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The Most Common Mistakes in International SEO

Chapter 1: The Challenges of Internationalisation for Users & Search Engines

Before launching an international strategy, it’s important to take the time to learn from others’ mistakes in order to avoid them yourself. Here are the 4 biggest issues to watch out for in your international strategy, as explained by Aleyda Solis:


  1. Not having “enough resources” to properly optimise your target markets: If you can’t afford to create localised, relevant content for your website variations, this is a consequence of not having selected them well in the first place.

  2. Web structures that are not optimised for the target market: Not being able to use the relevant language of each market in the URLs, an excess of pages generated by the CMS which are targeted to other countries etc.

  3. Hreflang annotation issues: From not using the relevant country or language code, to using region values that are not yet supported by Google, to not following the tag specification, to not including it in the right locations, to not tagging all of the relevant URLs.

  4. Implementing automatic redirects based on the user’s IP or browser language: This is intrusive and might assume too much about your visitor. You can also end up always referring Googlebot to only a few of your website’s versions.

Aleyda Solis, International SEO Consultant at Orainti

These are some of the biggest internationalisation mistakes to avoid, which we’ll cover in more detail:

  • Geographic redirection
  • Incorrect page mapping
  • Overcomplicating language targeting
  • Forgetting about mobile
  • Not combining different methods well

Geographic redirection

As Aleyda says, having automatic redirects based on a user’s assumed language should be avoided. From a user’s perspective, this can be frustrating as they become blocked from accessing any other content versions on your site. This can often happen as automatic IP or language detection doesn’t always work properly.


An alternative method that is often recommended by Google is to have a banner which allows users to select their own language.

Allow users to choose different language sites through JavaScript banners.

-John Mueller, Google Webmaster Hangout

Ikea website country selector

Using banners for language selection doesn’t only provide a better user experience, but it also opens up your other page versions to search engines to be indexed. Automatic geographic redirects will keep sending Google back to US page versions where it usually crawls from, and will send Yandex to Russian versions, Baidu to Chinese versions, and so on. If you use geographic redirection, Google may never even know you have any other page versions apart from those for the US.

Use banners to suggest different language sites so Google can index them.

-John Mueller, Google Webmaster Hangout

Assumptions and too much automation can cost you opportunities to really engage with your users and can block search engines from your content.

Watch out for JavaScript redirects which are sometimes used for this purpose, as these can cause indexing issues. Analyse any instances where you’re using redirects like this to make sure they’re not causing any issues for users or search engines.

Lumar JavaScript redirects report

Source: Lumar

Incorrect page mapping

Incorrect mapping of page versions can cause many different issues for a website. If hreflang fails, for example, then you end up with lots of errors you need to manually fix. We’ll cover hreflang in more detail later on in this guide.

One of the big sources of these errors is if Google sees a new page with tags on it back to other language versions. This will break because no alternates to this page would have been seen in the first place from the other pages. In this instance, look out for low index rates which could point to XML sitemaps only having a small selection of hreflang included.

If Google can’t find your pages in the first place, it can’t do any international mapping.

Overcomplicating language targeting

As beneficial as it is to localise and tailor to your international audiences as much as possible, less is often more when it comes to language targeting. Just because you can accommodate every language variation, it doesn’t mean you should. If you do, you’ll end up making extra work for yourself by adding additional hreflang tags and page versions to keep track of, which may not even provide any value for your business.

Avoid cannibalisation issues by only targeting the language and country combinations where there’s a real reason to. If you have too many unnecessary versions of a page this can actually dilute the value of your original content.

Focus on targeting only the language and country combinations that will be profitable for your business.

Forgetting about mobile

Considering the rollout of Google’s mobile-first index and the importance of mobile, it may seem surprising that businesses can bypass the mobile configuration of their websites when trying to expand in international search. Neglecting mobile can cause decreases in rankings if there is reduced content on mobile pages. Some sites even forget to have hreflang set up for separate mobile pages.

Take a look at our white paper on optimising for mobile-first indexing to learn more about mobile considerations for a website.

With mobile continuing to become the primary device globally, mobile versions of websites should be receiving more attention.

Not combining different methods well

Internationalisation fails when you don’t have a cohesive, aligned strategy that works for both search engines and your users. You may map your page variations well, but this good work is let down if you also have excessive JavaScript redirects. You may have great localised content, but this may not be found by search engines in the first place without correct hreflang implementation. Consistent signals are crucial across all aspects of your international sites for sending search engines the right messages about your pages versions.


When going global, you need to pay attention to both technical and strategic factors.

On the technical side, you want to pay painful attention to hreflang tags. If you mess them up – even just slightly – Google often gets confused and might show results from different languages. In the best case, you audit your hreflang tags regularly and check the report in Google Search Console. Also make sure to have 90% of your content in the language you want it to rank for. Don’t mix content in several languages!

On the strategic side, you need to be aware that there’s a huge difference between translation and localization. Translation means to translate words from one language to another. Localization means to respect the cultural differences in doing so – and the difference is bigger than you would assume!

Kevin Indig, SEO at Atlassian


If you don’t have an aligned internationalisation strategy, your efforts may go to waste and you won’t see the global success you deserve.

Chapter 3: Getting Your International Web Structure Right


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