy.
  • Social Media : with many contradictory opinions, social media has an influential effect on an SEO strategy, especially because of the power it has to generate traffic to the website.

Now, at this point it is worth starting to ask yourself , is International SEO the same as traditional SEO?

It would be wrong to see them as synonyms because in International SEO there are variants that must be added to give more weight to the classifications of the country or language in which it is intended to position, however, the fundamentals are the same, that is, in both it must carry out the same strategies that allow you to boost your ranking in search engines and this is where we enter into

What is the SEO International? 

As you should guess, International SEO is due to all the basic practices and strategies mentioned above, but directed internationally to facilitate classification and positioning in the rankings of a specific country or language. When considering the execution of this type of strategy, it is important to note that you will encounter two challenges initially, which are reflected in a practical example:

You have an online store operating in Mumbai, in SEO positioning you are doing so well that you begin to receive purchase orders from countries such as United States  or Australia without dedicating a minimum logistical effort to achieve that result.

In this case, the challenge is not the country, but the language, because the language is totally different

So, as the first hurdle, the first thing to answer before continuing with the idea of ​​International SEO is, if the market is good enough to invest in what’s next.

Basic considerations before implementing international SEO

There are elements that give signals about the convenience of creating an International SEO strategy, one of them is:

Foreign market study

If you are interested in creating an International SEO strategy, it is because you have surely found indications that indicate a potential foreign market, if not, then the fastest way to find out is from the analysis of your website now using metric tools such as Google Analytics , to discover 3 important aspects:

  • Countries or languages ​​are generating traffic 
  • Volume of organic search and traffic from these countries.
  • The keywords that are bringing international traffic to your root website.

On the other hand, you can rely on tools such as SEMrush, Google’s keyword planner, these are magnificent in their paid version to determine key aspects in the process of researching the foreign market before preparing an International SEO strategy and help you know details such as :

  • The keywords you using market interest to search for products related to your business
  • Search volume for these terms by country, as well as those similar terms that represent a real search engine positioning opportunity.
  • The current ranking for each term of interest.

SEMrush in its free version does not provide all the information that should be known about the competition, but in the paid version, just by placing the link of the website you consider to be a competitor, it performs a complete study on the behavior of the website; From the keywords on the pages, through the SEO strategy On page, Off page to backlinks, enough data to know what causes the success of the competition abroad.

As well as SEMrush there are hundreds of tools that can help you to know both the market and the position of the competition in it, for example, Woorank, MOZ, Ahreft, among others.

Now, if after executing a complete analysis on the situation in the country or language in which it is intended to position, everything indicates that the probability of taking a place in the ranking is very high, then it is time to think about a strategy of International SEO, but first, in an international keyword research, to help you contextualize the concept of each keyword for each country.

Keyword Research International

You can easily assume when directing your International SEO efforts on countries that speak the same language, the context of the word may not be different or in fact, there may not be any other context other than yours or that of your country. But there is no theory more erroneous than this, on the contrary!

If it happens very regularly in the , what would make you think that it would not pass from one country to another?

When conducting international keyword research, there are 3 elements that matter:

  1. Culture.
  2. Local search intent.
  3. Language, in case of going further.

Cultural factors directly influence the way in which users in a given country ask questions in the search engine. Culture also affects the way you live and how you see the environment in which you live.

Therefore, culture directly influences the user’s search intention, for example, in India using “buy nike shoes online” may mean that the user is looking for a product with the intention of buying.

But perhaps a user in Australia  uses the same term to begin a research process that allows price comparisons, therefore, it is not a user who is ready to buy, while perhaps the user is.

You have understood?

So to do an International Keyword Research you have to go beyond the simple term to position, it is to make an effort to understand why the user from a certain country uses that term.

What type of domain to use? Advantages and disadvantages of each one 

One of the first questions that arise when creating an International SEO strategy is the domain issue, questions such as: should I buy more domains that help me position myself in other countries or languages? Is there a way to restructure the architecture of my website to show several versions for the country in which I want to position? Do you have to duplicate your efforts on SEO? They are some of those that you review in your mind while you feel that everything becomes a confusing situation.


The good thing is that these questions have the same answer and it is YES! That is, if you determine that the new market in which you want to do International SEO is very good and will raise your ROI to an insurmountable level, the most convenient thing is to buy new domains in which you obviously have to double your SEO effort.

With these simple steps you should not do more than the classic SEO actions that are traditionally known and mentioned at the beginning of this material, unless the pages of your subfolders have content similar to that of the root domain, in that case, extend the procedure to tell Google that you are not duplicating content using hreflang tags.

What are hreflang tags?

Hreflang tags are part of the technical SEO solution for the internationalization of a website for sites that contain similar content, in this way you indicate to Google that you are not duplicating content, but that you are generating similar content for each region or country in that you indicated that you want to position.

Remember that Google to crawl and index a website verifies what URL you want to rate, if those URLs have hreflang annotations and if they do, it presents the most appropriate URL for that user to the search engine. If you do not present annotations to distinguish the pages, you can get into a serious duplicate content conflict; In the worst case, Google generates a penalty that goes from a drop in the rankings to the elimination of these duplicate pages.


The weight of hreflang tags in International SEO is barbaric, because by telling Google in which country and with what language you want to position, you make it easier for them to show the content that users from that region are looking for, that means that each fewer and fewer users return to the search engine index and therefore the lower the bounce rate; As you know, the lower the bounce rate, the greater the signal you send to Google about the quality of your content.

3 Methods to indicate alternative pages

According to Google, there are 3 ways to tell its crawlers that your pages present versions in languages ​​or country, these are:

HTML tags

It is a useful method for websites that have not yet built a sitemap, and in which Google requires adding elements in the header that allow identifying which language or country said page is directed to. For example:

“<Link rel =” alternate “hreflang =” language_code “

In real code it would look like this:

“<Link rel =” alternate “href =” ” 

  hreflang = “is” />

<link rel = “alternate” href = “” 

  hreflang = “es-es” />

<link rel = “alternate” href = “” 

  hreflang = “en-au” /> “

As you can see, the code contains a combination in which the language and country are identified with the respective universal language ISO 316-6 to identify the region and ISO 639-1 to identify the language.

HTTP headers

It is the method used to identify non-HTML files, such as PDFs. These would look like this:

“Link: <url1>; rel = ”alternate”; hreflang = ” language_code_1 “, <url2>; rel = ”alternate”; hreflang = ” language_code_2 “ ”

  • <url1>: Refers to the root domain
  • <url2>: Refers to the alternate full URL
  • hreflang = ” language_code_1 : The alphanumeric combinations must be added in the aforementioned ISO language to the country or language in which you want the pages to be classified.

As you can see in the same code, the number of existing versions for each page must be reflected, in the example there are 2, but if in your case you have 3 versions, then you must compose the code of 3 versions duly identified with the ” hreflang = ” Language_code_ 1″


XML sitemap markup works very similar to the other methods, that is, if you have 4 versions of a page, the map must include 4 different entries, each with 4 equal secondary entries. Google requires respecting the following rules when it comes to applying the hreflang tag from the sitemap:


  1. Specify the xhtml namespace as follows: ” xmlns: xhtml =” “”.
  2. Create a ” <url>” element for each URL. And for each one of them it must include a secondary element ” xhtml: link rel =” alternate “hreflang =” code_language_admitted “>” In which all the alternative versions of a page are indicated.
  3. Each “ <url>” element must include a child “ <loc>” element that identifies the URL of a page.


For any of the 3 methods with which you decide to create hreflang tags to identify the versions of your root page, Google explains that if you have regional versions, it is advisable to create a generic page to take users who are not included in the tag.

In principle, if you do not have a webmaster operating and managing the technical elements of your website, it is likely that when reading this you will feel that it is very difficult to apply International SEO, and yes, there are certain degrees of difficulty to work on an international positioning strategy However, like any strategy executed on a volatile market, the key is to experiment and analyze.

Why the recommendation once you put all this in the ring, is to verify  is playing so well this to your advantage is working well and labeling configurations? Are you doing auditor í to of the status of your international pages? Are you experiencing growth than ten í as stipulated in your new markets? 

In short, there are hundreds of questions you should ask yourself to make sure that everything is going according to plan, questions that together with your local expert team, you can answer

About us and this blog

We are a digital marketing company with a focus on helping our customers achieve great results across several key areas.

Request a free quote

We offer professional SEO services that help websites increase their organic search score drastically in order to compete for the highest rankings even when it comes to highly competitive keywords.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

More from our blog

See all posts

Leave a Comment