International SEO For 2024: 9-Point Checklist For Success

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Crafting an effective international SEO strategy can feel like chasing a moving target. It encompasses numerous factors that are often overlooked, making it a task that’s seldom appreciated. Achieving success in international SEO demands a thorough understanding of your company’s business objectives, technical SEO expertise, cultural awareness, and adeptness with data analysis.

Despite its multifaceted nature, international SEO is frequently reduced to merely setting up hreflang tags within the industry. However, its intricacies go far beyond this.

In this piece, I aim to simplify the complexities of international SEO triumph into a practical, step-by-step guide that caters to both novices and seasoned practitioners. Let’s dive in!

Part I: Be Commercially Aware

1. Understand Why Your Company Is Going International

Enterprises can expand through diversifying their offerings and services, concentrating on enhancing market penetration, or venturing into novel markets.

Although your team may prioritize objectives like traffic, leads, or revenue, the executive leadership typically operates within a distinct framework. Most often, the leadership’s overarching aim is to optimize shareholder value.

In businesses owned by founders, growth targets might lean towards a slower, more sustainable trajectory, typically focused on sustaining and amplifying profitability.

Venture capital-backed enterprises set ambitious growth objectives as they are compelled to deliver returns surpassing those of the stock market to their investors. This represents the alpha, indicating the company’s capacity to outperform the market in terms of growth.

Publicly traded corporations generally aim to augment their stock value.

Startups, contingent upon their stage of maturity, generally seek to validate product-market fit swiftly or rapidly expand their footprint to demonstrate scalability and future profitability potential. The intention is to facilitate subsequent capital raising from investors.

Understanding the rationale behind businesses venturing into the international arena is crucial for shaping your SEO strategies. What constitutes best practice in SEO may not always align with what’s optimal for business success.

It’s imperative to tailor your strategy to fit your company’s growth model.

Businesses opting for sustainable growth and sustained profitability are inclined to pursue slower expansion into markets resembling their core market.

VC-backed enterprises have the flexibility to invest across a broader spectrum of countries, with less emphasis on matching the user experience to that of their core markets.

Startups may adopt various approaches, aiming to outpace competitors by swiftly expanding and allocating significant resources to the endeavor. Alternatively, they might prioritize cash flow and opt for rapid expansion while potentially cutting corners through automated translation methods.

2. Stack Rank Your Target Markets To Prioritize Your Investment

I understand! Building a solid foundation in commercial awareness is key for mastering international SEO, so let’s delve into it further.

Many companies employ different tiers to prioritize markets, reflecting the varying degrees of importance each holds. Market prioritization hinges on numerous metrics, including:

  • Average order value or lifetime customer value.
  • Required investment.
  • Market size.
  • Market similarity.

American companies often give precedence to developed English-speaking nations like the UK, Canada, or Australia. These markets closely resemble their core market, facilitating the transfer of market knowledge.

Subsequently, companies tend to target major European economies such as Germany and France. They may also extend their efforts to encompass the Latin American market and Spain.

The final tier of prioritization can vary significantly among companies, with some focusing on Nordic regions, Brazil, or Asian markets.

Part II: Know Your Tech

3. Define Your International URL Structure

When conducting international SEO, you’ll encounter four distinct URL structures, each carrying its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

ccTLD Structure

A ccTLD (Country Code Top-Level Domain) structure is designed to target specific countries based on the domain type. However, it’s not the most suitable option for companies aiming to target different languages rather than distinct countries. For instance, a .es website primarily targets Spain, not necessarily the Spanish language.

One advantage of this structure is its ability to send a robust localization signal to search engines, indicating the specific market being targeted. This can result in enhanced trust and click-through rates (CTR) within your primary country.

Conversely, ccTLDs may lead to the dilution of your site’s authority since links are distributed across multiple domains rather than being concentrated on a single .com domain.

gTLD With Subdirectories

This particular approach holds a special place in my heart when it comes to international SEO.

In this setup, URLs might take the form of for language targeting or for country targeting.

What makes this configuration stand out is its ability to consolidate the authority accumulated across various territories under one domain. It’s also more cost-effective to maintain, and the .com TLD enjoys broad recognition among users globally.

However, there’s a downside: to those outside the US, this setup might seem less tailored, leaving them uncertain about whether you cater to their specific markets.

gTLD With Subdomains

This setup entails placing international content on a subdomain, such as While it was once a popular choice, it’s gradually losing favor because it no longer offers any distinct advantages.

One benefit of this setup is its ability to provide a clear signal to both users and search engines regarding the intended audience of a particular subdomain.

However, subdomains often encounter SEO challenges because Google tends to treat them as separate entities. This separation can lead to link dilution, similar to the ccTLD approach, but without the geo-targeting benefits.

gTLD With Parameters

This setup involves appending parameters at the end of the URL to signify the language of the page, like

I strongly discourage using this setup due to the numerous technical SEO challenges and trust issues it can present.

4. Understand Your Hreflang Setup

John Mueller once described hreflang as one of the more intricate elements of SEO. It’s akin to a multilingual version of a canonical tag, signaling to search engines that one document is a variant of another and elucidating their relationship.

Personally, I find the technical aspects of hreflang implementation fascinating. Typically managed by development teams, its execution can vary widely in effectiveness.

Often, hreflang is pieced together using existing fields within your content management system (CMS) or content database. However, sometimes, development teams might inadvertently use the HTML lang tag, which adheres to a different ISO standard, resulting in a flawed implementation.

Alternatively, there may be a dedicated field in your CMS from which your development team pulls data to construct your hreflang setup.

Understanding how your hreflang tags are generated can be immensely beneficial in pinpointing the origins of any issues or preempting potential pitfalls.

Engage with your engineering team to uncover the current method employed for generating hreflang tags.

5. Implement Hreflang Without Errors

Implementing hreflang on your site can be achieved in three ways:

  1. Through your sitemap.
  2. Via your HTTP header.
  3. Within your HTML head.

The HTML head method is the most commonly used and familiar approach. It’s important to ensure consistency across all methods employed. Mismatched implementations may lead to confusion for search engines, so maintaining alignment is crucial.

Here are some fundamental guidelines to ensure correct implementation:

  1. Ensure that URLs in your hreflang implementation include both the domain and protocol.
  2. Adhere strictly to ISO 639-1 language codes; avoid creating custom codes.
  3. Maintain reciprocity in hreflang tags. If a page is listed as a language alternative, it must reciprocally list yours.
  4. Regularly audit your hreflang setup. Ahrefs, with its added features like hreflang cluster analysis and link graphs, is my preferred tool for this task. I’m not sponsored by Ahrefs; it’s a genuine recommendation based on its effectiveness in my work.
  5. Have only one page per language to avoid confusion.
  6. Ensure that your hreflang URLs are self-canonicalizing and return a 200 status code.
  7. By following these rules, you can steer clear of the most common hreflang errors made by SEO professionals.

For those interested in delving deeper into the technical aspects of SEO beyond hreflang, I suggest reading “Mind Your Language” by Rob Owen.

Part III: Invest In Content Incrementally

6. Translate Your Top-performing Content Topics

Now equipped with foundational commercial and technical knowledge, it’s time to forge ahead with your content strategy.

Chances are, your primary market already boasts a trove of content ripe for repurposing. However, the key is to hone in on translating topics with high conversion rates, not just any subject matter. Otherwise, you risk squandering your resources.

Let’s break it down step by step:

  1. Cluster Your Website’s Content by Topic:
    Utilize your preferred SEO tool to crawl your site, extracting both the URLs and their corresponding H1 headers.
    Employ ChatGPT to categorize this list of URLs into distinct topics. You likely have a good grasp of your typical content themes, so incorporate those into your prompt. Aim to strike a balance between granularity and coherence; consider prompting ChatGPT to create groups containing a minimum of 10 URLs (adjust as necessary based on your website’s scale) while classifying the remainder as “other.” Here’s a sample prompt structure: “I’ll furnish you with a roster of article titles along with their respective URLs. Please categorize this list into the following topics: best practices in surveys, research and analysis, employee surveys, market research, and others. Present the results in tabular form, including URL, title, and group name.”
  2. Initiate a Spreadsheet Organization:
    Kickstart a spreadsheet with URLs in the first column, titles in the second column, and their corresponding groupings in the third column. This systematic approach facilitates streamlined content management and strategic planning.

Evaluate Your Performance Across Topics

  1. Retrieve GSC Data:
    Export your Google Search Console (GSC) data and employ a =VLOOKUP formula to correlate your clicks with the corresponding URLs.
  2. Capture Conversion Metrics:
    Export your conversion data and utilize a =VLOOKUP formula to align your conversions (whether leads, sales, sign-ups, or revenue) with the respective URLs.
  3. Aggregate Data by Topic:
    Transfer your topics column onto a fresh sheet. Eliminate duplicates and leverage the =SUMIF formula to amalgamate your click and conversion data according to each topic.

Select Priority Topics for Translation

With this comprehensive data in hand, pinpoint the topics most likely to drive conversions, drawing insights from your core market data. Determine the number of topics or content pieces you’ll prioritize for translation, aligning with your budgetary constraints.

Personally, I advocate for tackling one topic at a time. I’ve found that establishing authority within a specific topic realm simplifies subsequent ranking efforts for related subjects. By sequentially building topical expertise, you enhance your content’s relevance and resonance within your niche.

7. Localize Your English Content

Once you have established all your essential pages and a selection of content topics, it’s crucial to assess your efforts and explore avenues for greater returns.

At this juncture, many businesses have expanded their content into multiple languages, often duplicating their US content onto their UK and Australian websites. However, having merely translated your content is just the beginning; it’s now time to focus on localization.

If you’ve merely replicated your US content across your UK and Australian platforms, your Google Search Console indexing report might be flagging issues of duplication, with Google opting for a different canonical version than what users are accessing.

A straightforward solution with potentially significant dividends is to localize your English content to better suit the nuances of each English-speaking market.

Instructing your translation and localization teams to adjust spellings, refine word choices, incorporate local idioms, and replace US-centric statistics with their local counterparts can make a substantial difference.

For instance, when targeting a British audience, “analyze” may need to be changed to “analyse,” “stroller” might become “pram,” and “soccer” could be replaced with “football.”

8. Invest In In-market Content

Once you’ve established your foundational elements, it’s time to address the unique requirements of other markets. This approach can be costly, so it’s wise to reserve it for your top-priority markets where it can truly differentiate you from competitors.

To execute this strategy effectively, partnering with a local linguist is essential. They can help identify specific pain points, use cases, or exclusive needs within your target market.

For instance, if France were to suddenly mandate diversity and inclusion studies for companies with over 250 employees, it would be crucial to be aware of this development. In response, creating content on DEI surveys using platforms like SurveyMonkey could be invaluable.

9. Integrate With Other Content Workflows

In the sixth step, we assessed our top-performing content, selected the most promising articles for translation, and documented everything. However, there’s a twist. Some of these original articles have been revised, and there’s an influx of new content as well!

For a successful international SEO campaign, seamless integration with all other content-producing teams within your organization is essential.

Typically, these teams include SEO, content, PR, product marketing, demand generation, customer marketing, customer service, customer education, and solutions engineering.

It’s quite a lineup, and integrating with all of them simultaneously might be overwhelming. Prioritize teams responsible for generating the most revenue-centric content, such as SEO, content, or product marketing.

Collaborating with these teams, you’ll need to establish a streamlined process for handling the creation of new content, content updates, or removal of existing pieces.

These processes may vary from one team to another, but I’m happy to share what my team does in the hope that it sparks some inspiration for you.

When we update a piece of content that has already been localized into international markets, we place it in a queue to be re-localized in the next quarter.

For newly created content, we assess its performance, and if it’s exceeding expectations, we add it to a localization queue for the upcoming quarter.

In cases where the URL of a piece of content is modified or it’s deleted, all international sites must make the corresponding adjustments simultaneously. This is crucial due to certain technical limitations; failing to make global changes would result in hreflang issues.

Wrapping Up

International SEO is a vast and intricate field, impossible to fully cover in a single article. However, there’s a wealth of valuable resources crafted by SEO professionals within the community for those eager to delve deeper.

Mastering the intricacies of international SEO is a significant challenge. It requires a delicate balance of aligning business objectives with technical expertise, cultural awareness, and data-driven strategies.

From identifying your company’s underlying motivations for global growth to meticulously implementing hreflang tags and tailoring content for local audiences, each step is pivotal in constructing a robust international footprint.

Original news from SearchEngineJournal