SEO Gets Multilingual: Optimising for Languages

There’s a whole wide world of unique selling opportunities out there. If you’re lost in translation, here’s a summary on what multilingual SEO can bring

Kira Hawker

Multilingual SEO is just like it sounds – optimising your website to target content and communications to the umpteen international audiences out there. This might mean versions of your blog posts that are translated for your site users in Spain or France to read. Or, you may even invest in having different translations of your website to match different country codes.

You may have also heard of multiregional sites. These are sites that employ targeting to help them get served up to users in the relevant countries. These approaches are not mutually exclusive. If you’ve gone to the trouble of translating your site content or pages into multiple languages, it’s not a bad idea to ensure they will be read in their respective regions. Therefore, the technical aspects of international SEO are also important.


Should I invest in multilingual SEO for my website?

By building your site infrastructure to serve several countries/continents, you can introduce your brand to a global market. Speaking with your audience (in their own language!) can foster better engagement for your online communications. Plus, by opening up your organisation to this international playing field, you can demonstrate just what makes you different from the competition.

There are several aspects to consider when looking to invest in multilingual SEO. These range from the translation service you use, to various technical elements. If this seems a daunting task on account of your large site infrastructure, you can focus your efforts onto particular content pieces or pages. Plus, Google even offers a Translation Widget – which, while not perfect, can provide an intermediary step.

Multiple languages speech bubbles

Ensuring your domain structure serves different languages and locations

Google suggests incorporating your chosen language through site content, navigation, and URL structure via a subdomain or subcategory. This means separate pages for separate languages, and ensuring that each one is clearly defined.

There are a few different ways to go about ensuring your site is easily acknowledged as having a different location for geotargeting. Some are more expensive than others, but all come recommended by Google for helping your site or content be searchable in your chosen countries.

One way is to make use of ccLTD – that is, country-code top level domain names. These are the .uk, .fr, .de domain types that signify instantly your site belongs to a certain country. One of the advantages of employing these for your multiregional SEO strategy is that Google easily picks up on them for geotargeting, meaning they may get given more priority for related search terms in their respective countries. However, investing in all those ccLTDs can be both expensive and resource intensive. Other methods may be more applicable to you depending on your site complexity and structure.

These other methods concern leveraging your gLTD domain structure, or ‘generic top-level’ domains. These are the extensions that we see all over the internet, employing .com, .org, or .net. To effectively geotarget these you can either employ subdomains or subdirectories that include those country specific codes. This can be a great way to easily assert your new, international identity while not committing to buying up costly domains.


Important things to remember about search engine optimisation for multiple languages

While the advice we’ve given here applies only to Google, there are other search engines to bear in mind when actioning this sort of SEO approach – such as Bing. That’s why it may be in your best interests to get an agency on board, to help iron out the many technical aspects of adopting multilingual SEO strategy. Regardless, here are some key points to remember when adopting this sort of approach to search engine optimisation – not an exhaustive list!


  • Target the right countries with right keywords

Once you’ve established your country-specific domain structure you can create content that aligns with your international campaign. This is where a keyword research tool comes in handy. While certain search terms or phrases may be popular in some countries, in others they may not quite translate.


  • Remember to dive deep with your different language variants

Now that you’ve gone to all the trouble of having your language translated and setting up those subdomains or new URLs, it’s important to ensure that the right users are landing on the right pages.  You can do this manually by adding mechanisms to your site map, HTTP headers or page-level markups. This support document by Google has a more in-depth explanation, although these methods do require access as a site admin and to your Webmaster tools.


  • Make the most out of your Robots.txt file.

This will ensure various versions of your site aren’t caught up by crawlers and served to the wrong users in the wrong countries. Google, however, suggests that while unique content is always best, you probably don’t need to go to the trouble of blocking duplicate country content with your Robots.txt files. If it is correctly targeted at users in their respective countries, and occupies different URLs, the search engine can generally identify that you are adopting a multilingual SEO strategy.

Optimising your domain and copy for international audiences is a fantastic way to not only increase your visibility in those geographical locations, but can also attract users on a more personal level. The effort it takes to create well-reading website in a variety of languages does not go unappreciated, often inspiring greater loyalty and repeat visits.

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