Switching your print on demand supplier? Get in touch with us here

1. What is international SEO?

International SEO: How to optimize your site for global reach

In the highly competitive digital world of 2024, businesses are racing to reach customers globally. 

However, the common hurdle is the complexity of optimizing your online presence to achieve visibility across diverse regions and languages. A poor strategy can result in lower rankings on search engines and, consequently, reduced visibility to potential customers worldwide. 

If you're ready to break through the digital divide and position your brand in the global spotlight, this guide is for you. Read on to make 2024 your year of global digital expansion.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • International SEO optimizes your website for visibility in different geographical locations and languages, allowing businesses to connect with a diverse international audience.

  • The importance of international SEO lies in enabling global reach, delivering better user experience, enhancing search engine visibility, and boosting brand credibility and trust.

  • Implementing international SEO can provide benefits such as expanded market reach, culturally relevant user experience, improved search engine visibility, a competitive edge, and higher ROI.

  • Factors that impact international SEO rankings include website localization, technical SEO, content quality and relevance, local link building, targeted keywords, and social signals.

  • Overcoming challenges in international SEO involves addressing cultural barriers, language targeting, resolving geo-targeting issues, careful keyword selection, managing duplicate content issues, and resource allocation.

What is international SEO?

International SEO is a branch of search engine optimization that focuses on optimizing a website to ensure its visibility in search results across different geographical locations and languages. It involves tailoring the website's content and SEO processes to resonate with the targeted international audience's local culture, language, and search preferences. This optimization extends to handling URL structures for different regions, managing local keywords, handling multilingual meta tags, and more.

Start your own business with Gelato. Sign up for free today

mobile hero

How does international SEO work?

International SEO works by optimizing your website to make it accessible, relevant, and appealing to users across different countries and languages. 

This process involves numerous strategies, including:

  • Creating content that resonates with local markets

  • Implementing a URL structure that makes it easy for Google and other search engines to find and serve the proper web pages to the correct users,

  • Optimizing for specific regions and tongues, as well as considering localization factors. 

  • Utilizing tools like Google Analytics and SEMRush along with keyword research and link building tailored to the local context.

The end goal is to ensure that your website reaches a global audience and ranks high on search engines in targeted markets, thus enhancing your brand's visibility and effectiveness internationally.

International SEO vs. local SEO

While both international SEO and local SEO aim to boost your website’s visibility in search engines, they diverge in terms of audience targeting, content customization, and geographical considerations. 

  • Local SEO involves optimizing your website content to attract local customers. It includes location-specific information like city or region names in your content and metadata. It's all about optimizing your site for local directories and listings, like Google My Business, to boost visibility in local search results.

  • International SEO takes a broader, more inclusive approach, catering to multiple languages, cultures, and markets. It's about adaptation—crafting your content and website to suit cultural variants and preferences. It also involves meeting the legal and regulatory norms of different countries.

  • Both international SEO and local SEO aim to enhance audiences' experiences while showcasing your company website's value to search engines—a win-win. This means that when search engines understand your localized content, they lead users to the most suitable versions of your website, depending on their location—eventually creating a user-friendly experience for your customers worldwide.

Why is effective international SEO important?

Businesswoman analyzing global data

Implementing a robust international SEO strategy is like investing in a global passport for your website. It allows it to navigate the digital world effectively, reach more people, and bring tangible benefits to your business. Let's look at the top benefits of effective international SEO. 

Expanded market reach

Implementing an international SEO strategy allows businesses to broaden their customer base beyond local boundaries. It's an essential step to becoming a global brand. By optimizing your website for multiple countries and languages, you open up new markets and unlock a wealth of opportunities to drive global growth and revenue.

Culturally relevant user experience

An effective international SEO strategy includes localization, tailoring your website's content and design to resonate with the local culture, language, and search behavior. This creates a culturally relevant and personalized user experience, increasing engagement, customer satisfaction, and conversion rates.

Improved visibility on search engines

International SEO increases your visibility on search engines in targeted countries and languages. By using techniques like hreflang tags, geo-targeting, and ccTLDs, you signal to search engines that your content is relevant to users in those regions or languages, which can significantly enhance your website's ranking on international SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

Competitive advantage

By optimizing your website for international audiences, you gain a competitive edge. Many companies, particularly small to medium-sized businesses, have yet to embrace international SEO fully. Those that do are likely to stand out from their competitors in the global digital landscape, attracting a larger share of the international market.

Higher return on investment (ROI)

While international SEO requires an investment in time and resources, the potential returns can be substantial. Accessing new markets, increasing your global visibility, and providing a localized user experience can lead to increased traffic, higher conversion rates, and a significant boost in revenue.

Increased brand credibility and trust

Catering to the local language and cultural nuances of a particular region instills a sense of trust and credibility in your brand. It demonstrates respect and understanding of the local culture and language, which can lead to higher brand loyalty and conversion rates.

Determining the need for international SEO

Team discussion over documents

International SEO isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. The decision to implement it should be based on a careful assessment of your business needs, resources, and the potential benefits it could bring. Here's how you can determine your business's need for International SEO. 

Analyzing website traffic

One of the initial indicators that your business may need an international SEO strategy is the geographic source of your website traffic. Tools like Google Analytics can provide insights into your visitors' origin. If a significant percentage of your organic traffic is from countries other than yours, it may be time to consider optimizing your website for these international audiences.

Business goals and expansion plans

Your business goals and expansion plans also significantly influence the need for international SEO. If you aim to expand your operations to other countries or target customers in specific geographic locations, implementing an international SEO strategy should be a priority. This will allow you to reach your target audiences effectively and increase your chances of success in these new markets.

Multilingual customer base

Implementing an international SEO strategy should be a no-brainer if you have a multilingual customer base. Even if these customers currently make up a small portion of your overall clientele, optimizing your website for their languages could significantly improve their user experience, increase their engagement with your brand, and potentially attract more customers who speak these multiple languages.

Resource availability

It's important to consider your resources. International SEO requires investment in terms of time, effort, and finances. If you have the resources to create and manage a multi-regional, multilingual website, and the other indicators point towards potential benefits, it's time to embrace international SEO.

Factors that impact international SEO rankings

There are several integral factors that significantly influence the success of your international SEO efforts: 

  • Website localization: How well your website adapts to different languages, cultural nuances, and local preferences speaks volumes about your brand's international appeal. The better localized your website is, the more pleasant the user experience.

  • Technical SEO: This includes everything from proper URL structures and the use of hreflang tags to website speed and mobile optimization.

  • Quality and relevance of content: A website with high-quality, relevant content tailored to the local audience builds trust and drives engagement. Consider localizing your content to achieve this.

  • Link building: Quality backlinks from local sources can significantly boost your website's domain authority, thus improving international SEO rankings.

  • Targeted keywords: Identifying and using keywords that resonate with the local audience can improve visibility on local search engines and increase your website traffic.

  • Social signals: Engagement on social media platforms is also a factor that search engines consider when ranking websites. Localized social media marketing can improve visibility and brand awareness in target markets.

How to develop an effective international SEO strategy

Businesswoman analyzing global data

Now that you understand the key factors influencing international SEO rankings, let's get down to developing a winning international SEO strategy. Here's a step-by-step guide to get you started:

1. Conduct thorough market research

Understanding your target audience is vital for any SEO strategy, and international SEO is no exception. Market research helps you identify the specific needs, preferences, and search behaviors of potential customers in each country you plan to enter. Here's what you should do:

  • Explore target markets: Identify countries with high growth potential for your product or service. Consider factors like language, demographics, economic climate, and internet penetration.

  • Do a competitor analysis: Research your competitors in each target market. Analyze their website content, keywords, and overall SEO strategy. This will help you identify opportunities to stand out.

  • Identify local search trends: Research popular keywords and search queries specific to each target market. Consider cultural nuances, local terminology, and search intent. Tools like Google Keyword Planner can be helpful here, but remember to adjust for local variations.

2. Research and identify relevant keywords

Conducting keyword research for international SEO involves understanding the search habits of your target audience in different regions. Here's how to go about it:

  • Use keyword research tools: Tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, or Ahrefs can help you discover the search volume of popular keywords in specific regions and languages.

  • Understand searcher intent: Search habits can vary greatly from one region to another. The same keyword can have different searcher intents in different countries. Make sure to understand the local context.

  • Consider local dialects and colloquialisms: The same language can be used differently in different countries. For example, American and British English have different terms for the same concepts. Ensure your keywords reflect these differences.

  • Look at the competition: Use tools to see what keywords your competitors rank for in your target countries. This can give you insights into what works and what doesn't in these markets.

3. Optimize your website URL structure

Your website's address, also known as URL, plays a key role in international SEO. It tells search engines where you're targeting and who you're targeting. Here's a breakdown of popular options:

  • Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs) like ".fr" for France are fantastic for local SEO and building trust with specific countries. Search engines often favor ccTLDs in local searches.

  • Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) like ".com" project a global image, which is ideal if you target a worldwide audience.

If you want to use both, consider a hybrid approach using ccTLDs/gTLDs with subdomains (e.g., "[invalid URL removed]" for France). This offers a mix of global reach and local presence, but managing multiple subdomains can be trickier.

Subdirectories (folders within your main domain, like "[invalid URL removed]") are simpler to manage and benefit from your main website's SEO strength. However, they don't explicitly signal location like ccTLDs.

Ultimately, the best structure depends on your goals. Consider maintenance complexity, SEO efforts, and user experience. If local presence is key, ccTLDs will be perfect. For a global brand, gTLDs might be better. Analyze your target audience and choose the URL structure that best aligns with your international SEO strategy.

4. Apply hreflang tags

Hreflang tags act as a crucial map for search engines, guiding them to serve up the correct language version of your site to users across different regions. They matter significantly in international SEO as they steer your content toward the right audience and ensure relevance by factoring in users' language and location preferences.

Working in tandem with hreflang tags, the link rel="alternate" attribute specifies to search engines that alternative versions of the page are available in other languages or for other geographic areas, directing users to the content most suitable for their locale and language preference.

To correctly implement hreflang tags on your website:

  • Ensure each hreflang tag points to a valid URL. Broken links can frustrate users and are not favored by search engines.

  • Use the correct language and country codes as per ISO standards. Incorrect usage can mislead search engines and users alike.

  • Make sure to use self-referential hreflang tags, i.e., the page should reference itself in addition to other language versions. This informs search engines that the page is also for a specific language and region.

  • Include hreflang tags on all versions of your website. Skipping one page could mean missing out on potential traffic from that language or region.

5. Localize content for your target market

Content localization goes beyond mere translation; it involves adapting your content to your target audience's specific cultural context, preferences, and consumption habits. Here's how you can do it:

  • Hire native speakers: If possible, hire native speakers for content creation and translation. They can provide insights into local idioms, expressions, and cultural nuances that a standard translation tool might miss.

  • Adapt to local trends: Be aware of your local audience's trends and preferences. Your content should reflect this, from the topics you cover to the images and symbols you use. 

  • Use local formats: Adapt to local formats, including date and time, currencies, measurements, or address forms.

6. Optimize for local search engines

Local SEO ensures your business appears in search results for relevant local searches. Here's how to conquer local search engines:

  • Optimize your Google Business profile: This free profile is crucial for local SEO. Provide accurate business information, manage reviews, and add high-quality photos.

  • Target local keywords: Research keywords people in your area use to find businesses like yours. Optimize your website content and title tags with these keywords.

  • Get listed in local directories: Increase your local visibility by listing your business in relevant online directories, like Yelp, Yellow Pages, and industry-specific platforms.

  • Encourage customer reviews: Positive reviews on Google, Facebook, and other platforms build trust and improve local search ranking. At the same time, addressing bad reviews demonstrates your commitment to customer satisfaction.

  • Optimize for mobile: Most local searches happen on mobile devices. Ensure your website is mobile-friendly and loads quickly.

By following these steps, you'll increase your local online presence and attract customers who are searching for businesses near them.

7. Build local links

High-quality backlinks from local websites are like gold for local SEO. Here's how to secure them:

  • Partner with local businesses: Collaborate with complementary businesses in your area for link exchanges or guest blogging opportunities.

  • Host community events: Sponsor local events or charities. Local news websites and community blogs might mention your business, generating valuable backlinks.

  • Earn citations from local directories: Ensure your business information is consistent across all online directories. This consistency strengthens local SEO and can lead to citations.

  • Become a thought leader: Share your expertise through local online publications or industry blogs. Guest posts with backlinks can significantly boost your local SEO.

Remember, quality matters more than quantity. Focus on acquiring backlinks from relevant, trusted websites in your local area.

See our range of custom products and become a dropshipping seller today


Top international SEO tools

Conquering international SEO requires the right tools in your belt. Here are some of the most powerful options to elevate your website's global visibility:

1. Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a crucial tool for applying effective international SEO strategies. Its user-friendly design and wide-ranging features make it the preferred choice for monitoring and understanding website traffic and user behaviors. This tool gives vital insights into visitor details, website traffic sources, and patterns of user behavior.

Plus, businesses can track keyword performance and spot areas that need improvement. Whether you're an SEO beginner or a pro, Google Analytics is an invaluable tool for businesses looking to boost global visibility.

2. Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a must-have tool for your international SEO strategy. It provides essential information about your website's organic search performance, visibility problems, and technical SEO aspects. It helps you find and fix issues that affect your site's rankings.

Moreover, this tool is easy to use and perfect for beginners. A standout feature is it allows you to submit your website's sitemap for Google to index while continually updating you on its indexing status. In short, Google Search Console is a resource-packed tool for SEO.

3. Moz

A well-established name in the SEO world, Moz offers a comprehensive suite of tools for keyword research, competitive analysis, and on-page optimization. Moz's features can help you identify high-volume keywords in different languages, track your website's ranking in various countries, and ensure your content is optimized for international search engines.

4. SEMrush

SEMrush is a powerful all-in-one SEO platform that provides everything you need to dominate search results on a global scale. Conduct in-depth keyword research for international markets, analyze your competitor's SEO strategies, track your website's ranking across different countries, and identify link-building opportunities to strengthen your international SEO presence.

5. HubSpot

HubSpot's SEO tools cater to businesses of all sizes, offering features for keyword research, on-page optimization, and website traffic analysis. 

While not as comprehensive as some of the other options on this list, HubSpot's SEO tools can be a valuable asset for managing your international SEO efforts, especially for businesses that already use the HubSpot platform for marketing automation. In addition to SEO features, HubSpot includes marketing, sales, and service software that aligns with your international marketing.

Monitoring and analyzing international SEO performance

Marketer planning on whiteboard

Dominating international SEO isn't a one-time effort; it's an ongoing process of monitoring, analyzing, and refining your strategy. Here are key metrics to measure your progress and ensure your website is reaching a global audience:

  • Organic search traffic: Monitor organic traffic from different countries to see if your international SEO efforts are driving visitors from your target markets.

  • Keyword rankings: Track your website's ranking for relevant keywords in each target language and location. Aim for top positions to increase organic visibility.

  • Conversions: Analyze conversion rates (e.g., sales, signups) for different languages and regions. This helps you understand which markets are most profitable and where to focus your efforts.

  • Backlink profile: Monitor the quality and quantity of backlinks your website receives from websites in your target markets. Strong local backlinks can significantly boost your international SEO performance.

  • User engagement: Analyze metrics like bounce rate, average session duration, and page views to gauge user engagement for each language version of your website. Aim for high engagement to keep visitors interested.

International SEO checklist

Research your target country: Get a handle on the dynamics of the foreign market you are targeting – cultural nuances, language preferences, and local competitors.

Choose relevant keywords: Undertake keyword research in the local language to identify terms your target audience uses when searching for your products or services.

Optimize URL structures: This is a crucial aspect of international SEO. Ensure your URL structure is clean and indicative of the site’s language and geographical focus.

Apply hreflang tags: Use hreflang tags to indicate the language and geographical targeting of a webpage, assisting search engines in serving the correct version of your page to the users.

Localize content: Translate and adapt your website content to match the language and cultural context of the target audience. This includes currency, date format, and address format.

Build local links: Actively pursue links from authoritative, local websites in your target market, which can greatly improve your local search visibility.

Track results and adapt: Use website analytics tools to monitor your website's performance in each target market. Identify what's working and adjust your strategy as needed.

Elevate your international SEO efforts with a global partner

In the ever-evolving digital landscape, businesses need to think globally. Adopting an effective international SEO strategy ensures your brand resonates with audiences worldwide, setting the stage for expanded reach and increased revenue. But while an optimized online presence is critical, your global success also hinges on delivering tangible products, like t-shirts, wall art, etc., to your diverse customer base efficiently and sustainably.

That's where Gelato comes into play. As the world's largest platform for local print on demand, Gelato empowers entrepreneurs, creators, and global brands to sell their products internationally and produce them locally. Our solution allows you to reach up to five billion potential consumers across 34 countries overnight.

With Gelato, you can use our global print on demand platform to complement your international SEO strategy. Not only does it allow you to produce on-demand products locally, but it also lets you ship them globally. Moreover, by subscribing to Gelato+ or Gelato+ Gold, you can access additional benefits like shipping discounts, premium mockups, millions of stock images, and more. 

Ready to join us on this journey? Sign up for Gelato today and take your business to new international heights!


Next steps

Start selling products with Gelato