Multilingual SEO: A Comprehensive Guide
By Michael Ferrari
| September 5, 2023| Advanced SEO, International SEO, SEO
The internet has no borders, and neither should your website. If you’re looking to tap into the global market (or just a wider market in general), then multilingual SEO can be your golden ticket. But what is it, and how can you optimize your website for multilingual searches? Let’s dive in!
Introduction to Multilingual SEO
Multilingual SEO, at its core, is the practice of optimizing your website for search engines in multiple languages. It’s not just about translating content; it’s about ensuring that users in different regions and languages can find, use, and appreciate your website just as much as your primary audience.
While the below guide is meant to help you with multilingual SEO, there are a lot of possible pitfalls you may encounter while trying to implement it onto your website. It’s always good to consult with a professional SEO before making any major changes to your site.
Why is Multilingual SEO Important?
Reach a Global Audience. The world is vast, and English isn’t the only language spoken. By optimizing for multiple languages, you’re opening doors to millions of potential users and customers.
Reach a Wider Local Audience. While most people think of reaching different audiences around the world with multilingual SEO, the practice can also be applied on a local level. For instance, some towns and cities have pockets of their population that aren’t native English speakers (for example, a city’s Chinatown district likely has a larger population of Chinese-speaking citizens). Having a website that takes these other languages into account can have a huge impact.
Improve User Experience. Imagine landing on a website in a language you don’t understand. Frustrating, right? Multilingual SEO ensures that users can access content in their preferred language, enhancing their experience.
Key Considerations for Multilingual SEO
Language vs. Location. It’s crucial to differentiate between language and location. Spanish is spoken in Spain and much of Latin America, but the dialect and usage can vary. You’ll need to ensure your content is tailored to both the language and the specific region.
Cultural Sensitivity. What works in one culture might not in another. Always be aware of cultural nuances and sensitivities when creating content for different regions, unless you want to potentially offend your audience.
Keyword Research for Different Languages. Keywords aren’t always a direct translation. Research is essential to find out what terms your target audience in different languages is using.
hreflang Tags in Multilingual SEO
Perhaps the most important part of mastering multilingual SEO is hreflang tags. These tags tell search engines which language you’re using on a specific page, ensuring the right content is served to the right users.
While that sounds easy, getting hreflang tags correct can get pretty difficult–especially if you have multiple languages. The trick to getting them right, though, is to make sure all hreflang tags are reciprocal.
In other words, make sure that if an English language hreflang tag is pointing to the Spanish version of the website, then the Spanish version of the website should have hreflang tags pointing to the English version.
An easy way to remember this is: All the hreflang tags listed on one language’s site should be identical to all the other languages’ sites.
In action, this would look something like this image below. Notice how the image on the left (the hreflang tags for the English language site) are identical to the hreflang tags on the right (the Spanish language site).
This tells search engines that these sites have identical content served in different languages. That way, search engines won’t be confused and will be able to serve the right content at the right time.
Technical Aspects of Multilingual SEO
Subdomains vs. Subdirectories vs. ccTLDs. When it comes to how you’re going to build out your multilingual website, there are a few different options for its structure:
- Subdomains: de.example.com
- Subdirectories: example.com/de/
- Country code Top-level Domains (ccTLDs): example.de
Each has its benefits, but the right choice depends on your business needs and resources. For instance, if you have a high number of URLs on your site, then subdirectories might be your best bet, as it will be one less thing to worry about when creating a URL structure.
On the other hand, if you have a small number of URLs, then using subdirectories might be the best bet as it will simplify the process a bit.
Another example might be if you’re trying to target users in another country. In a case like this, ccTLDs might be your best bet.
The right answer should always depend on the audience you’re trying to reach and how best to serve them.
URL Structure. How you structure your URLs for multilingual sites is crucial. There are several methods, each with its pros and cons.
For instance, if you have an English language website and a Spanish language site, you have two choices for your URL structure:
- Keep all of the URLs on both versions of the site the same (ex: make all the URLs English regardless of language
- Create URLs that match the language of each site.
The first option is obviously the easiest option, but it provides a less-than-ideal user experience for users who don’t speak the language.
The second option is a much better user experience, however, it can cause a lot of issues if it’s implemented incorrectly.
There are other considerations for both these options (such as if you’re hosting on ccTLDs vs. subdirectories), and you should consider each carefully before making a decision.
Local Link Building. Links from local websites in the target language can boost your site’s authority in regional search engines.
Linkbuilding is difficult in any language, but may be even more difficult if you’re attempting to build out links from sites in other countries. Think about starting small with easy-to-acquire links to build up an initial backlink profile, then build up from there.
Content Creation for Multilingual Audiences. Remember, it’s not just about translation. Content should be created with the target audience’s culture, preferences, and nuances in mind.
This often means doing more than just running content through a translator and calling it a day. In fact, successful multilingual SEO hinges on having native speakers handling the translations process to make sure each piece of content reaches its full potential as well as its audience. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to find freelance translators on sites like Upwork and Fiverr.
Monitoring and Measuring Success. As with any SEO initiative, multilingual SEO can live or die on how often you monitor your site’s performance in different regions and languages.
Tools like Google Analytics can provide insights into how well your multilingual SEO efforts are paying off.
Multilingual SEO is more than just translation; it’s about creating a seamless and culturally sensitive user experience for audiences worldwide.
By considering the technical, cultural, and content aspects, you can ensure your website truly speaks to a global audience.