International SEO: successfully crossing borders

Do you have a multi-language website? Or are you considering taking the (online) step abroad? Then you will face a number of interesting SEO challenges; you want your target audience to be able to find you across ‘organic’ borders. This is where international SEO comes into play. International SEO focusses on the issues here below.

Language or country targeting?

Do you want your website to appeal to people in a specific language region (multi-language website), or are you concentrating on specific countries (multi-regional website)? For example, you could choose the Spanish-language market, or the country of Spain in particular. This choice affects the way in which you structure your website, and it depends on a number of things:

  1. The degree to which your company is dependent on location.
  2. How certain you are of a country’s potential.
  3. The resources you have to turn a multi-regional approach into a success.

In the next blog post on international SEO, we will focus on this specific topic.

Domain structure: the technical aspect

Once you know what markets you want to expand to and which countries or languages are the most interesting for your business, it is important to think about a logical domain structure. This choice is closely related to whether you chose a multi-regional approach or a multi-language website. Here is a summary of the options:

  • gTLD: a generic top-level domain doesn’t necessarily focus on one specific country. With a gTLD, you have flexibility in targeting one or more countries and languages. Examples of gTLDs are .com, .net, and .org.
  • ccTLD: a country code top-level domain. As the name suggests, a ccTLD is linked to a country code (.nl, .de, .fr, etc.).
  • Subdomain: part of a domain name. For example, or

It is also possible to combine subdomains and domains: for example, and or and

Besides the choice of a type of domain, you also have to take into account technical aspects, such as the so-called hreflang-tag (very important) and the possible automatic forwarding of visitors on the basis of their language and/or location. These aspects will be discussed in detail in a future blog post in this series.

Differences between search engines

Sometimes we forget that Google is not the only search engine. It isn’t very strange given Google’s impressive market share in the Netherlands, but there certainly are other search engines to take into account.

  • Russia: Yandex is the most popular search engine here, with 54.26%.¹
  • China: Baidu has 70.3% of the market in China.¹
  • VS: some competition from Yahoo and Bing: 5.8% for Yahoo, 5.6% for Bing.¹

Example of the market shares of search engines, Russia in December 2018:

Yandex zoekmachine Rusland

If you want to expand to (or already operate) in one of these countries or continents, keep in mind that there are more search engines than Google alone. While the general rules for findability of multi-regional websites are similar, we recommend making sure everything is in place for these specific search engines.

More than translation

You might think that international SEO means nothing more than translating your content to a different language for a different geographic group… Not true! Localisation is a separate skill and there is more to it than translation alone.

If, for example, you think that you will be able to manage with a Dutch website in Belgium, you’ll make a poor showing among our southern neighbours (and vice versa, of course). Therefore, always work with local copywriters when writing content, and do local keyword research. In addition to language, there are also differences in legislation, culture, payment methods, and competitors.

Local authority and outreach

Depending on your chosen domain structure, you will also have to work on outreach and on increasing the local website authority. In general, authority is always an important part of an SEO strategy, but, in some cases, it is even more important. Suppose that, when choosing a domain structure, you chose separate ccTLDs for the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany. In that case, you will have to build up authority for these separate domains; the ccTLDs will not benefit from each other’s authority. In the case of a gTLD with subfolders (for example,, all link values will be shared.

Local SEO

Do you have offices abroad? Then local SEO is indispensable. Local SEO focusses on improving the organic local visibility of your web pages and local listings (profiles of your company on platforms, such as Google My Business). Local SEO is becoming increasingly important, in part due to the mobile age. Today, anyone can enter a search query anywhere and at any time of the day, making location an increasingly important factor.

One of our upcoming blog posts will focus on the approach to website localisation.

Keep following us to find out everything about choosing the right domain structure, when to choose a multi-regional or a multi-language website, and the successful localisation of your website. Want to discuss an international topic? Feel free to contact us!

¹ Source December 2018: