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International SEO Best Practices Guide

by Andreas Voniatis Founder. Fractional SEO Consultant.

What is International SEO

International SEO is about ensuring the correct page appears for the target audience user in their regional search engine. This is achieved by signalling to search engines the business region using multiple techniques, especially for sites which target multiple countries with multiple languages within a single or  across multiple websites.

International SEO is a strategic programme focused on driving traffic from audiences across different regional and language contexts:

  • Multilingual – audiences that speak languages (within a country or across countries)
  • Multiregional – and/or audiences from different countries (single or multiple languages)

Google accounts for the majority of search traffic in countries worldwide, for example, 92.5 percent of search traffic in Brazil originates from Google.

The following chart shows the percentage of search traffic from Google in a selection of countries:


While Google is the dominant search engine in most countries around the world, there are major markets where a strategy will be required to cater for other dominant search engines:

  • Baidu – China
  • Yandex – Russia
  • Seznam – Czechia

There are several approaches to international SEO and, if correctly implemented, all of them can be in line with SEO best practices.

Best Practices in short

  • Ensuring content and site architecture is configured to match the search intent of regional audiences
  • Setting HREFLANG tags along with x-default and self canonicals (supported by Google but not Bing)
  • Acquiring backlinks from regionally relevant high traffic sites preferably via Digital PR
  • Dedicating subfolders for your target region and language
  • Hosting your regional subdirectories on a regionally relevant IP address of the same nationality or regional state
  • Setting your HTML language tags

Why International SEO is Important

An international SEO strategy for websites focuses on creating content that’s applicable to localised markets, as well as developing a website structure that makes it easy for search engines to find and serve the right webpages to the right users at the right time.

If your brand serves worldwide audiences in multiple regions in multiple languages so it will be imperative to avoid:

  • Not being indexed – due to content duplication and cannibalisation from multiple copies of same language content intended for different regions
  • Lower click through rates (CTR), rankings and traffic – incorrect regional content and/or language displayed in the search results
  • Disengaged users – users landing in their target language but incorrect region. For example, a user searching in English arriving on the UK site and not in their region Canada
  • Opaque analytics – where digital teams struggle to analyse and attribute engagement by language and country, leading to poor campaign planning and performance.

Website structures must therefore be designed to house all relevant audience languages within a target region, leveraging enough metadata such that the search requests from users will be directed to the correct page for their current location and language.

Should Wella wish to expand into other regions (such as Switzerland) or offer additional languages within their existing regions (e.g. French in Canada), additional resources will be required for international SEO, for improved performance:

  • All international pages indexed – Search engines are clear on same language pages being intended for distinct regions and are not duplicate. Thereby:
    • assigning the appropriate levels of page authority to each content 
    • including these in their index
    • Serving the correct page to the correct user according to their region and language preference
  • SERPs performance – Higher rankings due to higher levels of page authority, higher user click throughs from seeing the correct regional pages, titles in the correct language when selecting URLs to click on and more traffic to Wella.
  • Users engagement and conversions  – users landing in their target language and correct region will see the content is intended for them
  • Opaque analytics – where digital teams will be clear on the performance levels of each content and prepare improved campaign responses to better serve their online worldwide audiences.

Most of the best practices for Google will transfer to other search engines as they use similar principles and technologies to return web pages that best satisfy user queries. 

International SEO Considerations

Search engines require consistently clear signposting as to which content is intended for a given international audience. The following considerations will help maximise Wella’s visibility for audiences across the world searching online.

Keyword Research

Keywords dictate the success and failure of all SEO campaigns, as they:

  • set the targets for campaign performance 
  • underpin all subsequent SEO work streams such as content strategy

International SEO is no exception.

Finding – Keywords that work for one region may not work in another region even if they do speak the same language. This is more likely to be attributed to a cultural difference i.e. different countries have different phrases for expressing the same product.

Impact As a result, the search volumes for a given phrase in one same language region may differ greatly compared to the same phrase in another region, thereby affecting the

Fix – To overcome the cultural difference across regions, conduct keyword research for each region separately using a range of data sources including Google Search Console (GSC). 

User Redirection

Finding –  Some sites (not Wella) automatically redirect users based on their IP address to direct users to their anticipated preferred region.

Impact – Such mechanisms are detrimental to SEO because Google might not find and crawl all of the international variations as the Googlebot crawler originates from the USA. The crawler also sends HTTP requests without setting Accept-Language in the request header. Additionally, search engines may also perceive such practices as selective IP content delivery (known as cloaking). This is where websites serve different content based on whether the visitor is a user or a search engine, which is in violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Fix – A couple of solutions are offered for posterity:

  • Avoid automatically redirecting users based on their IP address. Instead, pursue alternative solutions such as a CSS overlay invocation should the user IP address not match the content HTML language and/or regional setting
  • add links to different localised versions of the content in the main navigation (Wella has already implemented this in the footer)



Finding – The domain structure of a website plays a significant role for visitors and search engines to find web content. Wella currently uses gTLD with subdirectories for international SEO. The different options include:

  • Country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs)  – are two-letter domains assigned to specific countries. For example, .uk is for the United Kingdom, which would be applied as wella.co.uk (not currently deployed)
  • Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) – refers to domain extensions with three or more characters; these TLDs are maintained by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). Common examples include .com, .gov and .org (deployed) 
  • gTLD with subdomains – Subdomains for a web site which combine aspects of both ccTLDs and gTLDs. For example, uk.wella.com (not deployed)
  • gTLD with subdirectories – Subdirectories, meanwhile, change the location of the country code. This configuration has been deployed for Wella. For example, the UK site resides in the retail en-UK subfolder: www.wella.com/retail/en-UK 


Impact – The various configurations have advantages and disadvantages outlined below:

  • Country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs)  – Creating a unique ccTLD site for each country where Wella products are available, would increase the Click Through Rate (CTR) and in general rank higher for the search engine in the target region. That is because users in a target region will trust a local domain extension over a generic one. 

For this reason, search engines will generally give a rankings boost to localised domains over generic domains, as the content is more likely to be relevant to users in that target region. 

However, this approach tends to be quite resource intensive both in terms of the administration overhead and the financial expense associated with setting up legal entities abroad to acquire the right to purchase a domain name in that region.

  • Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) – Using a gTLD means that search engines won’t restrict results based on region, however it may reduce visibility and resulting traffic as the domain is less likely to serve localised content. However, this could be mitigated as described below.
  • gTLD with subdomains – Subdomains named by region such as uk., help mitigate the disadvantage of generic domain as the subdomain is clear to the user that the site is intended for their region. The disadvantage is further mitigated if the different regional subdomains are hosted on regional IP addresses matching the target (See Hosting IP Address)
  • ccTLD or gTLD with subdirectories – Subdirectories named by region such as uk., also help mitigate the disadvantage of generic domain. However, this has a further benefit as the page authority is kept within the same subdomain increasing the ranking potential and crawl/render budget of the site. Again a further benefit is available if the subdirectories are hosted on servers with matching regional IP addresses.

Fix – No Further Action. However, consider making the subdirectory structures more consistent, For example, Mexico could be brought in line with other regions by migrating from https://www.wella.com/mx to https://www.wella.com/retail/es-mx which would facilitate easier future web development rollouts and more agile inter-regional SEO performance analyses.


Hosting IP Address

Finding – The sites are all hosted on the same single IP address which is based in the USA.

Impact – Sites that are hosted on server IP addresses in the local region will receive a ranking boost over sites not hosted on local region IPs.

Fix – Host your regional sites on servers that have an IP address matching the region.

Geo Markup 

Finding – Google supports the following HTML tags to indicate the intended region and language of the audience. Wella is making use of both HREFLANG and HTML LANG (See the HREFLANG guide for a full diagnosis): 

  • HREFLANG attribute is used to indicate the language the content is written in and the intended region of the user audience
  • HTML LANG attribute is used to indicate the language of the content is written in.


Impact – Google supports HREFLANG and HTML LANG tags, whereas other search engines only support HTML LANG. Deploying both ensures the correct language and regional variant of Wella content will be visible for the targeted international audience.

Fix – The recommendations for HREFLANG are covered in more extensive detail (See the HREFLANG guide). In summary:

  • Self canonicalise the URL of the content
  • Set a language default using the x-default parameter
  • Deploy only one method either by HTML (inside the opening <head> section), XML sitemap markup, or HTTP headers
  • Reference both the page itself and its translated variants ensuring bidirectional hreflang attribute references.
  • Ensure that the hreflang attribute and the canonical URL match.
  • Use absolute URLs when defining the hreflang attribute


Webmaster Search Console Tools

Finding – Webmaster search console tools such as Google Search Console, are tools offered by search engines to enable site operators to interface with the search engine directly. One of the services offered are geo targeting where Wella can directly configure: 

Impact – Using such facilities reduces the ambiguity for search engines to know what the intended international audience targets are. This is especially useful if hosting subdirectories on regional IP addresses are not yet available.

Fix – Set up regional sites in the relevant webmaster search console tool accounts.


Languages Translation

Finding – Machine translation is often seen as a cost effective alternative to localised human translation of regional copy.

Impact – While translation tools provide a literal conversion of words and phrases, they’re often not communicated in the same way by local users. Which means customers will quickly realise the copy doesn’t meet their expectations. However, with the advances of artificially intelligent neural networks and Natural Language Generation (NLG) technology, machine translation has become a tool of serious consideration when used in combination with native level proficient editors.

Fix – With or without the aid of machine translation, hire native language content editors as they will understand the local culture so that the translated version for the region matches audience expectations and therefore satisfies the local users’ search queries.



Taking a strategic approach to international SEO ensures Wella will benefit from having the maximum exposure to targeted worldwide audiences. This will require consideration of:

  • Keyword research – ensuring the content created is being searched for online and will generate traffic and engagement
  • Domain configuration – so that search engines index content for the correct regions and languages
  • Hosting IP address – signalling to search engines using HREFLANG and HTML LANG, the nationality of the content and the relevance to regional audiences
  • Geo markup – avoiding duplication and promoting the correct indexing of content by region and language
  • Languages – the use of machine translation in combination with native language editors to make international more cost effective and scalable.
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