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4 steps to internationalizing your online shop

From checking local demand for your shop’s products or services, to localizing your content and more, there are a number of things to consider when expanding into new markets. Start here.

Has your online shop started to generate healthy sales? That’s great! You may now be thinking about expanding your services to different countries.

This means you’ll need a website that serves (and performs well) in a different location and language. Plus of course, there are practical, non-SEO related questions like shipping costs and manufacturing logistics.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to four important steps to consider when taking your online shop abroad. And see our separate guide to international SEO for lots more on this topic.

1. Find out if there’s enough demand in the target market

Your product may be successful in your current market, but how will it fare in a country that you’re not entirely familiar with?

Checking online demand can be done via keyword research, as you can enter your product terms (in the correct local language) to view how many are searching for them.

This will also give you the right idea of which keywords are most relevant to target when you reach the creation phase. See our complete guide to ecommerce keyword research for more.

2. Don’t just translate content, localize it!

When finding out the correct product names in a language, it’s always best to ask a native speaker about naming conventions of the products you’re offering, and do some competitive research. This is because product names can differ depending on the country, not just the language!

Let’s take the US and UK as a very obvious example, where chips, biscuits, cans, holidays, sweets (to name just a few!) mean different things depending on where you are.

Although it’s definitely easier to have one website for an entire language, localized content and pages can really provide the edge for your more hesitant visitors.

3. Choose the best technical set-up for international expansion

Depending on your current website setup, you may need to make some technical changes to ensure it’s suitable for expansion.

If your main website is currently hosted on a country code top-level-domain (ccTLD) like .co.uk, .com.br, .it and so on, this will likely only appeal to the country it’s created for.

In this case, you should buy a new domain for the target market. A ccTLD will probably struggle to rank and win clicks in its foreign market.

There is nothing wrong with the ccTLD set-up, and visitors seeing their country’s code in result pages could even build trust and therefore increase click-through-rates to the page. However, buying domains can become expensive.


If you’ve used a popular or generic top-level-domain (e.g. “.com”) then you’ll be happy to know that this has made your life a little easier.

From here you can choose to have a separate subdomain for each language (e.g. “es.domain.com” & “en.domain.com”) or just rely on an own subfolder (e.g. “domain.com/es/” & “domain.com/en/”) while your homepage has a set language default like English.

The main benefit here is that you will build a united domain which shares authority from stronger pages to weaker ones. However, it can become more difficult to personalize the website for different audiences.

My advice: keep it simple! It doesn’t always make sense to have every single page in every single language and/or currency combination. Try to stick to what you can maintain, and what makes sense for your visitors.

4. Implement hreflang (but do it correctly!)

I’ll be honest with you: hreflang is really difficult to get right, but it’s incredibly important for your international SEO.

Hreflang is an attribute you provide in your page’s <head> which is used to tell search engines that an alternative version exists in a different language (or for a different region).

This helps search engines serve the right content in the right location, so that when I’m in Germany I can find the product I’m looking for (and buy it in Euros), and my mum in England can find it in Pounds Sterling (and with an English description!).

Hreflang implementation also avoids any risk that you’ll be seen as publishing duplicate content, especially when your American English and British English pages have almost exactly the same text!


Tip: Always make sure that your hreflang alternates point to each other. Like in the above example, I am linking to the German page using “de” hreflang. In order to make sure that the hreflang connection works, that German page needs to link back to the English URL with the “en” hreflang.

I could chat about hreflang for days, but luckily Google has written up some nice documentation to help you understand it better over here.

Summary: Internationalizing online shops

As you can see, launching your online shop in new markets has a range of technical challenges to consider. Hopefully we’ve answered some of your questions, and provided you with the resources you need to get started.

And don’t forget to check out our related guides to technical SEO for ecommerce, keyword research for ecommerce and ecommerce content strategy.

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Published on Mar 1, 2022 by Izzi Smith