19 Sep 2019

International SEO FAQ: Multi-Lingual and/or Multi-Regional Optimization

Lots of online businesses and digital publications are going global these days and we have to thank the Internet for giving us this incredible opportunity.

Yet, even though it has been around for years now, international SEO is also unbelievably confusing.

There are a lot of “it depends” in this area, so I did my best to collect clear answers to a few possible cases.

How to optimize for multiple regions and multiple languages?


Google clearly lists all the three options we have:

multiple regions and multiple languages

[To add to this, in both #1 and #2 cases, it can be quite difficult to build up each domain authority, so it’s another serious con Google is not including into the chart.]

A few DOs and DON’Ts here though:

Country-specific domain

  • DO try and keep content on each domain unique and localized (including generic pages like “About us”). It does take a bit of work but it’s just safer
  • DO choose this option if you sell different products in each country
  • DO go with this option if you have local offices in each country
  • DO choose this option if you have enough resources to build the domain authority for each country
  • DON’T use “International targeting” tool inside Google’s search console. That feature is only useful if you have a generic TLD or a local subdomain targeting a specific country

Overall Google says that a country-specific top-level domain is the strongest signal you can send (another strong signal is the on-page language, obviously). If you go this route, Google won’t need many more hints.

Beware that Google treats some seemingly localized domains as generic. Here’s the full list:

Perceived as generic domains by Google Perceived as localized domains by Google
  • .com
  • .org
  • .edu
  • .gov
  • .eu
  • .asia
  • .ad
  • .as
  • .bz
  • .cc
  • .cd
  • .co
  • .dj
  • .fm
  • .io
  • .la
  • .me
  • .ms
  • .nu
  • .sc
  • .sr
  • .su
  • .tv
  • .tk
  • .ws
Here’s the full list of country code top level domains

Note: It is not necessary or even recommended to buy a local hosting (it’s no longer a strong signal)

Page-level targeting

  • DO use hreflang tag OR XML sitemaps to point Google to where you are targeting which region (mind that only Google and Yandex support hreflang tags)
  • DO ensure your site consistent performance globally. Using a Content Delivery Network is probably the most reliable way to do that. Besides, you can use Pingdom to monitor performance in your important countries.
  • DO choose this option if you don’t have enough resources to build the domain authority for each country
  • DON’T use automated redirects or IP identification: Let your users choose their language
  • DON’T use automated translation for each page

Subdomain targeting

  • DO use use “International targeting” tool inside Google’s search console
  • DO try and keep content on each subdomain unique and localized (including generic pages like “About us”).
  • DO choose this option if you have enough resources to build each subdomain authority for each country
  • DO ensure your site performance in all important countries.
  • DON’T use automated redirects or IP identification: Let your users choose their language/version
  • DON’T use automated translation for each page

What if the language is the same but the countries are different?


This is a common case too. Lots of businesses target multiple countries that speak the same language, so how to optimize for each one without running into duplicate content issues?

Use the best possible combination of the following:

  • For each local entity, create unique localized content (using localized spelling, slang, etc.)
  • For page-level targeting, use Hreflang tags or localized HTML sitemaps
  • Use localized keyword optimization (all the English language variations are not made the same: UK keywords may be different from US keywords. Use tools that can localize your keyword research, like Serpstat and similar tools)
  • If possible, use localized NAP info (Name, Address, Phone Number)
  • Use local currencies
  • Verify local Google My Business profiles
  • Localize navigation and home page features that cater to specific audiences
  • Localize images and image info (alt tags and file names)
  • Obtain links from local resources and news outlets

What if the country is the same but languages are different?


This is another confusing issue that brings more questions that answers:

  • Most countries include huge audiences that speak a different language: for example, there’s Spanish in the United States and French in Canada
  • Those localized alternative languages may be different from their original countries: e.g. US Spanish is said to be quite different from Spanish in Spain

So what to do?

Generally speaking, this type of targeting is similar to any multi-lingual optimization minus regional targeting. This basically means:

  • Page-level targeting is mostly the best option (it doesn’t make sense to buy a local domain, since the locality is the same)
  • There’s no setting Geo-targeting inside Search Console as Google states it pretty well:

Don’t use this tool if your site targets more than a single country. For example, it would make sense to set the target as Canada for a site about restaurants in Montreal; it would not make sense to set the target as Canada if it also targets French speakers in France, Canada, and Mali.


What you can do:

  • Create each language version
  • Give your users a clear way to switch from your site primary language
  • Focus the alternative-language version on that audience’s needs, e.g. mention which is the best method for that language support.
  • Localize keywords and images
  • Use hreflang annotations to help Google search results link to the correct language version of a page.

Finally, to validate your hreflang tags, do use Screaming Frog. Hreflang tags are incredibly easy to mess up.

Are there any more questions on international targeting you would cover? Please post those in the comments!