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15 Feb 2013

International SEO

Companies that have a multi-lingual and multi-national presence may wonder how to handle duplicate content and structural issues.  Questions we often hear are:

  • Should I create a different copy of the site on the specific country TLD?
  • Should I use subdomains or subfolders?
  • Where should I host the site?
  • What about targeting different countries that speak the same language?
  • Should I allow the users to select their country and then store the information with a cookie?

Creating the proper structure will determine how the site performs in all of the different countries and languages.

Recommendations to create an Optimized Structure

Here’s what Google has to say about the topic:

As every company may have a unique situation, it’s important to have options.  If your company doesn’t have any specific restrictions, here are a few recommendations:

Using Subdirectories is ideal because the domain itself gains authority, thus improving the search engine rankings of all of the pages targeting all countries and languages.

Instead of having to build links to multiple sites or domains, you build links to subfolders under one URL.

With Google emphasizing trust and authority, it will be to your company’s advantage to consolidate your marketing strategy into one domain.

Host your site in the Country that has most of your target audience.

If most of your income comes from US visitors, then host the site in the US, but if most of your visitors are in the UK, then host it in the UK.

How to structure the folders if you are targeting different areas with the same language

Add the target in the URL path as the subdirectory:

Avoid duplicate content penalties by using the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” tag.  This is a recent tag that allows you to give Google further information of the structure of your site.

Learn more here:

Use Webmaster tools to set up GeoTargeting

Here’s a video explaining how:

Here are step by step instructions:

  1. Go to Google Webmaster Tools.  Under Configuration and Settings, you can select the Geographic target.  For each subfolder, register each as a unique site and geotarget each subfolder to it’s target geographical area.  This is the same method to be used for subdomains.
  2. Add in the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” tag to every page of the site.  Here’s what it looks like:


<rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-us” href=”” />


Note well: the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” is a “page level tag”, not domain.

That means that the home page will have:

<rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-us” href=”” /> (as seen above)

That page “A” will have:


<rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-us” href=”” />


and so on.  Then on the UK site we do the same but like this:


<rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-uk” href=”” /> (as seen above)

That page “A” will have:

<rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-uk” href=”” />

How are large brands doing it?

Amazon uses separate sites.  They are such a large and established brand that link building is inconsequential, thus allowing them the freedom to have separate branded domains.

Salesforce uses subfolders:

Apple also uses subfolders:

Other large brands use cookies and have you select your locations once you arrive on the site.

Not a One Size Fits ALL Solution

There can be infinite complications with setting up multi-national, multi-language sites.  For example, what if you want users of a similar language to select a part of your site based on where products will be shipped?  Or if you want Spanish speakers in the USA and Spanish speakers in Mexico to get different versions of your site?

The recommendations above should help with many scenarios but unfortunately not all.

Hot Tip

As Google gives prominence to large brand, it’s harder and harder to compete for your keywords.  If you create multiple language versions of your site and SEO each of the foreign language pages, you can pick up additional traffic/visitors that would’ve otherwise never found you.

What about you?

Have you ever worked with Multi-Lingual and Multi-National sites? What was the best solution that you found?


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Search engine marketing expert with 15 years of experience in the industry, working with small mom and pop shops as well as large corporate websites. I have experience with all aspects of inbound marketing, including SEO, Link Building, Social Shares, Usability, Conversions, PPC, Email Marketing, and more.