Foreign Link Building: Can You Build English Links In Foreign SERPs?

If you’re building links for a foreign site, then you’re in for a treat because that’s the topic of this post.

You’ll learn that foreign sites hold a distinct advantage over English websites because they are ranking on foreign SERPs which have different standards for analyzing websites.

You will also know why this is the case when I talk about how Google’s algorithm shaped SERPs through the years and how it correlates with SERPs from non-English organic search pages.

A Brief History of English SERPs

I am singling out English SERPs here because of the changes and developments that took place in this space. As you’ll see later on, Google has made massive strides in understanding the context and intent of words in the English language, which resulted in a more organized process of analyzing pages to appear on SERPs.

More importantly, taking a good look at English SERPs allows you to see the stark contrast taking place in foreign SERPs.

So to see its progress, we must go back to the time when everything started.

2013: Authority Wins

Back in 2013, Google was getting better at understanding which pages should rank on top of SERPs. A few years removed from the Google Panda and Penguin update, its algorithm was slowly but surely weeding out pages that didn’t deserve to appear on organic search results. It focused on providing its users with useful content instead of spun and thin articles from content farms.

Google-Panda-USA-Update-2.5-«-Searchmetrics-Suite-Blog - foreign link building

Source: Searchmetrics

A year after, Google Penguin was released to penalize websites engaged in link schemes and keyword stuffing. The initial Penguin update changed 3.1% of English SERPs for the better.

Since its initial release, there have been 10 documented Penguin updates to help further improve the quality of English SERPs. For the most part, it’s been able to clean up SERPs and encouraged websites to engage in natural ways of creating content and building links.

Regarding backlinks, Google started putting an onus on authority. It rewarded websites that had backlinks from authoritative and reputable sites a higher place on SERPs.

Authority, in this case, is not limited to SEO metrics prevalent during the time like Domain Authority by Moz. It has to do more with the overall authority of the site such as traffic, backlinks, and other factors that may or may not be covered by these SEO metrics.

One thing about link building is every link is akin to a recommendation. So when a big website links back to your site, Google treats this as a seal of approval from that site to yours.

By getting lots of these types of links, you should see an increase in organic rankings.

However, during this time, Google didn’t care much about relevance.

For instance, if your plumbing website gets a backlink from a very popular celebrity gossip site, then the search engine would still pass off the authority from that site to yours.

At this point, it doesn’t matter where you get your links from and whether or not they’re related to yours. What matters to Google is how much authority a website can pass off to yours.

The reason is that, as sophisticated as Google’s algorithm is during this time, it is unable to understand and read text.

It cannot tell the difference between “plumbing” and “celebrity,” for instance. It can only analyze and evaluate the math and equation in computing for a domain’s PageRank (which was still around during this time).

Because it cannot read the context between sites that link to each other, one can still manipulate the algorithm by building links to authoritative sites without taking into account the relevance between sites.

2016: Google Gets Brainier

Fast forward to three years, Google has learned a thing or two about relevance.

It was now able to distinguish the relationship of websites according to topic or entity. Therefore, taking into account the authority of websites, a backlink from a website about politics to a soccer site isn’t as powerful as a backlink from a sports site.

Around this time, Google launched RankBrain which is the new component of the search engine’s algorithm. It enables Google to provide more relevant and personalized search results to users based on their location and the intent of their query.

RankBrain uses machine learning by getting data from different sources and learns from them factors and signals to calculate for the best pages to appear on SERPs.

That said, the algorithm smartened up on how websites build links. Because it could tell the nuances of website entities, Google is now more capable of reading into the value of each backlink.

Part of the changes potentially brought about by Google RankBrain is the increase of importance in page authority. Back then, the site’s authority as a whole is only taken into account when analyzing a backlink’s value. For instance, if you had a link on CNN’s contact page, for example, Google considered it as important and will reflect on your website rankings.

This time, however, the authority of the page also bore much more weight than before. Links from pages that deliver value to people like blog posts and resource pages are much more valuable compared to links from boilerplate pages (About, Contact, etc.).

Moving forward, link building has become much more granular. You have to look not only at a domain’s relevance to yours, but also which page on the domain will you get the backlink from.

2020: Learning the Language

Since RankBrain, Google has made even greater strides to understand backlinks even more.

In 2017, Google launched the Fred update. Details are unclear about the update which is nothing new with most algorithm updates that take place.

According to the tests run by Barry Schwartz, the update targeted ad-heavy websites that existed for monetization purposes and not to provide value to people.

On the other hand, Marie Haynes’ theory about Google Fred has something to do with its backlinks. Namely, low-quality links gained by websites are discredited by the update. That means any backlink you have from low authority sites and even those from irrelevant domains counts against your websites and may cause them to drop in rankings.

What’s important to see here are backlinks from unrelated domains. As Google keeps tweaking and adding to its algorithm, it’s slowly becoming even more adept in understanding the context behind different ranking factors and how to interpret them. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before websites with questionable backlinks are getting devalued on SERPs.

Fast forward to five years later, Google is back again with BERT. It’s another step towards understanding context even more.

google bert

Source: Google Blog

BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is the search engine’s answer to natural language processing (NLP) pre-training. In layman’s terms, BERT allows Google to understand natural language better than ever before. The impact of this update is evident considering there is around a 10% change in organic search queries.

Similar to RankBrain, BERT can understand the context of each query, from the language used in English down to its intent. This way, users can get more relevant pages to appear on SERPs. At the same time, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if BERT can help analyze one’s link profile to determine contextual relevance of the backlinks. By having a better understanding of how natural language works. Google is better equipped in determining websites that are trying to gamify the system.

A lot of SEOs have abused Google’s lack of understanding natural language in years past. But with constant developments taking place in this field, it’s going to be harder for them to find loopholes to take advantage in Google’s algorithm. This is an excellent thing because the best pages for each query will naturally come out on top.

The State of Foreign SERPs

Compared to English SERPs, foreign SERPs are still stuck in 2013 for interpreting link profiles.

First off, you have to understand that Google took seven years to develop a firm grasp of the natural English language. It’s by no means a perfect read of the English language, but the changes made in this aspect allows for better pages to appear on SERPs.

However, since other countries don’t have English as their primary language, things get complicated.

Just like years back when Google wasn’t well-equipped to deal with the English language just yet, the same can be said of foreign SERPs. The results that foreign SERPs provide aren’t on the level of those on English SERPs in terms of quality and relevance.

As a user, this poses as a disadvantage. However, link builders can use this as a loophole that they can capitalize on.

I mentioned earlier the growing importance of contextual relevance that Google could harness over time. That includes how related the linking site is to your site.

With foreign SEO, all you need to worry about is website quality and authority. So if your Italian website about motorbikes, for example, has backlinks from high-quality English or even Italian websites, Google would still count it in your favor.

It doesn’t matter what the topic of the English website is about, because the search engine would have a tough time making the connection between the sites because it doesn’t understand Italian to make that distinction.

For example, go to Google Translate, enter a keyword in English, and translate it to the language that you want to check.

google translate

Search the translated text to see the web pages ranking for it on SERPs. Then take a page and run it on Ahrefs to check its backlinks.

google SERPs best mountain bikes under 200 in italian

You will see that even the top ranking foreign pages don’t have backlinks. Normally, you’re conditioned to assume that pages appearing on the first page of SERPs have at least a couple of backlinks in them.

ahrefs overview

As mentioned earlier, foreign SERPs in 2022 are very similar to 2013. That means that page authority isn’t given as much importance as today. So you can still rank pages on top of organic search as long as the domain is powerful enough and has lots of good links to warrant that.

But if you look at the backlinks of the domains, you’ll see what I’ve been talking about this whole time.

ahrefs backlinks

The Italian website has hundreds and thousands of backlinks from a fashion blog, wellness blog, and food blog, all of which are in Italian.

Granted, the website we’re tackling here is in the lifestyle niche that happens to have a page covering mountain bikes. Therefore, you can make an argument about the relevance of the sites linking to the Italian site, no matter how tenuous it may be.

I checked the links from the food blog and, lo and behold, they’re all from the website’s sidebar.

fashion blog backlink

These tactics and practices won’t fly on English SERPs. And that’s kind of the beauty of foreign sites – they can get away with a lot of things to get their websites to rank on SERPs!

Building Foreign Backlinks the Right Way

Therefore, does that mean that you should spam your foreign websites with these types of backlinks since others have been doing it all this time?

The answer’s a bit more complicated than you’d think, and here’s why:

Google may have taken a long time to understand natural language. But once it did, SERPs gradually improved the overall quality of pages that appear in it. That meant the devaluation of low-quality websites that tried to gamify the Google algorithm.

Not to say that Google will soon learn the Italian language, or any non-English language for that matter. And when it does, it will be years from now.

But even then, spamming your foreign website with questionable link building tactics can easily spell trouble for you in the future. It could get you the rankings you want now, but it may come at a cost in the long-term,

At the same time, we’re not telling you not to build these types of links. It’s all about doing your due diligence, which means researching your competitors and checking out their link profile.

Local to Foreign Backlink Ratio

Using Ahrefs should help you unearth their link profile and see the types of foreign backlinks they’ve built thus far.

In the screenshots above, you can see all of the backlinks pointing to that site – over 9,000+ grouped backlinks. But for the purpose of understanding foreign link building, you must filter the results according to language.

Let’s say that the Italian site we’re testing in this post is one of your competitors.First, you want to filter the backlinks in Italian and see how many the site has.

ahrefs backlinks language filter

Out of 9,000 grouped backlinks, the site has almost 7,000 backlinks in Italian, which comprises 78% of the site’s total backlinks.

That means approximately 22% of its backlinks are in distinct languages, which is exactly 2,322‬ backlinks.

More importantly, expect to have at least 80% of the foreign links from English sites. In this example, there are 1,999 grouped backlinks from English sites, which is 86% of the total foreign sites.

ahrefs backlinks english filter

You can run the same process on all your competitors to get a sense of percent of foreign links similar sites have. But you should anticipate to have similar results – that 4/5th of foreign backlinks come from English websites.

This way, you can build foreign links as long as you keep the percentages within the competitor average. For example, for every foreign link you build, you need to build four backlinks from Italian websites.

By being mindful of the ratio, you not only remain competitive within your industry, but you also avoid crossing the line of having too many foreign links.This could lead to manual penalties, if not a devaluation of your website, down the line.

Topical Relevance

Another thing you should consider looking at when building foreign links are the entities. Since Google doesn’t put much onus on relevance on foreign SERPs (at least not yet), the niche and topic of the website you’re getting links from don’t matter that much.

At the same time, however, you should look at the type of sites they get links from. For this purpose, you can use SEMrush and look at the Backlink Analytics page under Link Building and look for the Categories of Referring Domains section.

semrush categories of referring domains - foreign link building

You will see here the classifications of each site linking to yours. Not that it should give you context behind the relevance of the links because foreign SERPs can’t determine that yet, but it should give you ideas on how to plan on getting links moving forward.

For example, your Italian lifestyle website should have no problem linking to a travel agency site with vacation offers. Because what works for your competitors should probably work for your site.

Approaching PBNs

Private blog networks can help rank your websites as long as you know how to hide their tracks. If Google gets a whiff at just one of the blogs that are part of a PBN, then your site is toast.

However, foreign SERPs are much more lenient with PBNs. Since the algorithm hasn’t smartened up compared to English SERPs, you can get away with a lot more on foreign SERPs using this tactic.

In particular, get backlinks from homepages of PBNs and blast them with backlinks to boost the link authority going to your site. This will tremendously help your rankings on foreign SERPs.

For blasting your backlinks, I suggest you try out the tiered links offered at Get Me Links. They can help get meaningful results in terms of getting the most out of your backlinks to increase your organic rankings.

However, a general rule with link building is to always diversify your backlinks. You can only get so far when sticking to a specific tactic. Furthermore, even if that technique is helping you rank high on SERPs, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t complement it with other types of backlinks.

This issue is all too common with PBNs. Due to their nature and the authority its links give out, it’s easy to put all your eggs into PBNs. Then when Google’s algorithm eventually catches up and penalizes your website due to these links, you’ll only yourself to blame.

Therefore, always be judicious with linking out using PBNs. Think of these links as part of your link strategy – it doesn’t and shouldn’t be the strategy.


Foreign link building takes you back to the times when things are simpler and websites are much easier to rank. Google’s lack of ability to discern context from foreign language is a loophole that non-English websites can take advantage of for the time being.

Eventually, Google may find a way to analyze different languages properly, but only time will tell when that will happen.

In the meantime, you can build English links that are unrelated to your website topic and enjoy increased rankings on foreign SERPs. Nonetheless, it’s best to always complement your foreign links with other types to help diversify your link profile.

In this case, we at Get Me Links can provide you with backlinks that will help strengthen your link profile and achieve sustainable results in SERPs. You can choose from the different types of link packages we offer or you can reach out to us so we can properly advise you the type of links your site needs.

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