International SEO for Beginners!


SEO, aka Search Engine Optimization focuses on webpages and pagerank for various search engines. We normally look at on page and off page SEO, so what is international SEO?

International SEO is basically utilising hreflang to properly display pages of your website that is targeted at international audiences of different countries and language groups. If you have multiple webpages of various languages and region subdomains, or just want to know what hreflang is, read on!

What is hreflang?

hreflang is a tag attribute (referred to as rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x”), that helps to direct Google to the language that is used on a specific page when users are searching in that particular language. For example, if you have a website in English as well as French, but want it to reflect the French version of the website when a French user searches for a related keyword, using hreflang can help Google to correctly display the French website instead of the English.

How do you see if Google brings up the right webpage?

Instead of being unsure if Google is able to redirect your foreign users properly, use international SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) to check and see if the website is accurately displayed. The way to access foreign versions of Google from other countries is to key in a specific link – writing the google CCTLD, followed by the language and country that you are targeting, as well as de-personalising and lastly, the query. 

An example of how to check international SERP – Credits to Moz

There is a list of country and language codes that Google supports, and following this example and entering exactly the language and region code will get you the particular Google SERP that you are looking for.

What are the benefits of using hreflang?

Using hreflang helps to point users in the right direction and lower bounce rates. This in turn increases the search rankings and improves user experience, as they are directed to the right version of your website. It will also help Google to distinguish between content that is either similar or a duplicate as it is for different regions, and can contribute to local link building for the correct version of the website.

What using hreflang won’t do?

Using hreflang will not be able to replace geo-ranking factors, meaning that the page rank for your local page will not have the same ranking as your other foreign pages. If one of your pages is ranked high on Google, it does not mean that the other versions of the same page are automatically highly ranked as well. If you have duplicate copies of the same page that target the same keywords, it doesn’t always mean that the right version will appear. hreflang will not fix duplicate content issues, as in SEO, Google will always choose which page to rank if there are exact or nearly duplicates. The version with more authority ranking will generally be chosen by Google.

Tools to get started

If you are serious to start looking into international SEO and how you can better improve the user experience for your customers, then you will need a few tools. Such are:

Reliable rank tracker that is able to localise.

A crawler to validate your hreflang codes to see if there are any errors.

A method to gather international results on scales, for example, using proxies.

Parsing XML sitemaps and cross checking on your own even if you are using a tool.

Last but most importantly, Google Search Console tools, Google analytics, and access to server logs to allow you to better understand how Google crawling works.

Tips to ensure you are on the right track

Use either <head> or XML sitemaps to help you implement hreflang, do not use both as it can cause more issues.

You need to cross annotate in order for hreflang to work.

Google recommends the use of self-referencing hreflang.

Try your best to eliminate duplicate content, but if it must happen, use canonical and hreflang to help you, but you must be fully aware of what’s happening.

Once implemented, you must give it time to fully function. hreflang takes about 2 days for it to fully work.

If you are using your default website to double annotate, it is totally acceptable.

Always double check and look back at your parameters and results to see what the problem is. Ask for help when you are still unable to find anything about it.

When using a country redirection strategy, you can use 302 on your homepage to direct your users to a website that is in their language or region.


With that, you will be able to start your journey on using hreflang and allow users to be directed to the correct version of your website! This is best if you have expanded businesses and target customers across different countries and different speaking languages. This can enable you to expand the possibilities of your SEO and increase the page rankings of your webpage. Search Engine Optimization can be very tricky, but once done right, it will boost your website and allow it to perform greatly.

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