International SEO Tutorial

If a website is targeting a language specific, countrywide or international audience there are quite a few important SEO optimisations that can be utilised to enhance search visibility on a country code and language code basis. Before reading this tutorial is worth checking out the tips in the Local SEO chapter, as many of these techniques can be applied here to. International SEO can be developed to project a website onto a global scale and potentially attract customers from a worldwide target market audience. Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools) has simplified the process of selecting a target country or by using the default or unlisted settings a website can target a worldwide audience. Though if a website is seriously going big and internationalising content, there are some more comprehensive options that can improve organic traffic performances for the countries or languages they are targeting.

By creating country and language specific website and webpage versions, a site can really broaden the array of potential user that will find it in the search results. There are quite a few different methods for producing a website with specific Country Language (CL) versions including – CL Specific Sub-directories, CL Specific Sub-domains and Country Code Top Level Domains (CCTLD). Once the information on a website is translated into another language the next step is to create new pages that contain country codes and or language codes within the URL.

Example:

example.com/us = United States
example.com/es-us = Spanish – United States

The aim of this article is to show how hreflang tags can be applied to the different URL methods and to show how Google Search Console can be utilised to enhance a websites internationalisation.
Before we discuss the search engine optimisation techniques used to internationalise a website, it’s important to look at a brief overview of how HREF Language tags work so they can be properly implemented on the various methods listed below. Href-lang Tags help search engines to understand that a website or webpage has equivalent language versions. Google will then direct traffic to an appropriate page based on the language and location set in the user browser settings and IP address. So if a webpage is in English but also has a Spanish version, hreflang allows Google to replace the English with a Spanish version when displaying the website in the search results. This can make a positive impact on user experience and improving traffic performances.

HREFLANG Tags

Are easily placed in the headers of the relative webpages but can also be implemented in on-page markup and in sitemaps. In this tutorial we will be discussing the header implementation method. It’s important to note that all language versions contain the href-lang code to ensure Google understands the relationship between the various sites and or pages.

Language specific SEO

So for example if a website comes in two language versions of English (en) and Spanish (es) the href-lang Tags placed in both headers should look like this.

<html>
<head>
<link rel=”alternate” href=”example.com” hreflang=”en” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”example.com/es” hreflang=”es” />
</head>
<body>

Country and language specific SEO

If the website only targets users in the United States (us) and has to different language versions including English (en) and Spanish (es) the Hreflang Tags should look like this.

<html>
<head>
<link rel=”alternate” href=”example.com” hreflang=”en-us” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”example.com/es” hreflang=”es-us” />
</head>
<body>

Country and language specific sub-directories

Specific sub-directories work by creating a new country or language version within the existing domain extensions. Sub-directories are probably the easiest and most cost efficient to set up. Although depending on the content management system used, website navigation and URL Structure may not always favour the user experience.

Sub-directories Example:

English = en
English Australia = en-au
Spanish Spain = en-es

<html>
<head>
<link rel=”alternate” href=”example.com” hreflang=”en” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”example.com/au” hreflang=”en-au” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”example.com/es” hreflang=”es-es” />
</head>
<body>

Country and language specific sub-domains

Specific sub-domains allow website versions to be created on a separate site while retaining the same parent domain name. They also allow the sites to be served from different countries which may improve page loading speed and how search engines decide the relevancy of a site for a particular country. The cost and time needed to implement country specific sub-domains increases, but so does the ability to customise a site based on the target audience.

Sub-domains Example:

English = en
English Australia = en-au
Spanish Spain = en-es

<html>
<head>
<link rel=”alternate” href=”example.com” hreflang=”en” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”au.example.com” hreflang=”en-au” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”es.example.com” hreflang=”es-es” />
</head>
<body>

Country Code Top Level Domain (CCTLD)

Country code domains can be quite an extensive, expensive and time consuming process but may ultimately produce the best results. Let’s say a website is targeting America, England and Australia. There domains may be example.com, example.com.uk and example.com.au . The CCTLD’s may include the same or similar content and can be customised to suit the intended audience of the targeted country and language.

Country Level Domain Example:

English United States = en-us
German Germany = de-de
Portuguese Brazil pt-br

<html>
<head>
<link rel=”alternate” href=”example.com” hreflang=”en-us” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”example.com.de” hreflang=”de-de” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”.example.com.br” hreflang=”pt-br” />
</head>
<body>

Multi-language websites use X-default

A website that allows users to switch between different languages while remaining on the same domain should use the Hreflang X-Default tag. This may not have the advantage of customising a website to target a specific country or language, although it can be very practical from a cost efficiency perspective.
X-default Example:

<html>
<head>
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/” hreflang=”x-default” />
</head>
<body>

International inbound links

High Quality Inbound Links that come from a relative country or language and point to the intended page or site versions will positively contribute to SEO and improve a websites individual site or page version page-ranks.

Google search console international targeting

Google’s support for hreflang tags has made it possible for web-masters and SEO’s to accurately specify which site and page versions are intended for particular countries and languages. GSC can be used to verify that the hreflang tags are implemented correctly by navigating to Search Traffic > International Targeting > Language.

Google has also simplified the process of ensuring that a website targets an intended country. Within GSC, navigate to Search Traffic > International Targeting > Country and select the preferred country from the drop down list.

Google Search Console also allows websites to verify individual sub-directories and sub-domains and to set them with a preferred country to target. Simply “Add a Property” with the new URL and then set the preferred country with the international targeting function.

International SEO summary

Website internationalisation could be a big step that would seriously need to be researched to ensure the cost or time involved will be a worthwhile return on investment. Google has announced that content should not be automatically translated to produce alternate language versions. So it’s easy to see how international SEO could run into an expensive process. If the resources are available and a website is already some-what successful on the international market then expanding a site with language and country code versions can be a great investment.

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