How to rank your website internationally?

You want to launch your website internationally? You are absolutely right! The web is undoubtedly the most effective lever for a company to penetrate the European or global market. If an international website is a scalable and profitable way to reach your foreign targets, there are however a lot of considerations to take into account before launching, especially in terms of SEO. Today we will review the fundamentals of a good international SEO.


international referencing

Identify visibility and traffic potential

Before launching your action plan, you need to conduct market research. The first step in this study is to identify the visibility, traffic, conversions and conversion rate of international organic queries. To do this, you need to be able to answer these few questions:

What keywords and pages generated search traffic for each of the major international markets identified? What is the average CTR and conversion rate of visitors coming from each of the targeted countries? What is the trend of your international keywords? (Cf (Cf. Google Trend) search queries

Answering these questions will allow you to identify your main target international countries and language markets as well as the behavior and trends of your future visitors.

Target the right countries

Expanding internationally does not mean that the site should be available in every country in the world. You need to select those countries wisely in order to prioritize your actions: which countries have enough relevant organic searches to justify major SEO efforts?

Once you’ve defined your target countries, you can think about a new version of your site. From an architectural point of view, an international site can be configured in different ways.

Among the most effective alternatives:

For country targeting

The ccTLD

The ccTLD - Country Code Top-Level Domain - is a real ideal structure to localize your site because it has its own extension for each country (.de, .fr, etc.).


NB: Be careful, some ccTLDs are treated by Google as gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domain) and are not associated with a country region, like .co or .me.

The ccTLD has a major disadvantage: in terms of SEO, it is like starting from scratch with a new domain. So you have to put a lot of effort in netlinking to give popularity to your foreign versions.


The sub-directory is the best way to start if you have a gTLD, as it will inherit its popularity. However, adding a sub-directory adds complexity to the web structure, which makes it not necessarily a viable solution in the long run. The sub-directories look like: "".


This is the most sustainable option if you have a gTLD and you want to avoid a complex structure. This method allows you to index a lot of content while easily isolating your different versions. On the other hand, the sub-domain will not benefit from all the popularity of the site because it is almost considered as an independent entity.

For example:, arts-graphiques is a sub-domain of

For language targeting

The sub-directory is the best alternative if you do not have a large volume of pages and if you have few resources. The sub-domain is better for indexing more content without adding depth to your site.

Regardless of the solution you use, the most important thing is to remain consistent and avoid mixing different types of targeting and structure.

Multi-country and multi-lingual site: managing the URL scheme

How to decide on a URL scheme when targeting different countries with different languages?

In this part we detail the existing solutions to manage international URLs, if your content is available in several languages or in several countries/regions.

Google has published a documentation on the subject, based mainly on the criteria of language and country recognition by the engine. Let's see here the other criteria that come into play to make a choice.

Solution 1: several domain names

This is the clearest solution in SEO for the engine’s understanding. It consists of using extensions for countries and directories for languages. For example :

This method indicates the country and the language to Google.

On the other hand, it also comes with some disadvantages:

  • Availability of domain names
  • Cost of maintenance and important infrastructure required
  • Netlinking: you will have to work on the authority of each domain separately, which represents a more important work than in the case of a single domain

This solution seems to be more appropriate if your international subsidiaries are independent because it allows them more flexibility.

Solution 2: sub-domain and sub-directory

It is also possible to manage countries with sub-domains:

This is a good solution in terms of ease of implementation while allowing sites to exist separately. On the netlinking side, it allows the domain to benefit from existing backlinks. It is however less simple for the robot because the URL alone is not enough to determine what the country is and what the language is (see the hreflang tags below).

Solution 3: all in sub-directories

Use directories to indicate both the country and the language.

This solution is easy to implement and inexpensive to maintain. The netlinking of the domain is also reinforced. On the other hand, it makes the separation of sites and the understanding of languages and countries by Google more complex (see the hreflang tags below).

This solution seems to be the most suitable if your international subsidiaries are not independent and if a single technical team is in charge of the whole site.

Hreflang beacon

Whatever the solution chosen, it is necessary in all cases to put in place the hreflang tags in all the pages of your site in order to indicate very clearly to Google the other versions of each page:


This is all the more important if you choose solutions 2 or 3 above, which do not allow you to "naturally" specify the languages and countries to Google.

Then check on the old Search Console that these are properly taken into account.


Optimize foreign versions?

Indexability and crawling

Now that you have determined your international targeting, it's time to think about the optimization of your site. You need to make sure it is crawlable, indexable and relevant.

Whether you target a country or a language, the recommendations are the same:

  • Optimize crawlability: each URL must be crawlable by robots
  • Indexability: URLs must not contain a "noindex" tag
  • Add links between the different international versions (without overdoing it)
  • Remain relevant: translation should not be totally automated, as this could produce inconsistent or even incomprehensible content.
  • Take care of the titles, h1 and all other elements of the page
  • Language or country detection

The user's location can be determined by his IP address and the language defined in the browser settings. You can redirect your visitors to the most relevant version by using a 302 redirect, as suggested by Google. However, this method is not popular because it does not give the visitor a choice.

You must also specify the language with the appropriate encoding, especially for non-ASCII characters, for which UTF-8 is recommended. The language of each of your pages must be indicated using the the Hreflang attribute. This is used by Google and Yandex to identify the language (and also country) targeting of a page to ensure that it always displays the correct version to users. Hreflang uses ISO 639-1 codes to specify the language. Finally, if you are targeting a country using sub-directories or sub-domains, you can geolocate each of them in the Google Search Console.


International SEO is therefore a complex process that requires upstream research and analysis to choose the best way to target your international audience and implement effective targeting. All these technical elements depend on your own business objectives, your content strategy and possible country restrictions.

   Article written by Louis Chevant

Further reading

The complete guide on the referencing of e-commerce sites

The 6 key steps to follow to correctly optimize your e-commerce site with a good natural referencing.