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  • Writer's pictureDavid García Ruiz

Multilingual SEO: What it is + 8 best practices

Are you looking to expand your reach and grow your business in international markets? If the answer is yes, then multilingual SEO should be a top priority. Multilingual SEO can help you increase your visibility in different countries and ultimately generate more revenue for your business.


But getting started with multilingual SEO can be daunting. How do you choose which languages to target? Do you need to do keyword research in each language? What are the best practices when it comes to translating content? Are there any technicalities you should consider for your international SEO strategy?


In this blog post, we’ll answer these questions and provide tips on how to get the most out of multilingual SEO. We’ll cover everything from selecting the target language to choosing keywords, implementing language-specific content and managing technical aspects. So, let’s dive right in!


Table of contents


What is multilingual SEO?

Expanding your global reach through multilingual SEO is about more than just adding translations to your website. Multilingual SEO is the process of optimising content and websites for multiple languages to reach a wider international audience.


By creating content with keywords and phrases relevant to the target language, businesses can better attract local customers, increase site traffic, improve engagement and get more conversions. But providing the right content for your international audience is only half the battle. For your content to rank on page 1, your website must tick the appropriate technical boxes. More about this later.


8 best practices for multilingual SEO

Now let’s look at the best practices for multilingual SEO, starting with identifying the best markets to expand to, choosing the right keywords and setting up hreflang tags.


1) Identify your target languages and regions

One of the first steps to implementing a multilingual SEO strategy is identifying the target languages and regions you want to reach. This involves the following:

  • analysing where your website's current visitors come from,

  • researching market opportunities,

  • and prioritising languages based on your business goals.

Analysing your current traffic sources


By analysing your current traffic sources, you can understand which languages and regions your visitors come from. You can check if there are any countries you are already getting interest from on your Google Search Console and Google Analytics 4 accounts.


countries getting traffic on Google Analytics 4

This data will tell you which countries your brand already has traction in and help you prioritise which languages to target first. If you are already getting traffic from regions you don’t actively target, your products or services raise interest and are a good starting point.


For example, if a significant portion of your traffic is coming from Spain, it may be beneficial to prioritise Spanish as one of your target languages; this can help improve your website's visibility and attract more visitors from that region.


Researching market opportunities


A crucial aspect of multilingual SEO is identifying market opportunities. This involves researching countries or regions where your products, services, or content may be in demand.


For instance, if you're a swimwear retailer, research countries where swimwear products are a significant part of the culture and economy. This can help you develop a content strategy that speaks to local preferences and cultural differences, making your website more appealing to potential customers in those regions.


Prioritising languages based on business goals


Prioritising languages also depends on your business goals. Evaluate which languages and regions are crucial to your business expansion and focus on them first. For example, if you're a software company looking to expand into the Asian market, you may want to prioritise languages like Mandarin and Japanese.


2) Do keyword research

An essential aspect of a well-executed multilingual SEO strategy involves identifying appropriate keywords for each language. People's search preferences differ across languages. This implies that when you translate a keyword from one language to another, it might not be used by anyone in that exact form.


The process of investigating language-equivalent keywords that are relevant within a specific local market is referred to as multilingual keyword research. Multilingual keyword research involves identifying the most pertinent keyword(s) for a specific webpage in a different language from the one in which you are researching the keywords (for example, the website is English, and you are doing the keyword research in French).


An SEO translator undertakes keyword research in their native language, much like an SEO specialist does in their local language. Merely translating your existing local keywords would be an error!


multilingual keyword research data

Another option to find the most appropriate keywords in a new language is keyword translation or keyword localisation; although there are limitations to this practice because it relies heavily on the quality of the keywords in the source language, you may want to go this way if you are on a tight budget.


3) Choose SEO website translation

After completing your multilingual keyword research, you are ready to translate your website. If you are considering using machine translation technologies, think twice. Although they sometimes provide an “okay” translation, you still need to implement the keywords from your research in your translation, meaning you can not rely solely on machine translation but need an SEO translator.


Using trusted SEO translation services, you will ensure you use the right keywords to target your customers and your content follows the best on-page SEO practices. As much as your translation needs to be accurate, multilingual SEO also demands optimisation for search engines.


4) Consider localisation

Localisation goes beyond simple translation. It involves adapting your website's content to align with your audience's cultural preferences and habits. This includes images, colours, or currencies but goes beyond that. It is about recreating your content to resonate with your customers: the way they speak, the jokes that make them laugh and what gets them excited.


Imagine you are an email service provider, and you created a post to target the keyword “email subject line”. It is performing well in English, and it is bringing new trials for your service. But here is the challenge: when translating it to a new language, the creative subject lines you use in English won’t work in other languages because concepts such as “man cave” or “Thanksgiving” are deeply rooted in American culture and will lose impact in other languages.

creative email subject lines

Translating your content word for word may not be enough. Ensure your content is relevant and resonates with your target market, making the necessary adjustments to have the same impact as in the original copy.


5) Create language and region-specific content

Creating language and region-specific content is the best way to keep things on the table, particularly regarding informative content such as the one from blog posts. While translation works well in many cases, other times, it does not make sense to translate a post about a topic that is not popular in a different language.


Similarly, there will be content opportunities that are unique in each language. You can find language and region-specific content ideas by creating a multilingual content strategy that includes writing new pages and blog posts and it is not limited to translation.


6) Decide on your URL structure

Next, we discuss one of the most critical aspects of international technical SEO. You will need to use dedicated URLs for each language and country version of your multilingual website so that search engines can understand you have different languages. The three most common options when deciding the structure of your multilingual site are the following.


Separate domains or ccTLDs (country code top-level domains)

Different domains or ccTLDs are one of the most popular options, but they have the downside of purchasing and managing multiple domains. Here is an example of separate domains or ccTLDs:


amazon.es

amazon.fr


Subfolders

Setting up different subfolders is straightforward since all your content will sit within a single domain. We can find an example of subfolders in one of the largest online travel agencies Booking:


booking.com/es

www.booking.com/de


Subdomains

You can create multiple subdomains on your main domain to target a particular country or language; however, they are more complicated to set up and maintain than subfolders.


uk.hotels.com

fr.hotels.com



7) Hreflang tags

Hreflang tags inform search engines that your content is available in different languages and regions and help them serve the correct version of your pages to users in other countries. Implementing hreflang tags can be tricky, as John Muller’s, ‘Google’s Search Advocate’, affirms, but it does not have to be.


There are three ways you can implement hreflang tags on your website:


In the page header section of your HTML code:


<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”de” href=”https://example.com/de/”>


In the HTTP headers:


Link: <url1>; rel=“alternate”; hreflang=“en”, <url2>; rel=“alternate” ; hreflang=“de”


In the sitemap:


<url>

<loc>https://www.example.com/en</loc>

<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr” href=”https://www.example.com/fr”>

<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”de” href=”https://www.example.com/de”/>

</url>


Even though this may sound complicated, using a translation plugin like Weglot means you do not need to worry about it because hreflang tags are implemented to your website automatically. To learn more about this topic, check out this guide to hreflang tags.


8) Backlinks

Backlinks are an essential part of any SEO strategy, which is true for multilingual SEO. While the different versions of your site will get some “link juice” from your main website if they share the same domain, you still need to do link-building with sources from different countries to boost the link equity of each specific language version of your site.

link-building with sources from different countries

Kickstart your multilingual SEO strategy

A successful multilingual SEO strategy guarantees that you are using your content in the best possible way to target your international audience and eliminates any technical obstacles, such as not serving the correct version of your site to a user or using a URL structure that may not be familiar to your audience. If you need help giving shape to your multilingual SEO strategy, get in touch!

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