Most Common International SEO Mistakes

Bill Hunt has been working in SEO for more than 20 years and therefore cetainly knows a thing or two about International SEO. His company won Best International SEO Software for the HREFlang builder they launched in 2020. In this guide, Bill shares some of the most common International SEO mistakes to avoid ensuring you have minimum search visibility problems when going international.

1. Make sure that you understand the search landscape of the markets that you are entering.


For most SEOs, the objective is normally getting a page ranking instead of making sure the right page ranking. They may not realise that the wrong page is ranking which has a negative impact on traffic and conversions. Therefore is important to check your site on a regular basis especially if it is a global site.

Take the time to see if any non-local pages are ranking or driving traffic/conversions in that market. If so use hreflang to adjust. How can you see what is ranking?

Go to Google Search Console and look at one of your top level pages for a product that you sell around the world, for example the /EN page. In the example we went through in Tea Time SEO and as shown in the image above, the local page which was the /IN page, WAS NOT ranking on page one. There was no signal to tell Google it should use the /IN page over the /EN page. Instead, the NON Local page – the page was shown 3.2 million times in markets where there was an existing local website.

This means there’s something wrong with the international seo implementation. In most cases, this is an HREFLang problem, in other cases it might be a semantic problem. You might have wording on your global page that’s neutral English, and in the other markets it might skew maybe to local English or British English. So this is the first thing you should check is, how big of a problem do we have ? For example, if someone wanted parts for an elevator in London it is most likely the US page would rank for “elevator parts” as the UK page will use the phrase “lift parts”.

2. Fix errors in XML sitemaps and GSC to reduce wasted requests by Search Engines

One of the things we hear a lot is that, “We did HREFLang and it sort of sucks. It’s complex, it’s too hard.” HREFLang itself is embarrassingly simple. It’s our complex websites that make it a challenge. We see here a case where a site had 7.7 million tags, 580,000 errors. When you have that many errors, it’s your problem, not Google. Google’s told you the problems. The other common mistake is when HREFLang or local market sites aren’t being indexed is a case like at the top; 131,000 pages were valid, but over a million were bad. So you have 10 times more pages that Google’s wasting resources on. So try to fix some of these and specifically focus around the world.


Bill Hunt

Global Search Strategist

Bill Hunt has 26 years experience in Global Search Marketing and won US Search Awards Lifetime Achievement in 2015. Bill is the founder of Back Azimuth Consulting. Well known on the conference circuit, he has spoken at conferences in 33 countries. Outside of that, he is also a co-author “Search Engine Marketing Inc” and he developed the HREFLang Builder which won best Search Software in 2020.  

Watch our Tea Time SEO session here:

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3. Always make sure you are auditing a legacy or primary domain

Make sure your canonical tags for local language versions are correct as canonicals can be a big problem. There are many people who manage websites are confused by canonicals, even some celebrity SEOs who write a lot, really don’t understand how this works.  It is pretty obvious when you come into some cases with websites.

Here’s an example,  a site in Lithuanian, but it doesn’t rank in Lithuania.

The core site, the one without any kind of location, the canonical tag incorrectly points to English.

The canonical tag says the following:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”” />.

This is pointing to the English-language version of the site. This means you’re effectively telling Google you don’t want them to use your Lithuanian version. This is totally wrong. In this case, the site owner was trying to get rid of tracking tags and actually got rid of their parameter-based language tags in error.

Closing Remarks

Really take time to see if non-local pages (the markets you are targeting) are ranking.  If you have a page, make sure that it does show up in the SERPs. Fix your XML sitemap errors, quit wasting Google’s resources, they will not reward you for that. Then make sure your canonical tags are set correctly, especially if you have parameterised or dynamically-inserted localised content.

We have shared a few tips about International SEO and the importance of setting the foundations right before delving further into large sites. Thank you again to Bill and Chloe authors for sharing their expertise with us. If you would like to contribute to this guide or any of our other in our Ultimate SEO Guide series then let us know.

Can we help?

If you are looking for an easy way to automate much of the advice given in this guide, then please book a call with one of our platform experts to explore whether we have what you need.