In this SEO guide you will learn everything about the correct use of Google and multilingual or international websites. We explain to you how to optimize your website internationally for Google search, how to avoid duplicate content and how to use the hreflang link attribute correctly.

Also learn how to increase your visibility internationally and which persistent myth you can safely disregard.

The most important signals to Google for international alignment

There are some signals you can use to not only make it clear to Google that you have different international website variants, but also make it a lot easier for the crawler to understand your international website structure.

The following factors are crucial for targeting content to languages and countries:

  • ccTLDs
  • Search Console settings
  • hreflang element
  • Language of the content
  • Currency and address formats on the website
  • Google My Business profile
  • Backlinks

Which domain concept is the best: ccTLD, directories, or subdomains?

One of the most important points in international SEO is the domain concept. There are three different ways to build an international website structure. On the one hand there are ccTLDs (,, another possibility are directories ( or even subdomains (

You should carefully consider which is the most appropriate solution for your business and goals. Also keep in mind that your company may expand even further internationally in the future. Because each of these options has both advantages and disadvantages, which we have prepared for you here.


Google sees local top-level domains as a strong signal in their algorithm. Using a ccTLD signals to Google that this website is targeted to that country and may want to specifically target that audience.

The use of a coherent ccTLD strategy also helps to keep a short, concise and clean URL structure. On the search results pages, users also tend to click on results with a local domain extension, as they perceive them to be more relevant. This behavior can lead to a higher click-through rate (CTR) and ultimately to better positions in the search results.


One of the main advantages of directories is that the strength of the main domain is completely inherited. However, the individual directories in the countries typically have less regional relevance.

Structural errors are a common problem. The given page structure does not always fit for all countries. In addition, it is often confusing for the user to navigate within the directories. In the case of subfolders, you should also determine the geographic orientation in the Google Search Console.

Caution: Using the geographic target in Google Search Console is only recommended if all countries have their own landing page. If you also serve German-speaking customers in Switzerland and Austria with the directory, you should not save a geographical destination in the Search Console. This would reduce the findability in the other countries.


Subdomains ( / / benefit from the main domain, but the link strength is distributed among the individual subdomains. However, subdomains are usually unfamiliar to users and do not inspire much confidence, so you should use this option rather in exceptional cases.

Brands that have a lot of user trust can use subdomains for easier management and marketing. However, most of these companies also have sufficient resources for a ccTLD strategy.

If you use subdomains, you should set the geographic target in the Google Search Console.

Advantages & disadvantages of the different domain concepts

Clarity Trustworthiness Website strength inheritance Transferable penalty risk

The correct setting in Google Search Console

If your own website has country-specific subdomains (e.g. or directories (, the respective geographical target should be set in Google Search Console.

In the case of an online store, this would make sense if items in the directory can only be ordered from Germany and the content is only available in German or or is only intended for German-speaking customers.

However, if the online shop also accepts orders from German-speaking customers in Switzerland and Austria, but there is no special landing page for these two countries, then aligning the de directory to Germany would reduce the website’s performance on the Swiss and Austrian markets.

Connect your international websites with the hreflang attribute

In simple terms, by using the hreflang attribute, you are telling Google that the content at hand also exists in another language and that a URL is intended for those users with the language and region [X]. Google will then display the appropriate URL in the search results for users with the language [X].

Basically, you are signaling that there is a connection between the individual content on your own website and that each URL is relevant for a different target group (language / region). This makes it easier for Google to understand the international website architecture.

In addition, using the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” link attribute ensures that Google understands the particular geographic orientation of the website and displays the appropriate language version or regional URL of a piece of content.

If, for example, an online store expands its offerings into several countries, regions and/or languages, a host of questions arise about the findability of the content that providers who are only active in one country do not have to worry about.

Duplicate content is one of the most common problems because large parts of the content are largely identical and do not always differ in their language.

Develop an international keyword & content strategy

Google has its own algorithm to identify the language used on a website and assign it to an appropriate target audience.

That is why you should not use different languages on the website if possible, as this could lead to an incorrect language assignment of the URL by Google.

If international SEO is to be successful, it is extremely important to consider the local market. Even if the language is the same in another country, the terms used in everyday use, and thus the keywords, are often not. Stupid word-for-word translations are therefore not enough.

Because linguistically it is not only about the pure terminology, but also about language styles, units of measurement and currency, contact addresses and finally also grammar. Cultural differences should also be taken into account.

In addition, the target audience in different countries may be quite different: for example, certain content may work extremely well in one country, while attracting little interest in another.

Therefore, it is extremely important to take a close look at user behavior in the respective region before entering the market, in addition to extensive keyword research, in order to avoid faux pas or any other faux pas.

Provide local & optimized content

Local currency, addresses and phone numbers on the pages are good signals for Google to determine the regional relevance of a website. It is advisable, if possible, to include the physical business addresses in the respective country on the corresponding page.

This way you demonstrate that your company does not only exist virtually in this country and is therefore relevant for users there as well. To make sure that not only Google is convinced that you are familiar with the region, you should also adapt the user experience to the expectations of local users.

For example, there are countries where websites are increasingly accessed from mobile devices. So, there the optimization of the mobile version of the website plays a greater role. The different payment methods, quality seals and the importance of colors should also be considered in any case.

Amazon UK

Internationales SEO optimierte Inhalte Amazon UK

Amazon Germany

Internationales SEO optimierte Inhalte Amazon Deutschland

The generation of local & relevant backlinks

To evaluate the GEO relevance of a website, Google also includes the external links. The relevant links from the target countries are decisive here. The local link profile should be clearly structured on the basis of quality and not quantity.

It is therefore important to approach international link building strategically and to pay close attention to which market the page from which you are getting a regional backlink is aimed at.

Especially with non ccTLDs like .com, .net or .org you should take a closer look before you send wrong signals to Google with generated backlinks.

With the help of a backlink audit, you can quickly determine where your backlinks on the respective domains come from and compare them. This is best achieved with the support of an SEO tool. Most also offer the option of a backlink audit.

The boost for international SEO: Google My Bussines

If possible, you should definitely create a separate Google My Business listing for each business location and link it to the respective country websites. This not only strengthens the country allocation of the website, but also improves the visibility in the (regional) search results on Google.

Another advantage of the Google Company Profile is that you can also gain the trust of local users. Answer regional customers’ questions, alert users to special offers, and respond to local reviews.

Myth of server location: Why this no longer has any meaning

The server location is often mentioned as an important GEO signal. However, the physical location of the server is no longer important for local rankings because websites are often hosted internationally.

Other signals such as the ccTLD and GEO targeting in Goole Search Console are decisive for the GEO relevance of a website. The location of a server can nevertheless affect the loading time of a website and thus indirectly affect the local ranking.

That the server location really has no significance for the GEO targeting of a website was also confirmed once again in the #AskGooglebot series on“Moving Hosting & SEO” on YouTube by Google’s Search Advocate John Müller.

Conclusion: How successful international SEO works

International SEO always starts with a suitable URL and website structure so that country websites can be clearly assigned. Multilingual content and code should definitely be optimized for each country so that the ranking of your global website increases.

Without support, international SEO can be very overwhelming, so it is advisable to get an international SEO agency with experts on your side. They can work with you to develop the right strategy for your business situation and goals, and take care of proper implementation.

Checklist: What to consider for international SEO

These questions should help you to think about the important points for a successful internationalization of your website.


  • Does the domain strategy match the business goals?

  • Are the required domains available in the target regions?
  • Are there sufficient resources available for the internationalization of the website? (Staff, Time)

GEO Targeting

  • Are the settings of the GSC correct?
  • Has the hreflang attribute been implemented correctly on the pages?
  • Have GMB profiles been created for the new regions?

Local content

  • Have keywords been checked for accuracy by native speakers?
  • Are the correct units of measure & currencies displayed?
  • Are there suitable payment methods for the region?
  • Are there legal conditions that need to be adapted & fulfilled? (GDPR, Right of return)

User Experience

  • Do the design & layout match the expectations of regional users?
  • Have the pages been adapted to user behavior in the region?


  • Which websites are relevant in the region in relation to our field?
  • What backlinks do other regional websites in our area have?
  • Which channel and which media are important in the target markets?

FAQs about international SEO

We recommend doing it consistently for each language. Everything else carries the risk of incorrect country allocation.

Depending on the application and resources, the optimal solution is different; we prefer the ccTLD strategy.

No, it does not make sense to implement Hreflang for websites with a completely different content, structure, focus and USP. It is only useful and necessary to implement the hreflang tag if the content and structures are very similar (or the same).

International link building is one of the more difficult topics. We generally recommend working with a local PR / SEO agency.

For Do-It-Yourself SEO: One approach is content marketing using content that works across languages and countries. To do this, you need a topic that works in all target countries and a format that is not too language-dependent. For example, if you have good pictures that pick up on a global trend, they can work in multiple countries and also get backlinks from those countries.

Depending on the country, mobile devices can be much more widespread than in Germany. In Africa and Asia in particular, there are many people who use a smartphone much more frequently than a desktop computer. A corresponding adjustment makes sense in any case.

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