The Basics of International SEO – a Brief Best Practices Checklist

German Shepherd with thought bubble in German

Recently, Team Portent has been writing a lot about local SEO best practices for US markets. And with good reason; mobile device usage is on the rise. Think about how often you reach for your smartphone or tablet to get directions to a local business, check their phone number, look at reviews or menus, or do on-the-spot price comparisons before you buy?

But what if – just what if – you’ve opened up shop in another country (nice going on the travel write-offs, eh?). How do you make sure potential customers in Berlin, Germany aren’t being directed to your store in Berlin, Ohio, huh? Huh?

To cover those bases, here’s a handy-dandy checklist for you if you have – or plan to have – a business with a physical presence in another country.

By the way, you’re going to need to drive yourself over to a new website, and yes that’s me in the backseat incessantly asking “are we there yet?”

To be clear: this checklist is not going to cover what to do if you have a single website with more than one language or if you’re trying to target more than one country. That’s a different post for a different day. Also, there are differing opinions about whether to host in the country you’re opening your new business or if  “cloud” hosting is just fine; let’s face it, only Google’s algorithm knows for sure (please pass the secret sauce) but the bottom line here is that the more signals you can send to Google that you’re targeting that specific country, the better. Oh, and one more thing – it would be presumptuous of me to say that this is going to cover every possible country in the world (your mileage may vary) but this will certainly give you a head start.

Okay, with all that in mind, here’s your new website checklist:


Host the website in the target country. Google will detect server location based on IP address. Example: a German-language website will be hosted in Germany.

Country-code top-level domain name (ccTLD)

Use the proper ccTLD for your website. Example: for Belgium, use (complete list of country code TLDs can be viewed here).

Edit: Thanks to Gareth in the comments for catching my typo (it’s funny how typing .com happens without even realizing it) – the example above should be “”.

Content, language, and culture

Best option: post original, fresh content written by a native speaker from the country in question. Next best is an accurate translation of existing content by a native or native-bilingual speaker using correct syntax, spelling, and cultural expressions. Automated translations are to be avoided.

External linking

Country/region specific links, especially from industry- and niche-related trade groups, associations, blogs, online newspapers, and other organizations and publications from within the country should be obtained and earned. By obtained, I do not mean “purchased.” Start with any industry organizations you can or do belong to in that country, vendor and partner sites – you get the idea.


City, regional, and country-specific citations should be obtained in the equivalent of online white/yellow pages listings, niche directories, and online business databases. It’s important that the business’s NAP (name, address, phone number) is 100% consistent in each citation obtained. Yep, just like the other local business tips our team has written about before.

Physical location

The physical address should be noted in plain text on the website in the site-wide footer; at a minimum on the “contact” and/or “about” page(s).

HTML language specification

Use the HTML lang attribute to declare the language used on the website.

Example: <html lang="de"> for your website in Germany.

Google Webmaster Tools

Set geo-targeting for your ccTLD.

Google Maps

List the business address and verify the location in Google Maps.

Google+ Local

Get your profile created; leave no profile fields blank.


If prices are listed or other monetary references are made on the site, use the currency symbol of the country in question. Example: ¥ for Japanese yen.


I know, I know – you want to just use Google Translate and set up a subdirectory structure or maybe a subdomain on your current site if that goes well, then you’ll think about doing international SEO right. You know all that stuff above you didn’t read? Search engines (like Google) see all of those things as strong signals as to how relevant your website is to searchers in that region/country. The more you get those items right, the better you’ll do.

Remember, all the standard SEO rules still apply. In case you need a refresher, our stalwart SEO Strategists have recently given you the social optimization skinny for your local business, how to properly place-in & penetrate local business directories. The “local SEO busters” affirmatively answered all of your questions in our “local SEO Q&A,” and as if all of that was not enough, our Team Lead led a not-to-be-missed webinar “SEO Tips for Small Businesses”.

Okay so what did I miss on my checklist? You’ll let me know in the comments, won’t you?

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  1. Hi David,
    Thanks for the informative article!
    It contains a lot of important advice for sites no matter where they are.
    One thing that really gets on my grill is when businesses don’t include proper contact details on their site.
    I’m not asking for a home address or any personal details at all for that matter, just a legible business location would do.
    I can understand privacy issues, but along with a contact email, the physical location is too often neglected in place of just a phone number… (Portent’s cracked it brilliantly in the footer by the way)
    Ok rant over.
    As I was saying, it’s a really great article.
    I was just wondering though how much does the country you host your site in really matter? Do you think the host country of the site has that big an effect on the sites rankings? Would be interested to hear your thoughts.

    1. Hi Harry – your comment / small rant reminds me of Steve Krug the website usability expert who says “don’t make me think” – I agree with you that finding contact info on a website should not be “rocket surgery” (another term from Krug).
      To answer your question, I doubt it’s the end of the world if you don’t host in the country you’re targeting, but the main idea here is to send as many signals to the search engines as possible about the geo-targeting of your site.
      Hope that helps!

    1. Hi David,
      Thanks much for your kind words and for participating here on the Portent blog, I do appreciate that.

  2. This information is dead on with how to successfully implement best SEO strategies, thanks for this post as I was starting to flounder about with what steps to take in checking my own website.

    1. Hi Mark,
      As with all things SEO, international or otherwise, there are so many “moving parts” to keep track of it can be quite head-spinning sometimes. I’m glad you found this info helpful to you and thanks for your comment here.

  3. Thanks for the timely article. I nearly forgot to recommend my client that content should be written by a native speaker – so important!
    I’d like to add a few notes:
    – Hosting doesn’t have to be in the country if you use a ccTLD, but it will be better for site speed (and SEO indirectly). An alternative is using a CDN.
    – Using is not needed according to which states that “We don’t use meta tags or HTML attributes in determining the language of a piece of content.”
    – You don’t need to set the geo-targetting of a ccTLD domain. You will need to if you use a TLD with a subdomain or subfolder.

  4. This is the first post on international SEO i have seen. I’m looking for a new topic for my own blog. How many article can you write about keywords and content marketing?
    Techniques appears very similar to United States. Except why don’t we use TLD with US country code? Is this really necessary for other countries???

    1. Hi Michael – the idea of using a country-specific TLD along with other recommendations in my post and in the comments here is to send as many signals as possible regarding a website’s geo-targeting; here in the U.S. we don’t really need to use .us to signal geo-targeting.
      Thanks for your comment,

  5. Hello!
    Nice post, but there are a few missing points about international Seo:
    – Ip is becoming irrelevant, since more and more providers offer cloud services. Of course that does NOT include Yandex and Baidu, which are a different case.
    – Country level domain: good, just remember that Belgian TLD are are .be, not And also remember that some registrar require to have a physical office inside the country in order to have a local domain. So check if the domain is available before starting your marketing strategy! (it happens everytime in particular dealing with corporate-level clients !)
    – How to tell google to serve the correct language: the correct tag is hreflang and it’s described here also the use of rel=alternate should be recommended.
    – language: some countries use the same language (germany and austria), some countries used more than one (like the Suisse ). Using only the country selector of google webmaster tool is not always the best option.
    – link building and local citations: do not give for granted that there will be many local business directory. In italy for example there’s probably one. We don’t have a centralized local provider. Our yellow pages have filed for bankruptcy last week, so there will be zero centralized local provider of addresses.
    Every market should be treated as unique and deserves a specific strategy.
    Whoever approaches another country hoping to use the same old school strategies used in the USA is gonna be bloody disappointed… if they have me as local counterpart, it’s gonna be gruesome: i fear nobody 😀 I don’t care if you have 100 SEOs and a gazillion of revenues, if you are wrong i’m gonna tell everything to the client. (it happened. I still can’t remove the blood from the keyboard)
    And also keep in mind that a lot of possible customers are not using google at all: if you are salivating over russians or chinese millionaires, you should really pay a LOT more attention.
    have a nice day!

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