The 15 Most Popular Myths About International SEO

Published 8 years ago

There are lots of myths and misconceptions surrounding the subject of international SEO. I recently gave a Mozinar on this; I’d like to share the basis of that talk in written form here. Let’s first explore why international SEO is so confusing, then dive into some of the most common myths. By the end of this article, you should have a much clearer understanding of how international SEO works and how to apply the proper strategies and tactics to your website.

One common trend is the lack of clarity around the subject. Let’s dig into that:

Why is international SEO so confusing?

There are several reasons:
Not everyone reads Google Webmaster Guidelines and has a clear understanding of how they index and rank international content.

Guidelines vary among search engines, such as Bing, Yandex, Baidu, and Google.

Guidelines change over time, so it’s difficult to keep up with changes and adapt your strategy accordingly.

It’s difficult to implement best practices on your own site. There are many technical and strategic considerations that can conflict with business needs and competing priorities. This makes it hard to test and find out what works best for your site(s).

A little history

Let’s explore the reasons behind the lack of clarity on international SEO a bit further. Looking at its development over the years will help you better understand the reasons why it’s confusing, laying some groundwork for the myth-busting that is about to come. (Also, I was a history major in college, so I can’t help but think in terms of timelines.)

Please note: This timeline is constructed almost entirely on Google Webmaster blog announcements. There are a few notes in here about Bing and Yandex, but it’s mostly focused on Google and isn’t meant to be a comprehensive timeline. Mostly this is for illustrative purposes.



Our story begins in 2006. In 2006 and 2007, things are pretty quiet. Google makes a few announcements, the biggest being that webmasters could use geo-targeting settings within Webmaster Tools. They also clarify some of the signals they use for detecting the relevance of a page for a particular market: ccTLDs, and the IP of a server.


In 2009, Bing reveals its secret sauce, which includes ccTLDs, reverse IP lookup, language of body content, server location, and location of backlinks.



In 2010, things start to get really exciting. Google reveals some of the other hints that they use to detect geo-targeting, presents the pros and cons of the main URL structures that you can use to set up your international sites, and gives loads of advice about what you should or shouldn’t do on your site. Note that just about the same time that Google says they ignore the meta language tag, Bing says that they do use that tag.

Then, in fall of 2010, hreflang tags are introduced to the world. Until this, there was no standard page-level tag to tell a search engine what country or language you were specifically targeting.


Originally, hreflang tags were only meant to help Google sort out multi-regional pages (that is, pages in the same language that target different countries). Only, in 2011, Google expands hreflang tag support to work across languages as well. Also during this time, Google removes the requirement to use canonical tags in conjunction with hreflang tags, citing they want to simplify the process.

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