Building a multilingual online presence isn’t easy. From website translations to localizing your social media and advertising—you have a lot on your plate. And when it comes to multilingual website SEO, things get a little more complicated. 

When setting up a multilingual website, there are a few essential SEO factors to consider. Most importantly, you want to ensure that people find the correct pages for their language and location. 

Let’s take a deeper look into what localization SEO is and why it’s important—plus five tips for improving your multilingual website SEO.

If you’re entering a new local market, download our practical worksheet to ensure your brand’s content strategy resonates with your target audience.

What is localization SEO?

A multilingual website is any website that offers content in more than one language. And localization SEO is the process of optimizing that website for the different languages. This includes translating website content, meta titles, meta tags, descriptions and targeted keywords.

It’s more than simply translating content. SEO localization also pays attention to how people search for content and the search terms they’re using in the locale you’re targeting. By using these location-based keywords within your content, you’ll increase your organic reach in those specific regions.

“There’s no point in creating brilliant content if no one is going to access it, or no one’s going to consume it.” – Estefania Veira, London-based marketing campaign manager at Clyde & Co.

See also: Translation vs. localization: What’s the difference and why should you care?

Why is multilingual website SEO important?

If you’re marketing across different countries, you’re likely targeting audiences from many different markets that speak multiple languages.

In this case, basic website translation is not enough—and automated translations don’t always make sense and can be viewed as spam.

While it may be tempting to rely on Google translate for non-English speakers to understand the content on your website, you’ll get far better results if you have a dedicated multilingual SEO strategy. Why?

Because people tend to first search on Google in their native language. That’s why it’s in your best interest to optimize your SEO strategy according to what your target audience is searching for in their own language.

“I’m Brazilian so I’ll probably Google something in Portuguese before I search something in English, and a lot of people don’t speak English. So in those countries, it’s just easier to search for information in your own language.” – Allan Formigoni, Lisbon-based content and email marketing manager at WeTravel.

Plus, the elements that contribute to effective SEO also tend to improve your overall user experience—so paying attention to multilingual SEO practices is a win for both your organic traffic and customer experience. 

See also: 5 ways to ensure a quality localization – even if you don’t speak the language

Two people working on a multilingual localization SEO strategy in front of two screens in an office

5 tips to improve your multilingual SEO

Google has laid out some best practices for managing multilingual website SEO, and there are a few methods to improve your localization SEO rankings. 

Here are five ways to improve your multilingual website to beat the algorithm and bring in more organic traffic.

1. Use dedicated URLs

Your URL is the first part of your website that users see, and it’s also where you should start when doing localization SEO. Each of your language or country pages needs to have its own URL so that Google can effectively crawl, index and rank your sites.

Make sure to include a language indicator in your URLs to help search engines identify the website language. For example, an original page might be www.mywebsite.com, while the French version is www.mywebsite.com/fr/. 

Where you place the language indicator depends on which URL structure you’re using. There are three structures to choose from:

  1. Top-level domain (e.g. www.mywebsite.fr)
  2. Subdomain (e.g. www.fr.mywebsite.com)
  3. Subdirectory (e.g. www.mywebsite.com/fr/)

Each of these has its pros and cons, and there is no clear winner in terms of SEO, but subdirectories are probably the easiest to set up and maintain.

2. Don’t forget to apply hreflang tags

Make sure to use hreflang annotations to help Google determine both the language of the page and which region it is intended for. These tags are inserted in the header section of the original page or submitted via a sitemap. Multiple hreflang attributes can be added if a page is intended for multiple regions.

The more languages and regions that you have, the more complicated this process gets. It’s best to get the help of a multilingual SEO agency to ensure you get this right!

See also: Top 7 localization tools to optimize your website

3. Stick to one language per page

Google uses the visible content of your page to determine its language—so you need to make the language obvious by sticking to one language for content and navigation. Side-by-side translations are a no-go!

Having more than one language on a page also impacts the user experience as it’s confusing, and context is easily misinterpreted. 

In short: When translating a page, make sure to translate all content—including navigation text and user-generated content.

4. Translate the “hidden” parts of your website

SEO optimization incorporates both the content that users see and the content they don’t—and both are equally important.

When creating multilingual websites, it’s easy to forget about your website’s “hidden” parts. This refers to the text that works in the background and the pages that users only see when they perform a certain action. These include:

  • Metadata descriptions
  • Metatag titles
  • URLS
  • Alt text for images
  • Checkout pages
  • Contact pages
  • Newsletter sign-up forms
  • Error messages

The metadata and metatag titles are particularly important for SEO as they appear in the search results on Google.

Tip: Check if all website metadata has been translated by searching site:example.com on Google—replacing “example.com” with the name of your domain. This will show you all the pages that Google has indexed on your website. 

5. Use location-based keywords

Keywords aren’t universal. It’s best to search for keywords in each language and region your website is targeting, as simply translating your keywords won’t be good enough.

Location-based keywords don’t just apply to language-specific keywords. Different English-speaking countries use different words for certain things. For example, in the US, they use the word “cookies” to search for cookies, while they’ll search for “biscuits” in the UK. You’ll also find that specific keywords have more or less competition or search volume in different languages and regions.

Your keywords form the foundation of your multilingual SEO strategy, so it’s worth putting in the extra effort to find the best terms for each language and location that you’re targeting.

“There aren’t many websites that target Arabic or Egyptian audiences, so the competition is very low. But when it comes to English, the competition is very high. The same word in English has a lot more bids on it than in Arabic.” – Nermeen Habashy, Egypt-based head of content quality and SEO at B.TECH.

Make use of multilingual SEO services

Perfecting SEO for your business is challenging—especially when you’re doing it in several languages at once. Since localized SEO plays such a key role in attracting the right audience and providing a strong user experience, it’s worth using professional multilingual SEO services. 

At VeraContent, we specialize in everything content related to help your multilingual SEO strategy perform. If you’re interested in learning more about our services, reach out to us today

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