As an extension of my previous brain dump on Search Engine Optimization this post provides perspective on optimizing your site for international visitors.  Optimizing internationally follows the same general SEO best practices but with a number of additional factors to improve the visitor experience.  Before investing time and money on optimizing for international audiences the first question to ask is…

What is the business objective?

With all forms of marketing activity you should always stay focused on the higher objectives.  Creating and maintaining an international web presence can be costly so it is important to identify if there will likely be a positive return on your investment.

Do you have a current need?

The best way to answer this question is with data.  If you have an existing website with analytics installed you can use this data to identify where your current visitors are coming from and what language they speak.

If you are using Google Analytics you can identify this information by accessing Audience > Geo.  Here your two options are Language and Location.  This data will help you determine what type of localization is needed to reach your customer.


Analytics can answer a lot of important questions, not only which languages your visitors speak but also how each interacted with your site and if you have eCommerce tracking enabled also how much revenue is generated from visitors speaking a certain language.  With eCommerce tracking determining which languages to translate into is a clear decision. If you do not have this data my general rule of thumb is if a language comprises more than 15% of your total traffic it may likely be worth the effort.


The analytic data provided with location can be very important based on your business model.

Analytics Audience Geo Language

Naturally this data is only available based on existing international visitors.  If your site is not currently attracting international visitors and you want to grow this segment ask yourself…

Does your business model support it?

Just because you can does not mean you should.  Be mindful of a return on your investment of time and money to optimize internationally.  If you are a mom & pop plumbing company you likely do not need to worry about optimizing for international countries.  But if you are in Honolulu you may wish to provide a Japanese translation or if you are in San Diego there may be a case for a Spanish translation of your site.

There are a number of questions to ask yourself before targeting a new market (as recently asked by SEO pro @JohnBertino in a recent #SEOChat) such as:

Some products and services do not translate or are simply not relevant for other markets.  Also consider what the competition is like in the international market and what your chances/cost to penetrate would be.  Are there local laws which restrict the sale of your goods or services?  Are there local customs/nuances that need to be factored in?  Recommend trying out Google’s Global Market Finder tool.   Also consider:

Maintaining a dedicated web presence in a new market can be a significant cost on resources to not only deploy but also maintain.  While it is important to stay focused on providing the best possible visitor experience you must be realistic with what can be done with your resources.

The question remains, is there enough international demand?



Who is your target customer?

If you have decided that you want to proceed with localization you next need to learn about your target customer so you can provide them with the best visitor experience. By custom tailoring the site to your visitor you will better engage them which will likely increase your conversation rate significantly (while positively impacting your visibility in the search engines).

Where do they consume their information?

Which search engines will they be using?  If you are targeting english speakers in Hong Kong then it will be Google, if Chinese in Hong Kong it would be Yahoo.  In mainland China you would want to focus on Baidu as Google is blocked.  Knowing where your customers consume their information will help you develop a strategy for reaching them.

More than just search engines, also consider what social media sites are used:


What words/terms do they use?

This is an obvious point, but when creating content you should be using the words/phrases they use.   This can apply even regionally.  Consider:

Recommend using Google’s Keyword Tool as well as Yandex to determine keyword usage trends:


What should your strategy be for international content marketing?

More than simply translating your website copy, developing a content marketing strategy/plan is a much larger initiative.

If you choose to continue your localization efforts on to your blog, remember that your “lifestyle” content will not make sense as a 1:1 translation.  Factor in local culture and interests.



What are the methods to translate your content?

Once you have completed your international analysis the next step is creating localized content.  There are a number of ways to achieve this, each varies significantly in cost.

Direct Translation

The easiest option is to use a direct translation tool such as Google Translate.  This is a free service which can automatically translate your site’s content into over 65 languages.  While this is an option, it is not a good one, it is recommended to avoid direct translation.  The process of delivering your marketing message should be taken seriously.

Professional Translation

It is recommended to source a local (“native” speaker) to help translate your message.  Ideally someone with business experience who can create compelling marketing/sales copy and not just do a word for word translation.  They should be able to advise you on the nuances of the local market.

How do you tell the search engines what the language of the site is?

Many websites serve users from around the world with content translated or targeted to users in a certain region. Google uses the rel="alternate" hreflang="x"  attributes to serve the correct language or regional URL in Search results.  Example:

Learn more at Google’s official page.

#ProTip by Bill Slawski: Rather than adding markup to each page, specify the translated pages in your XML sitemap.  Learn more about HREFLang in Sitemap.xml files.  Here is a code example from Google support:




What about my domain name?

Good question.  While it is simpler to have only one website to manage there are a number of advantages to having multiple websites and even multiple domains.  The determination of the best method depends on the targeting priority of Country or Language with the preferred option in the first row below.

International SEO's URL

There are pro’s and con’s for each situation as illustrated by Moz.  (Above via Aleyda Solis)

International SEO


What are other factors to consider?

Hosting Company

If optimizing by Country the location of where your website’s files are hosted can make a big difference.  Remembering that the search engine wants to serve up the best visitor experience, if your website files are on a web server thousands of miles away it may take longer to retrieve them than if they are geographically closer.  When optimizing for a specific country you may consider finding a local hosting company (with a local IP address).

Local Offices

If you have a physical presence in multiple locations publish the address & phone number, bonus points for leveraging


 What are some great SEO tools for International SEO?