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7 min read

8 steps to crafting SEO strategies for international markets

Key Takeaways

  • SEO success in international markets requires a curiosity for other cultures because there are numerous things other countries do differently.
  • There are a few essential technical elements such as domain and hosting which are non-negotiable when targeting a different country.
  • Targeting an international market can be lucrative, but your business must be financially and logistically prepared.

There are sev­er­al rea­sons why a busi­ness may wish to engage with inter­na­tion­al mar­kets. It may be that it needs to increase its cus­tomer base, diver­si­fy com­pa­ny rev­enue streams, reach more recep­tive audi­ences, enhance brand rep­u­ta­tion, or mit­i­gate against the risks asso­ci­at­ed with eco­nom­ic downturns.

What­ev­er the incen­tive, tap­ping into inter­na­tion­al mar­kets requires more than sim­ply trans­lat­ing your web­site into anoth­er language.

This diverse and poten­tial­ly lucra­tive move demands an under­stand­ing of nuance and cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences. SEO itself varies across dif­fer­ent coun­tries and dig­i­tal spaces, requir­ing mar­keters to nav­i­gate sev­er­al complexities.

To ensure your inter­na­tion­al SEO strat­e­gy res­onates with your tar­get audi­ence, we’ll give you the key infor­ma­tion about this issue and 8 essen­tial steps to craft­ing an effec­tive strat­e­gy. Let’s dive in.

Things to consider when going international with your SEO


First things first. Ask your­self, “is this the right time?” There are sev­er­al fac­tors that may make this the wrong time to go inter­na­tion­al. So, con­sid­er the following:

  • How sta­ble is the coun­try polit­i­cal­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly? – Polit­i­cal unrest and eco­nom­ic volatil­i­ty can sig­nif­i­cant­ly impact busi­ness operations.
  • What’s the com­pet­i­tive land­scape like? – This will give you insights into any poten­tial chal­lenges and mar­ket trends that could influ­ence your decision.
  • Is there a mar­ket for your prod­uct or ser­vice here? – This sounds obvi­ous but it’s still note­wor­thy. Thor­ough research should be con­duct­ed to under­stand the demand for your busi­ness’s offer­ing as this will dic­tate your mar­ket­ing efforts significantly.

The answers to these ques­tions should give you a con­fi­dent insight into whether now is the right time to start SEO efforts for inter­na­tion­al markets.


You’ll also need to assess the logis­ti­cal sit­u­a­tion of tar­get­ing inter­na­tion­al mar­kets. Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing before you decide:

  • Will you be able to man­age the sup­ply chain if your SEO efforts are successful?
  • How much are ship­ping costs to this country?
  • If applic­a­ble, do you know which local sup­pli­ers and dis­trib­u­tors you’ll use?

If your SEO efforts are going to attract cus­tomers, you’ll also need to think about your cus­tomer ser­vice offering:

  • What are local expec­ta­tions of cus­tomer service?
  • Will your cus­tomer ser­vice be avail­able in the local time zone?
  • Can you offer cus­tomer ser­vice in the lan­guage of your tar­get customers?

Though these fac­tors aren’t direct­ly relat­ed to your inter­na­tion­al SEO efforts, they will quick­ly become impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tions once cus­tomers start buy­ing your prod­ucts or ser­vices. There­fore, these logis­ti­cal fac­tors and cus­tomer ser­vices must be in place before your strat­e­gy gets off the ground.

Different search engines

One unavoid­able con­sid­er­a­tion is the fact that dif­fer­ent regions have unique dig­i­tal ecosystems.

Across dif­fer­ent coun­tries, lead­ing search engines vary. Under­stand­ing the mechan­ics and pref­er­ences of these local search engines is cru­cial to tai­lor­ing your SEO strat­e­gy effec­tive­ly. While Google is dom­i­nant in many coun­tries, don’t over­look local search engines like Baidu in Chi­na, Yan­dex in Rus­sia, or Naver in South Korea. Exam­in­ing the SEO best prac­tices for the search engine you’ll be tar­get­ing will be cru­cial to your strat­e­gy’s success.

In addi­tion, you’ll need to think about key­word usage. Key­words that work well in one lan­guage may not have a direct trans­la­tion or the same search vol­ume in anoth­er. Con­duct thor­ough key­word research in the local lan­guage, con­sid­er­ing cul­tur­al nuances and local dialects.

These con­sid­er­a­tions are fun­da­men­tal in the foun­da­tion stages of your SEO strat­e­gy, and should not be skipped.

Cultural differences

It will be cru­cial that you under­stand the cul­ture of the inter­na­tion­al mar­ket you are hop­ing to engage with. Val­ues, behav­iours, pref­er­ences, and expec­ta­tions will all impact how your strat­e­gy is received. So, make sure you know how these things could affect your use of key­words and con­tent creation.

Sim­ply trans­lat­ing your con­tent isn’t enough. It must be cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant and sen­si­tive – you may wish to include local ref­er­ences or images to appeal to users even more.

Anoth­er way to cul­tur­al­ly assim­i­late your inter­na­tion­al SEO efforts is to build rela­tion­ships with local influ­encers, busi­ness­es, and media out­lets. Part­ner­ships and alliances can pro­vide valu­able insights, resources, and mar­ket entry sup­port. In addi­tion, this may also lead to some use­ful backlinks.

User expe­ri­ence (UX) is anoth­er impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tion for inter­na­tion­al SEO efforts. Design ele­ments that res­onate in one coun­try may not have the same impact in anoth­er due to vary­ing inter­pre­ta­tions of colour, sym­bol­ism, and aes­thet­ics. For instance, a colour that sig­ni­fies pros­per­i­ty in one cul­ture may be asso­ci­at­ed with mourn­ing in another.

Ensur­ing that a web­site’s design, con­tent, and struc­ture feel famil­iar and intu­itive to users in a spe­cif­ic region can sig­nif­i­cant­ly enhance engage­ment and con­ver­sion rates, there­by sup­port­ing the effec­tive­ness of SEO efforts.

Technical issues

The tech­ni­cal set­up of your web­site is anoth­er impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tion of inter­na­tion­al SEO because it impacts how search engines will inter­pret and rank your site in dif­fer­ent regions. Con­sid­er the following:

  • Using a coun­try-spe­cif­ic domain (like .fr for France or .jp for Japan) can boost your rank­ings in local searches.
  • Host­ing your site on a local serv­er can improve load times for local users.
  • If your site is avail­able in mul­ti­ple lan­guages, use hre­flang attrib­ut­es to tell search engines which lan­guage you are using on a spe­cif­ic page. This helps in serv­ing the cor­rect lan­guage ver­sion of your page in search results.

If you want your inter­na­tion­al SEO strat­e­gy to per­form well, these tech­ni­cal con­sid­er­a­tions will be key in its ini­tial stages.

Device usage

In many inter­na­tion­al mar­kets, espe­cial­ly in devel­op­ing coun­tries, users pri­mar­i­ly access the inter­net via smart­phones. Ensur­ing your site is mobile-friend­ly will be vital to the suc­cess of your SEO efforts.

In addi­tion, you’ll need to check whether there are any band­width lim­i­ta­tions in the area you are tar­get­ing. E.g., Cuba is known for its slow inter­net, with one fibre optic cable serv­ing its pop­u­la­tion of 11 mil­lion people.

Social media usage

Social media may play a big role in your SEO efforts. Since dif­fer­ent regions favour dif­fer­ent plat­forms, this part of your strat­e­gy may have to adapt. Plat­forms like Face­book and Twit­ter are wide­ly used in many coun­tries, but oth­ers like WeChat in Chi­na or VK in Rus­sia are more preva­lent in cer­tain regions.

Find­ing out which plat­forms your inter­na­tion­al tar­get audi­ence uses most will help you tai­lor your strat­e­gy and boost your engage­ment rate, improv­ing your SEO per­for­mance as a result.

Legal differences

Fines and penal­ties are the last thing you want when embark­ing on a new ven­ture. The legal land­scape of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing varies from coun­try to coun­try. So, it will be impor­tant for you to be informed about local reg­u­la­tions con­cern­ing data pri­va­cy, adver­tis­ing, and online con­tent before cre­at­ing your strategy.

Since col­lect­ing user data is often com­mon­place in SEO efforts, mar­keters should be aware of what they’re allowed to do. Plus, some coun­tries have dif­fer­ing reg­u­la­tions on acces­si­bil­i­ty. If these are not met, your pages’ posi­tions in the SERPs could take a hit.

You’ll need to ensure your domain does­n’t clash with any exist­ing trade­marks, as legal dis­putes could dis­rupt online oper­a­tions. Com­pli­ance is an essen­tial part of mar­ket­ing in a new coun­try, and it could be the deter­min­er of your SEO strat­e­gy’s success.

Voice search

The pop­u­lar­i­ty of voice search dif­fers inter­na­tion­al­ly, but you should check its sta­tus in the coun­try you wish to tar­get. If your research reveals voice search is pop­u­lar with your tar­get mar­ket, you should­n’t miss the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cater to it.

While voice recog­ni­tion is becom­ing increas­ing­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed, there are still sev­er­al com­plex­i­ties cre­ators must over­come to opti­mise their content:

  • Con­sid­er how dif­fer­ent cul­tures phrase queries – one coun­try may favour for­mal lan­guage, while anoth­er favours col­lo­qui­al speech.
  • Voice search often yields more con­ver­sa­tion­al and long-tail queries, so con­tent must be opti­mised for nat­ur­al lan­guage pat­terns unique to each region.
  • Incor­po­rat­ing local slang and speech nuances can improve vis­i­bil­i­ty in voice search results.

Opti­mis­ing for voice search requires a deep under­stand­ing of how dif­fer­ent cul­tures phrase queries and adapt­ing to these lin­guis­tic vari­a­tions can make a big dif­fer­ence in cap­tur­ing the spo­ken queries of an inter­na­tion­al audience.

Shopping behaviours

Shop­ping behav­iours vary glob­al­ly, and this should be a con­sid­er­a­tion in your inter­na­tion­al SEO strat­e­gy. For instance, Japan­ese con­sumers val­ue detailed prod­uct infor­ma­tion and a high lev­el of cus­tomer ser­vice, while bar­gain-dri­ven shop­ping is preva­lent in the US. In Scan­di­navia, there’s a strong pref­er­ence for sus­tain­able and eco-friend­ly prod­ucts while live-streamed shop­ping events are pop­u­lar with con­sumers in China.

Under­stand­ing the behav­iour of your tar­get mar­ket is cru­cial in any strat­e­gy, and inter­na­tion­al ones are no dif­fer­ent. You may decide to use this infor­ma­tion to tai­lor your wider mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy or e‑commerce plat­form, adapt­ing things like prod­uct list­ings or checkouts.

Tai­lor­ing your efforts to cus­tomer pref­er­ences will do won­ders for engage­ment and sales. So, look into local trends to see whether your strat­e­gy could be changed for the better.

8 steps to crafting SEO strategies for international markets

While there are lots of impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tions to tar­get­ing inter­na­tion­al mar­kets, we like to make things sim­ple. So, here are the 8 most cru­cial steps to craft­ing your inter­na­tion­al SEO strategy:

1. Research and adapt to local search engines

Since search engines are the indis­pens­able com­po­nent of an SEO strat­e­gy, this first step is unfor­get­table. It’s cru­cial that you under­stand the dom­i­nant search engines in your tar­get mar­kets (like Baidu in Chi­na or Yan­dex in Rus­sia), any of its rec­om­mend­ed best prac­tices, and tai­lor your SEO strate­gies accordingly.

2. Conduct localised keyword research

Key­word research is anoth­er indis­pens­able ingre­di­ent in SEO strate­gies. There­fore, we must high­light the impor­tance of per­form­ing in-depth key­word research spe­cif­ic to each lan­guage and cul­tur­al con­text, account­ing for local dialects and search behav­iours. This will set your con­tent on the right track, ensur­ing it’s in the best pos­si­ble posi­tion to be ranked highly.

3. Embrace cultural sensitivity and localisation

In any inter­na­tion­al endeav­our, it’s help­ful to under­stand the cul­ture’s norms and behav­iours. Your strat­e­gy’s con­tent should align with these, con­sid­er­ing cul­tur­al nuances, local ref­er­ences, and soci­etal preferences.

4. Opt for local domain and hosting solutions

Using coun­try-spe­cif­ic domains (like .de for Ger­many) is a sure-fire way to place your web­pages in a good posi­tion for high rank­ing in the SERPs – as can host­ing your web­site on local servers. These two tech­ni­cal solu­tions can be instru­men­tal in inter­na­tion­al SEO suc­cess, mak­ing them a top pri­or­i­ty for new strategies.

5. Implement the hreflang attribute for multilingual sites

Sim­i­lar­ly, using the hre­flang attribute is a sim­ple but effec­tive way of sign­post­ing your site to your inter­na­tion­al tar­get users. This will direct search engines towards the appro­pri­ate lan­guage ver­sion of your site, ensur­ing users find the con­tent in their pre­ferred language.

6. Prioritise mobile optimisation

As always, the impor­tance of mobile opti­mi­sa­tion in the SEO sec­tor can­not be over­stat­ed. Focus on cre­at­ing a mobile-friend­ly web­site, espe­cial­ly for mar­kets with high mobile usage, and con­sid­er band­width con­straints in devel­op­ing regions.

7. Integrate local social media platforms

Social media can play an influ­en­tial role in boost­ing your online vis­i­bil­i­ty and engage­ment rate, result­ing in bet­ter SEO per­for­mance. There­fore, it’s impor­tant that you iden­ti­fy and lever­age pop­u­lar social media plat­forms unique to each market.

8. Build local backlinks

Build­ing back­links is one of the most sig­nif­i­cant things you can do to boost a web­site’s SEO per­for­mance. In an inter­na­tion­al are­na, it’s pru­dent to seek back­links from local sources which are rel­e­vant to your tar­get market.

Final thoughts

By being inquis­i­tive about your tar­get mar­ket’s cul­ture and adapt­ing your web­site’s tech­ni­cal ele­ments to cater to oth­er coun­tries, you can devel­op an opti­mised strat­e­gy that engages your ide­al customers.

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