Why website translation means nothing without multilingual SEO

Published on July 26th, 2018

If you target an international audience in your marketing strategy, then website translation and localisation are important to your brand. You need to deliver content to the right audience in the right language to get them on board with your business and turn them into paying customers.

This means your SEO strategy needs to go multilingual, which makes search optimisation significantly more complex, as if it wasn’t already complicated enough. Sadly, multilingual SEO isn’t something you can ignore or avoid if you want people in your foreign markets to discover your brand.


Connecting your brand with foreign-speaking audiences

While all the usual search optimisation principles apply to multilingual SEO, there are a lot of new variables that come with targeting international audiences.

A multilingual website is actually multiple websites linked together, catering for each target language in your marketing strategy. Yes, there are ways to create a single, multilingual website, but these cause major problems when it comes to usability and SEO.

Think about it: how is Google supposed to rank your pages if the content on them keeps changing? Or what if the top search engine in some countries isn’t Google – like China and Russia, for example – and the multilingual SEO requirements are different for certain languages?

In order to optimise pages for SEO and deliver the right languages to each target audience, every language version of your site and each page on them needs to have their own unique URL. Which means the correct domain structure for a multilingual site should use one of the following:

  • Country-level,,, etc.
  •,,, etc.
  •,,, etc.

You can find more details about these domain structures and why Google recommends them over at Google Support.

Here’s a snippet of what Google has to say about the importance of choosing the right domain structure:

“Google uses the content of the page to determine its language, but the URL itself provides human users with useful clues about the page’s content. For example, the following .ca URLs use fr as a subdomain or subdirectory to clearly indicate French content:élo-de-montagne.html andélo-de-montagne.html.”

The sooner you make a decision about how to structure your website, the fewer implementation problems you’ll run into later.


Translating keywords for multilingual SEO

While it’s tempting to simply translate your existing keywords and convert your existing SEO strategy for each audience, it’s dangerous to assume your translations are going to match user intent in each market. Search habits vary around the world and the kind of keywords people type in for specific purposes also vary accordingly, which means your keyword translations could misfire.

Instead, you should start again with your audience research for each market and identify which keywords they’re using in their own language rather than translating them from English.

A crude example would be the keywords “what to buy her for Christmas” which could be one of your strongest search terms in the UK. But what about languages that don’t use pronouns such as her or him – most languages in Asia. This keyword simply isn’t going to work and you’ll need to find alternatives like “what to buy my wife” or “what to buy mother”. More specific keywords like these won’t generate the same kind of volume as “what to buy her”, but they’re more specific and could generate more qualified leads.

These are the kinds of things you need to consider as you adapt your SEO strategy for multilingual audiences.


Don’t take shortcuts with multilingual SEO

Search engine optimisation is daunting enough for businesses as it is, but multilingual SEO is another story altogether. Your workload is multiplied with every language you target and your technical SEO requirements are significantly more complex than they are when optimising for one location and language.

To give you an idea of what you’ll need to cover, here’s a quick list of the essentials:

  • Audience research
  • Choose domain and URL structure
  • Choose web hosting
  • Create language selector
  • Use UFT-8 character set (HTML)
  • Optimise/localise code for maintenance
  • Declare language for each version of your site (HTML)
  • Optimise titles and meta data for each language (HTML)
  • Localise visual content
  • Optimise visuals for each language – e.g.: alt descriptions, file names, etc. (HTML)
  • Identify (and translate) keywords
  • Localise currencies, measurements, dates, etc.
  • Localise landing pages
  • Multilingual content

That’s not a comprehensive list by any means and every piece of content you publish will need to be optimised with multilingual SEO in mind. That said, once you’ve got a streamlined process for optimising pages, things will be much easier to manage and you won’t need to worry about technical issues holding you back in certain markets.

The initial workload might seem daunting, but it saves a lot of problems further down the road – especially when adding new target audiences to your marketing strategy.


If you need advice on multilingual SEO or running a website for foreign-speaking audiences, get in touch with our team of language experts today.

Posted on: July 26th, 2018