In part 1 of our International SEO series, we looked at the effect of search behavior, domain choice and web page organization on international SEO. In this article, we will look at the importance of geo-targeting.

Geo-targeting lets businesses target pages and sites to web users in particular locations. Getting geo-targeting right has a big impact on the success of your international SEO campaign. Use it effectively and your site should rank higher in SERPs. This applies not just to general searches but to filtered ones, where users are looking for content in specific languages or originating from particular countries. Geo-targeting also helps reduce the likelihood of duplicate content.

Here are eight geo-targeting factors that affect SERPs.

1. Using a ccTLD

As we saw in part 1, a ccTLD is Google's preferred option for delivering localized content. Web users view ccTLDs as trustworthy and relevant, resulting in higher rankings, higher click throughs and better conversion rates. While establishing domain authority for several ccTLDs takes longer than for a single domain, getting the right inbound links for each site will be easier than with some of the other options .

2. Using the Local Language

People like websites that speak their own language and are more likely to buy from them. That's why translating content is a big part of international SEO. For even more localization, use regional variations - there are differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain and in South America, for example.

A word of warning: never do automatic translation of your content. That could result in errors that hurt your business. Google advises against including automatically translated text in its index. Poor translations result in poor optimization, and can also mean content is associated with the wrong language and therefore shown to the wrong users.

- Paul Woodhouse, Director of SEO @ Adept

For best results with international SEO, use one language only on a page of your site, with navigation and headers matching the content. Link to other language versions to help your international users find the content that's right for them.

Avoid serving pages in different languages based on location. If you're from the UK and holidaying in Spain, the chances are that when you go online, you'll be looking for content in your language or from your country.

For best results, use expert translators to get your international content right. If this is beyond your budget, partner with a local expert for translation and proofreading. Not only must this person understand linguistic and cultural nuances, but also digital marketing. That will help you get it right, both for your customers and the search engines.

How does translation affect the duplicate content issue that Google loves to penalize? There's good news. Google says that: "The same content in different languages is not considered duplicate content." And content on different URLs targeted to different countries is not considered to be the same, either. Don't take that as license to create carbon copy sites, though. Google still recommends creating unique content for each site.

3. Geo-targeting with Google’s Webmaster Tools

If you can't go the ccTLD route, then set geographic targets for subdomains and subdirectories in Google Search Console. To do that, set up each subdomain or subdirectory as a separate site, otherwise targeting for the main domain will apply to all subdomains and subdirectories. Note that Yahoo and Bing don't offer this option right now.

Another option is to set the target to "unlisted", allowing content in a particular language to be shown to anywhere that speaks the language. However, your pages may not show up when users filter search results for particular regions.

4. Server location

The closer your website is to its users, the better, so for international SEO, it pays to host sites in the target country. This improves SERPs and may increase link value. If you prefer to centralize your hosting, then the use of proxy IPs can have almost the same result.

5. Earning links for International SEO

Using ccTLDs can help attract the right link profile, but even if you take another option, it's important to have the right inbound links to show that your site is relevant to a particular location. If you're selling computers in Canada, users expect to find relevant links from their favorite local tech magazines and review sites.

6. Including Local Contact Information

Local SEO is an important part of international SEO. Just as you optimize your site within a country for different localities, your international site must have street addresses, local zip/postal codes and local phone numbers. This helps Google establish that it is relevant to searchers in those countries and languages.

7. Using Metadata

In part one, we mentioned that search engines differ widely. The use of country and language meta tags is a case in point. Google does not use these, preferring data from Google Search Console. However, Bing and Yahoo do, so using them can help with ranking in those search engines.

The "lang" Meta Tag can be used when coding a document to indicate both the target language and country in one of two ways:

  1. Via HTML, sometimes considered to be the most helpful to search engines: <html lang="fr-ca">
  2. Via XHMTL: <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="fr-ca" />

In this case "fr" indicates that the language is French, where the "ca" indicates it is for a Canadian audience. If a company were creating a multilingual site without multi-regional targeting then only the language code would be needed, e.g. <html lang="fr"> for French-speakers globally.

Using localized information in meta descriptions and keywords can also send a strong geo-targeting signal. Make sure these are based on keyword research by native speakers - simply translating the original content may lead to poorly optimized pages in the international target market.

8. Creating Google My Business listings

Google My Business is an important part of local SEO. It's equally important for international SEO. Claim and create your listing, including business address, phone numbers and links to the regional websites.

International SEO: The hreflang metatag

Aside from domain choice and geo-targeting, the most important aspect of international SEO is the use of the hreflang tag (Rel="Alternate" Hreflang="x"). It's an additional metatag, like a canonical tag, that shows search engines the relationship between web pages in different languages. Both Google and Yandex use hreflang, though Bing uses language meta tags.

The hreflang tag identifies which page is appropriate for searchers using different languages. For example, if you create a Spanish-language version of your English-language homepage, you would tag it as "Español" by using hreflang="es" so that searchers with an IP address from a Spanish-speaking country are served that page in Spanish. This can decrease your bounce rate and increase your conversions by making sure your target audience lands on the version of your page most appropriate for them.

You can also use hreflang to signal regional variations of a language, which can be useful for currency, shipping, holiday promotions and culture. An example would be tagging content for Spain (hreflang="es-es") versus Mexico (hreflang="es-mx").

The hreflang tag can be placed in the on-page markup, the HTTP header, or the sitemap (just pick one) . If you choose the sitemap, this tool can help you.

The hreflang tag on each page should include a reference to itself as well as to all the pages that serve as alternates for it. If your Spanish website sells Iberian ham to customers in Spain, France, and Portugal only, the hreflang tags for your homepage might look like this:

  • <link rel="alternate" href="example.com" hreflang="es-es" />
  • <link rel="alternate" href="example.com/fr/" hreflang="fr-fr" />
  • <link rel="alternate" href="example.com/pt/" hreflang="pt-pt" />

The same annotations should appear on your French and Portuguese homepages.

Hreflang is a signal, not a directive, so you need to look after other aspects of international SEO to make it clear which pages should be seen by which users. Use international SEO best practices to take care of this.

What are your next steps?

International SEO is a complex process with lots of moving parts and variables - but getting it right will extend your global reach and place you ahead of your competition. Don't want to go it alone? Want a partner to help you determine and execute an International SEO strategy? Send us a note!

Read part 1 of our International SEO Series here!