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Daria Voronina

How to Develop Your International SEO Strategy [Infographic]

Daria Voronina
How to Develop Your International SEO Strategy [Infographic]

I’m sure you’ll agree that SEO is often very regionally dependent. And SEMrush users all over the world know exactly what we mean.

Generally, website owners focus on a particular location when promoting their sites in search – usually it’s where they live. But today, both global companies with offices and employees around the world and local small businesses want to promote products and services across the globe.

In this post, we provide a thorough international SEO strategy guide for those who want to know more about international SEO and learn how to rank their site in faraway locations.

Strictly speaking, international search engine optimization is the process of adjusting your website so that search engines can understand which countries you want to reach and which languages your site has been translated into.

First, let’s ponder the general definition of the word “international.” The following words may come to mind: global, worldwide, foreign, multinational, cultural exchange, etc.  We typically use the word “international” when speaking about something that concerns or belongs to different nations. But what does international SEO mean? Let’s find out.

Different Countries Have Their Own Search Engines and Social Networks

Today, people all over the world use search engines and social networks to communicate with each other, meet new people and search for information they need. Even if Google is considered to be the leading search engine in most of the rest of the world, there are some local search engines that are widely used in specific countries. The same is true when it comes to social networks, as not all users are devoted to Facebook.

  • In China, Baidu is the most popular search engine and RenRen is the top social networking site (it’s the equivalent of our Facebook). You can see this in the beautiful infographic from Victor Lerat’s article about the Chinese search engine. 

Baidu Infographic

SEO Baidu InfographicChinese Baidu InfographicInfographic by Victor Lerat and Search-Factory

  • In Japan, on the other hand, the most popular social networking service is Mixi with 27.1 million visits. Also, Yahoo! Japan has the biggest share of the search market in the country while Google has only slightly more than half of Yahoo’s share.
  • Yandex is the biggest search engine in Russia with 61.9 percent of the market share, and Russians use Vkontakte as their main social networking site of choice.

And these are just a few examples.

In other words, working in international SEO will force you to optimize your site for new search engine requirements and understand a completely different search and social ecosystem.

And it can be done. Here’s how.

Consider Your Website's Structure

If you are targeting several regions, make sure that everything on your website (content, site navigation, etc.) is provided in every language spoken in the regions you are targeting. By no means should you a use machine translation, because it obviously won’t be accurate.

Technical SEO

Also, you can use the hreflang tags (or rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x”) to show search engines which languages you are set up to handle. While Google uses the hreflang tags, Bing only understands language meta tags.


Speaking of setting up your website, we recommend that you use a subfolder (e.g., “semrush.com/es/”) or subdomain (e.g., “es.semrush.com”) instead of getting a separate domain for your site.

On the other hand, you may not be targeting language groups, but a specific country. In order to do this, you would probably have to use either a ccTLD (e.g., “semrush.es”) or a dedicated gTLD (e.g., “semrushspain.com”) and build separate sites for each country.

Location as factor in your web operations

If you’re not yet sure which strategy is better for your business, you can use this algorithm provided by Kissmetrics.

Keywords for an International SEO Strategy

You will also have to put a lot of effort into localizing keywords if you want to optimize for them.

The best approach is to get help from someone who speaks the language you’re working with and understands the local market. If that’s impossible, at the very minimum, translate your keywords into that new language, check their search volume and try to find relevant and related phrases to optimize for. It’s also worth researching your competitors to find out what keywords they target and what sort of traffic they receive for them.Keywords for International SEO strategy

We also recommend doing keyword research with a native speaker, even if only to avoid embarrassing yourself by picking words that could have double meanings.

Also, bear in mind that not all keywords have to be translated. The idea here is not just to translate all your keywords into different languages, but to run a campaign for keywords that people actually use. For example, for our PPC campaign for Spain, we use the keywords “keyword research” and “palabras clave,” because searchers in this country use both of these queries. Forgetting one of these keywords would be an unfortunate omission.

Content Issues

Today more than ever, content should be focused on users. Creating content is about making a connection with your targeted audience. One of the best ways to distribute information to someone is to keep it simple, especially for those who aren’t industry experts. Produce simple and easy-to-read content; don’t overload it with superfluous information or overcomplicate it.

Some content creators are predisposed to including irrelevant information in their texts and padding with unnecessary details simply to increase their word count. This mistake is quite serious.

Content Issues

It is important not only to translate your content correctly, but to also make it work from a marketing point of view. We recommend making the structure of your content clear and easy to follow. Ideally, it must provide readers with both functional and enjoyable information, as well as useful advice.

As we have already mentioned, using a machine translation is not an option. If possible, hire a professional translator or at least get help from a local copywriter. Not everything can be translated well word for word, but a good translator or copywriter will help you avoid awkward mistakes.

Localize Your Brand

Another important thing to consider is localizing your brand.

Even if you work with a global brand, it is most likely only optimized for certain regions (in many cases, the English-speaking world). But what if you have to position it for such markets as Russia or China?

First of all, simply translating content won’t be enough. You’ll have to ensure that the site itself is optimized for the new country’s culture.

As Harrison Jones mentioned in our roundup of international SEO tips for positioning your brand in China:

“The two absolute most important things for Chinese SEO: obtain an Internet Content Provider license from the Chinese government and do not have any words on the site that are blacklisted by China. Without an ICP license, it is very difficult to rank for anything.”

Also, when writing content, consider providing the following sort of information:

  • Local stories and case studies

Case studies and stories from local businesses and customers will make the website more relevant for a new audience and help build a rapport.

  • Localized images

Update website images, so you can better feature and relate to customers from the new country via these images.

  • Local problems

Delivering content solving problems for a specific region you’re targeting can be a support to your website. For example, you can provide readers with in-depth how-to guides and other educational content.

The takeaway here is that customizing your content for each country, or even each market, makes it more relevant. Also, it encourages the increasing of local link building.

The Influence of Culture on Graphic Design

It may seem surprising, but national culture and traditions do influence web design and even interfaces. Different countries prefer different design aesthetics. What can be applied to one region might be inappropriate for another.

As a result, unfortunately, translating your website into the appropriate local language may not be enough. But don’t give up! Review local sites and, if possible, discuss the problem with a professional web designer or someone who knows the targeted country well.

Cultural Influence on Graphic Design

Actually, the whole process of gaining new knowledge can be very interesting and exciting. Graphic design has its own standards of beauty. Influenced by a specific history, culture and lifestyle, it varies from country to country. For example, Chinese graphic design reflects its devotion to the country, so several motifs of traditional Chinese art and culture can be found in the work of native designers. Usually, web designs produced in Latin America are characterized by vibrant and vivid colors. Japanese websites are greatly influenced by traditional and contemporary art and demonstrate abundant neon colors, which are reminiscent of the neon lights that can be seen in many areas of Tokyo at night.


So, we recommend considering your website’s design and interface before targeting a specific country.

Include XML Sitemap

Make sure your website uses XML sitemaps and register them with search engines. This type of sitemap is highly recommended not only by Google, but also by Yahoo and Bing, because it helps search bots know how many pages your website contains.

For those who use subfolders, it's better to create a separate sitemap for each country and submit it to Google Webmaster Tools as a different site. Google Webmaster Tools allow you to register subfolders separately and designate a different geographic target for each of them.

Metadata implementation and contact information

Don’t forget to localize your meta tags, URLs, image alt text, etc.

The same goes for local information on your site:

  • Company address
  • Phone numbers
  • Opening hours in the local time zone
  • Prices in local currency

Even if the statement above is self-evident, we’ve seen many local sites with meta tags still left in English, purely because they were just cloned in the CMS and never updated.


SEO is indeed very regionally dependent.

If you want your visitors, as well as search engines, to understand which country and language group you are looking to do business with, use the tips we provided in this post:

  • Consider your website’s structure
  • Localize your keywords
  • Consider your website’s content
  • Localize your brand
  • Localize your site’s design
  • Don’t forget about on-page optimization

SEO is constantly evolving, and you should evolve along with it. Think about your strategy in depth, and adapt to your business goals and targeted countries.

Even though your site can be located via search engines in any country, most of the time you should focus on a particular location when optimizing it for search. Hopefully, this post has provided you with a good foundation for getting started.

Daria Voronina is a Copywriter at SEMrush. Her major interests are different types of content marketing. She enjoys writing and learning new things that happen in the field. In her spare time she likes writing prose and reading in Japanese.

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