Going Global with eCommerce: Soaring Ahead with International SEO by StudioHawk

9 minutes
Going Global with eCommerce: Soaring Ahead with International SEO by StudioHawk
In this article

What is international SEO and how does it differ from regular SEO? 

International SEO is the process of rolling out SEO campaigns to different countries, using a mix of different domain names, subdirectories or folders on the same domain, or using variants of the same, or different websites. 

The Importance of International SEO for eCommerce Business

International SEO for eCommerce business isn't anything new. Google began ramping up its international SEO efforts back in 2006 and by 2010, geo-tagging and HREFlang tags became a multi-regional phenomenon, linking together product, currencies, and languages.

Now global SEO can connect your eCommerce business with your target audience on the other side of the world. It's also a chance to get more insight into what's working and what isn't in terms of turning your leads into sales on a much larger scale.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about visibility—the more eyes on your eCommerce site, the more potential leads and sales you have. Website traffic reaches a whole new level of potential when those eyes are spread out globally and on multiple browsers.

Of course, if your eCommerce site isn't structured properly for global attention, you run the risk of missing out on a larger revenue stream.

The Key Challenges of International SEO

International SEO is certainly no easy feat. It involves plenty of challenges, including:

  • Language and culture adjustments

  • CMS and site infrastructure

  • Geotargeting

  • Choosing the right domain

  • Hreflang Tags

  • Avoiding duplicate content

  • Local relevancy (i.e., hosting, currency, shipping rates, etc.)

  • Popups and redirects

These are the most common challenges eCommerce businesses face when starting out with their international SEO efforts. Many of them can be avoided by learning what they are and how to implement each one correctly. For example, Hawk Academy by StudioHawk is an excellent resource for learning how to generate HREFlang tags, among other things.

Different Ways to Roll Out Your International SEO

Once it's time for you to expand your business into the new market, you want to ensure that it's implemented correctly to achieve the best results possible. That means doing your research and understanding what's needed for a successful international SEO campaign.

Here are some things to consider when strategizing and implementing international SEO:

The Countries You Want to Target

Just because you're taking your SEO international doesn't mean you have to hit every country on the map. Starting out, it's a good idea to zero in on the countries that will have the greatest impact on your business. A good place to start looking for which country to go after is through Google Search Console and Google Analytics. This will give you a good idea of where your international traffic is coming from (if any) and where to focus your attention.

Related: How to craft a rock-solid international expansion strategy

Tailoring Your Content for Different Countries

Even English is not a one-size-fits-all language. Between your website copy and its blog and product content, you want the language to be specific to the target location. You also want the information within the content to target the specific location.

That means doing your homework and learning about your different audiences on a cultural level as well as what they're searching for in their designated locations. Remember, you want to connect with your consumers personally, which is why localisation is key. During this stage, it’s crucial that you use Google Trends to see what keywords/terms users search in different countries. Below is an example of how Americans search for ‘quilt covers’. We can see the ‘duvet cover’ is the most accurate and relevant keyword for the United States.

Your Competition

Any decent marketing strategy involves scoping out your competition—and exploiting their weaknesses.

Of course, expanding globally means there's a lot more competition to contend with. You'll likely have competitors you never knew existed until you begin your international SEO journey. Now, your job is to find them.

When you conduct your market research, you have to consider the targeted keywords in various languages and see who shows up consistently in Google.

Your Domain Structure

You want your target audience to find you easily, which means you're likely going to put out double the articles and blog posts. On an international level, this requires the right domain structure.

There are country code top-level domains (ccTLD) and geo-targeted top-level domains (TLD). The long and short of it is that CCTLDs will default to a specific location while TLDs can target a specific country. From there, you can also create subfolder TLD domains for more geo-targeting. 

Some examples of this are as follows:


  • us.example.com 

  • au.example.com 


  • example.com/au/[permalink here] 

  • example.com/us/[permalink here] 

Different website (ccTLD): 

  • example.com 

  • example.com.au

Pros and Cons of Each Strategy

Subdomains: have in the past, been demonstrated to be treated as completely separate domains, which has changed the way that people have viewed this approach as it forces you to double up on marketing activities. The pros are lower infrastructure costs for self-managed sites, as you’ll only need the one server and one domain. The main con of subdomains is that it will function as a separate entity and usually require additional resources to get all variations to rank.

Subdirectories: A subdirectory is a great use case for international clients when looking to leverage the preexisting equity built up in a domain. A subdirectory is also a great way of consolidating different websites under one umbrella, avoiding any duplicate content issues and allowing international entities to decrease the amount of website properties that they manage. For example, you could create example.com/au/ for Australia and example.com/uk/ for the United Kingdom, but since they all fall under one domain you will be able to leverage the equity from the root domain when acquiring backlinks for multiple regions.  

Seperate Domains (ccTLD): A ccTLD makes a lot of sense for entities operating in countries where only a singular common language is spoken (e.g. Israel, Scandinavian countries, Russia). They also make a lot of sense if they are operating within the Asian market as leading search engines such as Baidu make it very hard to rank without a .cn TLD. There is also no guarantee that Google will show the correct version (see HREFLANG in the piece to see how you can avoid this). 

 A downside of ccTLD’s is that having all these new domain names will mean that SEO efforts such as link building and even technical website elements will need to be split off to a different property. Running separate domains requires a lot more resources for each site to rank as they are essentially a brand new entity. There will also be a lag in results for any new domains you register when starting in a new region, as it takes time to build up the same authority as your existing domain.

Either type of domain can help your eCommerce business website rank internationally—you have to choose which domain is best suited for you and your target audience. 

Hreflang Attributes - What You Need to Know

What is the hreflang attribute? 

hreflang is an HTML <link> markup, or <link> tag attribute, it tells the search engine which version of the page to show in search results based on the user’s browser and IP address location. It does not redirect any user to the different page variations and serves as a signal for search engines only.

It looks something like this: 

<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.airwallex.com" hreflang="x-default" /> 

<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.airwallex.com/us" hreflang="en-US" />

<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.airwallex.com/au" hreflang="en-AU" />

<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.airwallex.com/uk" hreflang="en-gb" />

A good example of an international brand that implements this correctly is Gymshark:

Why is a hreflang tag so important for a website? 

Imagine you run an online store that sells shoes worldwide. Your site is optimised for the different audiences and has pages in various languages but doesn’t have hreflang. When someone who speaks Russian visits your website from a search engine like Google, they will see the English version and not the Russian version, including currencies in Dollars rather than Rubles, which may drive them away. 

Hreflang tags solve this problem - ensuring that visitors land on the page that is most appropriate to them, in this case, a website that is in Russian. Hreflang tags help you drive up your conversions and drive down the bounce rate. It will also help you rank in the appropriate region by having content optimised for the correct language, keywords and audience.

Important Things to Consider When Implementing Hreflang Tags

When implementing hreflang tags, it is essential to make sure that everything is being documented so that the rules that were initially followed when establishing best practice can continuously be rolled out or revised as new markets are released. You should always take into consideration, whenever localised sections are expanded on, pages of new localisations are published, or URLs are changed. Keeping hreflang tags updated and validated is an important factor and should be a priority. 

A common misconception of hreflang attribute is that it prevents Google from displaying your different pages as duplicates or spam, however that’s not true. You may have different pages for American English, British English and Australian English – the differences in each of these pages will be very minimal and thus are prone to being marked as duplicates. To overcome this problem, you can rewrite the base of the content, to make it more different. 

For example, using “specialization” for the US version and “specialisation” for the British version, to utilize subtle language differences. Based on our experience working with international clients, we have seen that this difference can impact the likelihood of Google using hreflang tags by up to 14%.

Final Thoughts 

International SEO and Geo IP redirects are incredibly useful ways of rolling out internationally, but if done incorrectly can cause nightmares and substantial drops in traffic. 

If done right, it should help you improve your conversion rates dramatically and also lower your bounce rate. So remember when rolling out international SEO, you should keep these following things in mind (DHR): 

  1. Domain - Choosing the correct domain structure for your use case 

  2. Hreflang - Setting up the correct hreflang tags for your property. 

  3. Redirections - Apply the correct geolocations settings and redirect options to meet your use case.

Complete your International eCommerce store set up with an Airwallex Global Business Account

International SEO is challenging, and it takes quite a bit of effort to get it right. However, once you finally roll out your international SEO for your eCommerce business, you'll be a part of the global marketplace, and nothing can stop you.

At Airwallex, our mission is to make cross-border eCommerce seamless for our customers. Whether it’s getting paid by your eCommerce platform without the conversion fees or making fast and cost-effective payments to your international suppliers.

Book a demo with our product specialist to find out how you can take your eCommerce international with Airwallex today.

Co-authored by award-winning SEO specialist agency StudioHawk and our resident SEO expert, Joe Romeo. In his spare time, Joe runs his own digital marketing agency helping eCommerce businesses grow.

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