SEO Case Study: How to Leverage hreflang and Geo-Targeting to Effectively Target International Markets
Published: June 10, 2019
Author: David Portney
If your U.S.-based business serves more than one country, then there are options for how you can reach international markets using organic search (SEO).
One common method is to create a separate website for each target country, for example:
- com – targeting the U.S. market
- com/co.uk – targeting the UK market
- com.au – targeting the Australian market
- ca – targeting Canadian market
Another common method is to use a single website but leverage a sub-directory structure to target international markets. Here’s an example of that:
- com/page – targeting the U.S. market
- com/en/uk/page – targeting the UK market
- com/en/au/page – targeting the Australian market
- com/en/ca/page – targeting the (English-speaking) Canadian market
Both approaches are viable from the SEO perspective, and each has its pros and cons.
For example, having separate websites for each international market means each website is specifically targeted – which is great for users in those targeted countries, but it also means you must be willing to devote resources for maintenance of multiple websites. Plus, each website will have to build up its own SEO authority signals separately.
Having a single website with internationally-targeted pages means all the SEO authority signals are on a single website and single domain – which makes for a single, strong, authoritative website, but it also means that search engines like Google may have trouble disambiguating duplicate or near-duplicate content pages on the site that target various countries and languages, and therefore Google may have trouble figuring out which page to show in which country.
As you can see, there are upsides and downsides to each approach.
The SEO Problem
Recently, a client using the latter configuration – a single website with internationally-targeted pages via sub-directory structure – was having trouble with Google showing the wrong pages to users in various target countries.
The SEO Solution
After careful analysis, the 3Q SEO Team put together a plan to remedy this problem and provided SEO recommendations to deploy hreflang tags in conjunction with geo-targeting of the international sub-directories in Google Search Console.
The hreflang tags and geo-targeting work in tandem; the hreflang tags help to disambiguate for Google which pages are intended to be served to which languages in which countries, and the geo-targeting of sub-directories in Google Search Console further strengthens the signals so Google knows which page-type to serve to which country.
Was it worth the effort? Here are the results after just one month:
You can see in the above table a definite month-over-month increase in sessions, users, and new users to the internationally-targeted organic landing page types almost across the board, and seasonality was ruled out as a causal factor. The only exception was the reduction in English Canada pages, but the corresponding increase in the French Canada pages means French-language pages started being served to users in the proper location instead of English-language pages – a net win for users.
Whether you house all your international pages on a single website as in the above case study or you maintain separate websites for the various international markets you serve, it’s important to ensure you’re sending Google the proper SEO signals and configure your website(s) pages to show up for the right user in the right location.