When setting up a multi-language website, there are several multilingual Search Engine Optimization (SEO) factors to consider.
Elements that contribute to good SEO also tend to improve the overall user experience, so making sure your site ranks highly benefits both your business and your customers.
Easy-to-use tools like Yoast have exposed the “secret” of SEO to all site owners, and it’s therefore more crucial than ever that you stay on top of current SEO best practices.
When it comes to multilingual SEO, first and foremost, you want to make sure that people are seeing the correct pages for their location. You also want to avoid penalties for content that is considered duplicate. Thankfully, Google has laid out some best practices for multilingual SEO, and there are a number of measures you can take to improve your rankings.
In this post, we’ll take a look at some actionable steps you can take as part of a high-quality content marketing strategy to beat the algorithm and bring more organic traffic to your multilingual site.
Multilingual SEO: What Is It and When Should You Use It?
Multilingual SEO is the act of optimizing the content on your website for different languages, so you become searchable in new markets, and people in different countries can find your website through organic search.
SEO experts will tell you that multilingual SEO means you have to optimize your site for native speakers of languages in countries other than your own.
The majority of the internet uses American English, and that may well be your native language. But English is only the third most widely spoken language in the world, so it pays to use multilingual search engine optimization to reach as wide an audience as possible. Even if the majority of your target audience is located in the United States, you’ll find that not all of your visitors are native English speakers.
It’s tempting to rely on Google translate, which non-English speakers can use to translate the results of a Google search, as well as the contents of your site, in theory. But the reality is that you’ll get a far superior result, both in terms of the quality of translated content and SEO, if you use a dedicated multilingual SEO strategy.
Planning Out Your Multilingual SEO Strategy
So you’ve decided to adopt a multilingual SEO strategy: great. But what do you need to consider when you’re planning what that strategy will be and how will it fit with your broader digital marketing strategy?
Any search engine optimization strategy has to start with an understanding of your audience and their search habits. In your target countries, this might be different from in your native country. Consider the target languages that your audience will be speaking, and make sure you have country-specific solutions that translate your content and your SEO metadata into those.
Internet habits might be different in different countries too. So consider the following:
Social media use, and how you can use that to support your on-site SEO
Content strategy and search terms: is there content that would benefit from localization to be more successful in pulling in an audience in other territories and languages? Can you add new content for international audiences?
Visitor statistics: use Google Analytics and geotargeting to identify where your traffic is coming from right now, as well as the percentage of that coming from searchers, and compare that to where you want to be
Ecommerce: if you’re running an international store, you’ll also have to consider currencies and how products meet the needs of different markets, as well as how you can optimize them for your local SEO efforts
Your domain name: do you need a different one in different languages, or will your brand name be recognizable by non-English speakers?
Search engine results pages, or SERPs: do they look different in different territories? Test how your search queries look on different versions of Google search
How to Improve Your Multilingual SEO
There are 5 key steps to optimize your site’s search engine rankings which we’ll take a look at in more detail!
While not all duplicate content is detrimental, content that appears within multiple URLs may lead to penalties such as lowered rankings or even deindexing.
To avoid duplicate content penalties, Google’s best practices recommend using ‘dedicated URLs’ that include a language indicator.
The indicator enables international search engines and users to identify the language from the URL alone. For example, an original page might be www.example.com, while the French version could be www.example.com/fr/, the German version will be www.example.com/de, and so on.
The placement of the language indicator in the URL depends on the URL structure you choose, particularly the difference between using dedicated Country Code Top Level Domains (CCTLDs) and subdomains on your own site. For clarity, the three choices are:
Top level domain (e.g. www.example.fr)
Subdomain (e.g. www.fr.example.com)
Subdirectory (e.g. www.example.com/fr/)
Even a language indicator, though, can still be misinterpreted—so defining your URL parameters is an important step to take in making sure your site is SEO-compatible, but definitely not the only one.
Aside from the aforementioned language indicators, Google also uses hreflangtags to help determine both the language of the page and which region it is intended for.
These tags can be inserted in the header section of the original page or submitted via a sitemap. For example, an hreflang tag referencing a French page intended for readers in Canada could look like this:
If a page is intended for multiple regions, multiple hreflang attributes can be added. However, it’s worth noting that this whole process is both complicated and time-consuming, particularly for beginners (even Google’s very own SEO expert says so – yikes!).
You can also check out our video tutorial explaining how to add hreflang tags to your website:
If you use our Weglot translation solution, this step is automatically done for you, so you don’t have to worry about adding your own code. You can also use Weglot’s useful Hreflang tag checker to see if everything is set up correctly.
3. Stick to One Language Per Page
It may be tempting to translate some areas of a web page while keeping other parts in the original language. A couple of instances where a page might have multiple languages are:
The main content is translated but the navigation text is in the original language.
User-generated content (such as forum discussions and comments) are in different languages.
In both of these cases, the intended language and region of the page can be clarified by adding the hreflang tags discussed earlier.
However, multiple languages on a page could dilute the user experience. In the first case above, the reader might understand the main content but have trouble navigating to other pages. In the second case, user-generated content in different languages could result in discussions losing context, and a confused or even frustrated reader.
Fortunately, when you translate your pages with our Weglot translation solution, it automatically detects all content – including content from third-party apps – so you can be assured that everything will be 100% translated.
4. Translate Your Metadata
When you create a multilingual website, you’ll also want to ensure it’s not just the content on your site that’s translated. Your metadata is also a crucial piece of text that will help you rank better for the new countries you’re targeting.
But it’s not always as simple as just translating the metadata word for word – although that is a very simple process with Weglot. After you’ve added Weglot to your site, it automatically detects your metadata and gives you a first layer of machine translation that you can then manually edit.
5. Adapt to Changes in Search
Google has recently rolled out AI-powered changes to its search engine to make the experience more seamless than ever. In mid-2023, the tech giant unveiled Search Generative Experience (SGE), which uses generative AI to suggest more accessible, conversational insights when using the search function.
To add even more context, it features images and videos it believes to be relevant to the search experience. Later that year, it expanded to accommodate even more languages, like Indonesian and Spanish—further impacting multilingual search.
That means the traditional multilingual SEO strategies may no longer apply here. SGE emphasizes Google’s E-E-A-T criteria (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) to offer the most relevant results possible to users. Instead of plain hyperlinks, the results are phrased casually to add more context to search queries that are often written as questions—typically made up of long-tail keywords, which are more specific and usually made up of at least 5 words.
Long-tailed keywords come in handy for narrowing your target user intent, so content that specifically answers a particular question will have a higher visibility through SGE. It may be worth experimenting with long-tail keywords in your different markets to see what resonates better with your audience, as you’ll also have a more refined idea of what content they find most useful.
Optimizing Your Keywords for Multilingual SEO
Preparing your website for multilingual SEO includes more than translating and localizing your long-form content. Ranking in different countries also means looking at your list of target keywords and finding the right translation for them.
Simply running your keywords through online translation software won’t be enough; your target audience may be using different search terms to find your content.
What might be a keyword within the original language of your site, won’t necessarily be the same for your translated site. This means you’ll need to conduct new international SEO keyword research into your new target markets.
This can easily be carried out either through Ahrefs or Ubersuggest. It’s just a case of using their keyword explorers and entering a translated keyword, selecting the country you want to target and review the results to give you a better idea of what your potential customers might search.
Make sure you have easy access to this list. That way, when you work on translating and localizing your site, you’ll look out for instances of the keyword and use the optimized translation for it.
It would also be a good idea to do some research on the keywords your target audience uses in their respective countries. The search intent for your product may be expressed in different terms and words than the direct translation from your existing keywords.
Let’s take a look at the keyword how to translate website:
We can see that it’s got a sizeable search volume and a lot of traffic potential in the United States.
Directly translating that into French would give us comment traduire un site web. Here are the metrics for searchers in France:
While the keyword difficulty is much lower, so is the volume. The traffic potential is decent, but let’s see if we can find a better target keyword with traduire site web.
Still an easy enough keyword difficulty, but the search volume is exponentially higher. The traffic potential is basically the same, but you can see that even the global volume is higher across the board, particularly in French-speaking countries.
Consult Local SEO Experts
Of course, there’s no better way to meet your target audience where they are than by consulting a local—especially if they’re well-versed in SEO.
They intrinsically understand what problems your audience has, the search terms they’d use, and the search intent of your initial draft of keywords and correct them accordingly. If you hire one from the get-go, they can guide your keyword research to maximize your chances of reaching your audience. Even better, they can review your current content and help you adapt it to address your new market’s needs better.
With access to that kind of specialized information, you’d have an easier time optimizing your SEO strategy so that your content gets higher visibility. Plus, you’ll have an invaluable edge over your competitors—particularly if they’re also foreign and don’t have local guidance like you do.
Bonus Tip: Make Sure Your Website Loads Fast
One of the relatively easy things you can do for your multilingual SEO (and SEO in general) is to make your website fast. Since July 2018, the time your website takes to load has become a key ranking factor for search engines. That means every little effort you put into making your website load faster is going to directly influence the amount of traffic your website gets, particularly if some of your pages are slow (3+ seconds).
There are a number of easy wins that you can implement to make a significant difference in the loading time. These include:
Most of these optimizations are somewhat technical in nature. The good news is, if you’re using WordPress to build your site, you’ve got access to a plethora of plugins that will implement these speed optimizations—without you having to touch a single line of code. Plugins such as WP Rocket, fix most problems identified by Google’s PageSpeed Insights, including the above points.
Another effective and important way of making your website faster is to check your hosting plan. Most hosting plans are relatively cheap because your website shares the server resources with hundreds, maybe thousands of other websites, making it slow in the process.
When creating a multilingual site, there are several important SEO factors to consider. You need to ensure that your content is not considered duplicate and that you’ve defined a clear intended reader for each of your pages.
Addressing these issues will not only boost your rankings but also improve the overall user experience. Fortunately, Weglot’s powerful translation tools can do most of the dirty work for you.
In this article, we’ve explained what needs to be done to make your site SEO-friendly. Let’s recap our tips quickly:
Use dedicated URLs.
Apply hreflang tags.
Stick to one language per page.
Translate your metadata
Check your website load speed.
Ready to start optimizing your website for global audiences? Try Weglot on your website with our 10-day free trial.
Time to open your website to the world
Get started for free and have a multilingual website up and running in minutes.