International SEO: Creating a Great Web Experience Worldwide

Do you have a website that needs to offer a great experience for all users worldwide? Then this interview with SES New York speaker Andre Alpar of AKM3 in Berlin is for you. In this chat, Andre gives tips on how to structure your site for international users, how to remedy duplicate content issues and the tricky issue of geotargeting. Read on to tap into his insights on international SEO.

Jessica Lee: What structural factors do international and multilingual sites need to consider and why?

Andre Alpar: Two cases need to be distinguished:

Andre Alpar Headshot
Andre Alpar
  1. First, some websites can be set to different languages but won’t be customized to a country or the language in question. In those cases, a U.S. and a UK version would be the same. Facebook is a classic example.
  2. The other case is when there are different versions of the website for each country, for example, online retailers such as Amazon.

In these circumstances, it’s important to consider how to get search engines to properly understand what content targets are for which country. There are three different solutions good for this:

  1.  Separate top-level domains.
  2. Subdomains targeting the different countries.
  3. Using subfolders.

From a programming perspective, subfolders are often the best solution as it happens to be the cheapest. From an off-page SEO perspective, the best results are reached with different TLDs in the long term.

Tell us a bit about duplicate content issues for international sites.

International websites used to have massive duplicate content issues. A classic example would be a website with information about a certain brand or product that would be the same for several countries using the same language but on different top level domains.

Luckily, through the annotations rel=”alternate” hreflang=”X” – introduced approximately a year ago now – most critical duplicate content issues that international sites had are now easily resolved.

What are some of the issues international sites face with geotargeting, and how do you approach handling them?

Our experiences with geotargeting are very mixed. There is always danger of search engines misinterpreting automated redirects based on geotargeting with cloaking, which may then be a violation of webmaster guidelines.

If you have an ad server that can do geotargeting for large ad spaces for onsite marketing on the root URL, then that is something we often recommend.

We have positive experiences with “only one click away” popups that offer the visitor to the right version of the website. It’s not the most user-friendly approach, but it keeps the SEO efforts robust and safe.

Also, the case of a visitor landing on the wrong language or region should actually never happen, provided that the SEO setup handles multilingual and international sites correctly.

If you’re headed to SES New York , you can catch Andre in the session, “Breaking Down the Borders: International and Multilingual SEO” on March 27 at 4:00 p.m. Stay connected with Andre on Twitter @AndreAlpar or Google+.

Jessica Lee is the founder and chief creative for bizbuzzcontent Inc., a marketing boutique that focuses on digital content strategy and professional writing services for businesses.

See Jessica's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (7)
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7 Replies to “International SEO: Creating a Great Web Experience Worldwide”

Thanks for your comment, Natalie. Yes. we recommend hosting your .ca site within Canada. What kind of site is it? If you want to talk specifics of your site, I’d be happy to chat more. Feel free to message me on Twitter or LinkedIn. :)

Edit: After talking to Bruce, I wanted to clarify my response to you, Natalie. So, “yes” to hosting in Canada is the simple answer, but as with most things that Google judges, it’s rarely simple. A more nuanced analysis of the factors Google might use when ranking a site with a .ca domain also takes into account traffic load, cloud hosting vs. server hosting, and the readily available access to Google spiders that originate in the U.S. All that’s to say, if you are able to provide more context, we could provide you with a better answer for your unique situation.

Hi Jessica,

We are a US company with a .com site and want to launch our .ca Canadian version. We have been advised to host our .ca site with a separate Canadian host to avoid duplicate content issues and to increasing our rankings with the Canadian search engines. Would you recommend this too?

Thank you,


Hi John,

when it comes to mobile SEO I am a little bit “torn” between using responsive design as one option and rel alternate in for the mobile version. On the topic I suggest these three reads

All the options are relatively new. Time and experiments will show which solution is good for which case. Too early to tell unfortunately.

Best regard from Berlin

Hey John, appreciate you reaching out! I’m going to get in touch with Andre on your question and see if he can’t get in on the discussion.

Hey Phil, thank you for the comment! I’ll pass this along to Andre, too.

Hi Jessica,

really enjoyed reading this post as it was bang on target with a clients request which OI was also currently investigating.

The annotations rel=”alternate” hreflang=”X” – i was a great tip that I will be sure to utilize.

Keep up the great work.




I really love the post about international SEO. This is a good overview of the three general approaches (e.g. TLD, sub domain and subdirectories).

However what I find absent in this discussion is mobile SEO. Internationally mobile SEO is more important than desktop SEO especially in in the countries that comprise APAC and EU.

What are the recommended architecture solutions for international mobile SEO when the mobile site is a subdomain vs a subdirectory?



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