Three Common Pitfalls of International SEO

By Matt Hayford | 02 May 2015

ECommerce is big business throughout much of the world and it's still growing across the majority of markets, so it's even more important to make sure your website is properly set up to get the traffic you deserve.

Being successful in international SEO has become easier over the last few years. This is thanks to advancements of the major search engines in not only understanding how different countries work, but also by implementing functionality for webmasters to improve understanding of which country they are most relevant for. However, there are still things that webmasters do which makes visibility incredibly difficult in their market, or markets, of choice.

IP Detection

On the surface, it seems harmless enough to redirect people to the most relevant version of a website based on where they come from. For example, if the user comes from the UK then they're directed to the UK version of the site. Harmless, right?

A common misunderstanding is not realising that search engine's crawlers come from one location - Google & Bing crawl from the US, Baidu from China, Yandex from Russia, etc.

So, what happens when you direct a US user to the US version of the site every time they come to the site? They would only ever see the US version of the site. This makes it very tricky for Google and Bing to find, index and rank any other countries as they always get redirected back to the US version.

The solutions are simple:

  1. If IP redirection is necessary then ensure that detection is on arrival only, and any other click does not get redirected back. Clear navigation will allow the crawlers to find other country versions and follow them. Using cookies to store user preferences will also help returning users to access their preferred location.
  2. Remove IP detection redirects so users can choose whichever location they desire. Clear navigation will help user journeys.
  3. IP detection triggers a pop up box for users to choose whether they would like to change their location.

There are three methods to geo-target a website:

  1. Using a country specific top-level domain such as .fr, .de, .jp, etc.
  2. Creating sub domains on an existing website
  3. Creating sub directories on an existing website

These are the only methods which should be used to structure a website to guarantee success on an international level. However, many webmasters think there is another - parameters.

Parameters are often incorrectly used by webmasters to separate different countries in their existing website:

Whilst Google can understand parameters, it doesn't use them to identify different geographic locales. All URLs with parameters will still be indexed but will not be associated with the country you intend it to be for. The reason that Google doesn't recognise parameters as a method for geo-targeting is that Webmaster Tools has no functionality to support this. If you were wondering why you weren't getting the traffic that you were expecting for other countries and you are using parameters, this may well be the reason.


We all know that content is king, but how do you go about translating your content into another language? Google's Panda & Hummingbird algorithms have shown us that they have further pushed the boundaries of what a machine can actually understand about content. We have to realise that the days of automatically translating content using Babel Fish or even Google Translate itself is no longer acceptable. We also have to accept that Google is now the benchmark to content quality, even though other search engines may not be at their level yet. The amount of content on the internet that has been translated lazily using automatic translators or underqualified people is still high. If you're not sure why your website isn't ranking well, it may be that the content isn't written well enough. It's time to retire the quick win approach to translating content and invest in well written international content as it can mean the difference to ranking on page one opposed to page three.

Getting international SEO right can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful launch of a business into a new market. The pitfalls above are what we've seen many times, but that's not to say that these are the only three things that can go wrong. However, when you get it right you may be surprised how quickly you can start ranking.