With cross-border ecommerce booming, it’s not surprising that more businesses are launching international websites. Britain generates the biggest online trade surplus in the world, according to research by OC&C. 

The value of exports is $1bn more than imports, putting it ahead of the United States and Germany.

It’s not just major retailers such as ASOS and Marks & Spencer that are contributing to this trend. A survey by Royal Mail found six in 10 small and medium-sized businesses are looking to boost their international sales in 2014.

There are clear benefits to adapting websites for customers across multiple foreign markets. Burberry recently moved all its online operations to a single international site, with subdomains for each country. This saved money and made it easier to manage localised content for each country.

But many would-be global businesses are still tripping over stumbling blocks along the way. When not done correctly, moving a domestic site to an international domain can result in the loss of carefully built up organic search results and a sharp drop in visibility.

Other common mistakes include directing customers to the wrong site for their country, failing to choose the best domain strategy, and not re-directing existing links.

Here are seven potential pitfalls and how to avoid them, or for more information on this topic download the Econsultancy Best Practice Guide for International SEO.

1. Not choosing the right domain strategy for your business

Many search marketing experts used to recommend separate websites for each country, using in-country top-level domains (such as .de for Germany). Search engines automatically recognise the location and rank them accordingly.

But this is no longer the only – or necessarily the best – option. So long as you effectively configure your website to geotarget the right countries, a single site with subfolders for each country (such as www.brandname.com/de) can work just as well.

There are advantages to each approach. A single site with subfolders is easy to maintain and update, but requires some work at the beginning to ensure correct geotargeting.  If your business has the resources, and a product range that varies extensively between countries, then separate sites might be a better choice.

For some countries, the choice is clear. French consumers are much more likely to trust a local, .fr domain. Not having one will put you at a disadvantage in this market. 

2. Not setting up re-directs correctly

You’ve put months of hard work into earning high-quality links to your existing site, and slowly improving your search positions.  Moving your .co.uk site to an international domain doesn’t mean all that hard work will be lost, but it does require careful planning.

When re-directing links, the default setting in Google Webmaster tools is often a 302 temporary redirect, which means your new site does not gain the SEO benefits of those links.

This is a major reason why many international sites see a sharp drop in rankings, and struggle to retain their visibility. Changing these links to 301 permanent redirects will prevent this.

3. Using Geo IP as more than a gentle prompt

Visit www.amazon.com from a UK IP address, and you’ll see a prompt directing you to the British site. This is Google’s recommended way of directing consumers to the relevant site for their location. But some companies go further, and automatically re-direct searchers to a territory-specific site based on their IP address. 

This can be annoying for customers – for example if you’re on holiday but want to shop from your favourite ecommerce site. It can also be confusing for search engines, as your inbound links might be re-directed to another of your sites.

4. Using free machine translation tools

While automatic translation software is advancing rapidly, it’s still not perfect. Mistakes don’t just make your text hard to understand (and sometimes inadvertently funny). All things being equal, Google will give higher rankings to well-written content produced by humans, rather than machines.

5. Not creating separate Google Webmaster profiles

Whether you choose to use subfolders or separate sites, you should have separate profiles for each target market. Google and Bing both tend to use clues such as the currency, phone numbers and addresses to identify which country your site (or subfolder) is aimed at. But they can be thrown off track, for example if your American site has a high number of links from the UK.

Creating separate sitemaps and webmaster profiles for each one, with the right geographic targets, will remove any confusion. For example, your UK subfolder (www.brandname.com/uk) would have its own profile, while your US one (www.brandname.com/us) would have another one.

6. Not localising social media

Social media, especially Google+, is becoming more important in search marketing. It’s worth taking the time to set up local Google+ profiles that are linked to each localised site.

7. Not localising your checkout

It’s the last stage in a buyer’s journey - and the last thing you want to do is lose them here. But the style of checkout varies from country to country. While Brits and Americans are familiar with using plastic for online purchases, that’s not the case everywhere. In Germany, it’s standard practice for companies to send an invoice for payment within 30 days.

Consumers are understandably wary when it comes to parting with their cash. Making your checkout look familiar and including their preferred payment method will help build trust. 

Christian Arno

Published 14 March, 2014 by Christian Arno

Christian Arno is Founder and Managing Director of Lingo24 and a contributor to Econsultancy. He can also be found on Twitter

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Comments (8)

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Guy Mucklow, Senior Web Designer at PCA Predict (formerly Postcode Anywhere)

Good overview Christian, one point I would add is the often overlooked issue of international addressing. Being able to trade internationally is reliant on having a correctly formatted address, but with over 10,000 different languages in the world, 125 different address formats it is little wonder that capturing international customer data seems to blight to so many ecommerce businesses.

over 4 years ago


Jussi Wacklin

I was surprised to see the first point on domain strategy. I have always thought that running separate country domains is a poor decision as you need to build inbound links to all domains. With one domain you are likely to generate more links faster benefitting all the subdomains. I wonder who are the search experts recommending the multiple domain strategy?

over 4 years ago

Filip Elverhoy

Filip Elverhoy, Country manager at 1184

Great overview, I would consider how to handle local VAT, currency and distribution methods to the list as pitfalls well.

over 4 years ago



Interesting article. What strategy do you suggest for the following example:

We have several websites with their own brand and personality and then an umbrella website.

I want to bring everything together under the same domain name, but I'm unsure on which of the following strategies would be best. i.e. using a subdomain or not.

a) websitename.com/second_brand
b) second_brand.websitename.com

What do you think?

over 4 years ago

Craig R Morton

Craig R Morton, Senior PHP Analyst/Programmer at Reiss

Great article.

Another thing to consider when opening up your catalogue to international customers is that some items cannot be fulfilled to certain countries. For example, jewelery is prohibited in Mexico and watches are restricted for delivery to Brazil.

over 4 years ago



Excellent article Christian. Content creation should always be done by humans, even better local humans.

over 4 years ago


Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

@ Jussi

A lot of the reason for having separate domains is do to with familiarity of users with different domains. We run quite a bit of activity in France, Belgium, the Netherlands etc. where there is a real resistance to clicking on .com websites based on the assumption that they aren't local.

Ultimately, if you can build the different domains in the same CMS then the difference is minimal. Bear in mind your links are largely geo specific so any value driven by links in one country will carry little weight to another country's folder on the same domain so ultimately it's a case of whatever works best for you.

The other advantage of separate domains is if the content is significantly different as it helps make it clear which version of a brand you are interacting witih.

over 4 years ago

Christian Arno

Christian Arno, CEO at Lingo24

Thanks Guy and Filip, good points!

Jussi, although the single domain strategy is becoming easier to get results from, there may be times when having localised domains is advantageous (as Matt points out). Most companies seem to find the administration of the single domain strategy suits their business and resources more.

Glenda, if you're using many different types of CMS or platform, then the subdomain strategy will work best as you're not limited to one CMS. But if you're using the same one, then I'd recommend the subfolder route as it'll work best in terms of maintenance and SEO benefits.

about 4 years ago

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