Multilingual SEO: How to Optimize Your Site in 9 Steps

Any ambitious brands or website owners who want to expand their business across different markets should be aware of how important multilingual SEO is.

When you create a website that is available in several languages you’ll be able to expand your potential audience and grow your business.

It can seem that translating your website into several languages is not a big deal, but what about optimization? If you want the users in other countries to find your website you need to optimize it as well.

Considering that optimizing multilingual sites can be confusing, these nine steps will help you to fully understand how you can do it and also give you some great ideas.

1. Multilingual vs. multi-regional SEO

One of the first steps is to decide whether to use multilingual or multi-regional SEO. The former would be translating the site into the target language(s).

The latter would also include the addition of local customs, public holidays, and traditions.

The way you’ll determine which SEO is the best for your needs is to think about which regions are you targeting, who is your target audience, and which languages will you choose.

In order to find out which regions are contributing to your website traffic, you should use Google Analytics. Head over to your account and click on Audience > Geo > Location.

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What you will see is something like this:

Multilingual SEO

Besides finding out which countries are getting you the maximum traffic, you can also use Google Analytics to find out which languages are used the most.

If you want to target a market which is yet unexplored, meaning that the visitors from that region haven’t accessed your site before, then you need to base your decision on your own research.

For example, if your company is in the US and you want to target China even though you haven’t had any traffic from them until that point.

In that case, you can Google the sales status of the product you want to sell in that country.

You can even ask your translator to find some popular online businesses which deal with the same business and observe their sales techniques and approaches.

Taking all of this in consideration will clarify whether those regions have a different approach to marketing or are the differences almost non-existing.

If they exist and are very important to targeted regions than you should go for multi-regional SEO.

If not, then opt for multilingual.

2. Types of domains

Another important factor in this process is choosing the right domain.

According to Google’s Official Webmaster Central Blog, “It’s difficult to determine to geotarget on a page by page basis, so it makes sense to consider using a URL structure that makes it easy to segment parts of the website for geotargeting.”

Your choice will come down to this:

  1. Top-level domains
  2. Sub-domains
  3. Sub-directories

Let’s say that your business in the US is ilovemybusiness. Now you want to expand to Germany and you need multiregional websites. This is how your three options would look like:

  • for a country code top-level domain (ccTLD): de
  • for a sub-domain:
  • for a sub-directory: com/de

But how do you choose the right one?

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The following pros and cons stated by previously mentioned Google’s Official Webmaster Central Blog will help you to make that choice. Here is what they explained:

  1. Top-level domain (ccTLDs):

pros (+)

– clear geotargeting

– server location is irrelevant

– easy separation of sites

– legal requirements (sometimes)

cons (-)

– expensive (+ availability)

– more infrastructure

ccTLD requirements (sometimes)

  1. Subdomains with gTLDs (generic Top Level Domains):

pros (+)

– easy to set up

– can use Google Search Console geotargeting

– allows different server locations

– easy separation of sites

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cons (-)

– users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone (is “de” the language or country?)

  1. Subdirectories with gTLDs:

pros (+)

– easy to set up

– can use Google Search Console geotargeting

– low maintenance (same host)

cons (-)

– users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone

– single server location

– separation of sites harder

Consider these pros and cons and then decide which options will work best for what you are planning to do.

3. Do a keyword search

Keywords are one of the essential parts of a successful SEO. Without them, you won’t be able to drive traffic to your website.

However, just translating your English language keywords into desired languages won’t have the same effect. You need to conduct localized keyword research.

There is no guarantee that people will search in the same way in a different country.

For example, a study by Web Certain found that French people search for ‘lead pencils’ using any one of four different terms – crayon à papier, crayon de papier, crayon de bois and crayon gris – depending on where they come from.

Now imagine the difference between different countries.

You need to do a proper search for keywords related to your online business in the targeted region and language. What you can use for this purpose is Google AdWords.

Besides basing your search on the type of business you are running, you can also translate the existing keywords in the targeted language and see how those perform in that specific region.

Maybe you already have some keywords which will also provide value in a different language.

4. Use hreflang tags

Hreflang tags are used for sites that have similar content but in different languages.

The website owners who have multilingual sites use them in order to inform search engines to direct people to the content in their own language.

For example, take a situation where you have a German audience and the page which ranks in English. However, there is a German version as well.

Hreflang helps you to solve this problem by showing the German page in the search results for the German users.

That is why you should learn how to add hreflang tags to your website so that Google knows which pages are in which language.

The three most common manners in which you can add hreflang tags are:

  • Implementing content with regional variations (en-us or en-gb)
  • Implementing content in different languages (en or fr)
  • Implementing a combination of different languages and regional variations

If you have a WordPress website and you want to know more about hreflang tags this WPBeginner guide will give you a detailed insight into the whole process.

5. Add meta language tags for Bing

While Google and Yandex use the hreflang tags, Bing uses meta language tags. If you want to cover all search engines, you need to include these ones as well.

It is recommended that you optimize your site for all search engines, including Bing because not all countries use the same one. According to Medium’s Global Search Engine Market Share for 2018 in the Top 15 GDP Nations, in most countries, Bing comes in second place while Google holds the first place.


Adding meta language tags will let Bing know which pages are in which language.

The format for the meta language tag is:

<meta http-equiv=”content-language” content=”en-us”>

This tag needs to be added to every page in the head section. It will let search engines know in which languages are the pages on your website.

You can use the same language and region codes as you did with the hreflang tags because they are the same for meta language tags.

6. What about location detection and automatic redirects?

If you want the users from different regions to instantly access the correct content, this is a step you don’t want to miss.

Install local detection, and combine it with automatic redirects. This will allow you to send users to the relevant pages depending on which country they’re searching from.

Automatic redirection can not only improve user experience but it can also reduce bounce rates.

The benefit is that it automatically gives the users a website variation in the language which they understand.

However, there is a downside as well. John Muller from Google says that location-based redirects should be avoided in most cases. According to him, it makes it easy to break indexing and frustrate users.

To clarify, let’s imagine that you have a French speaker who is traveling to Germany. When they try to access your website from Germany it will automatically provide him a German variation of the website which he won’t be able to understand.

7. Use the pictorial dropdown menu

If you decide to listen to John Muller, your alternative can be to enable users to easily switch languages on the website.

One of the most popular ways multilingual SEO is to add a flag of the country in which language is the website currently showing.

Include a pictorial dropdown menu that allows users to click on their country’s flag to select the right language. They won’t need to understand the language of the landing page, they just need to find their flag.

Source: Dribbble

This is how you will help the website visitors to easily discover different versions of the site.

Keep in mind that flags symbolize nations and not languages. So use country flags if you are targeting different countries not different languages within the same countries.

What this means is that if you want to spread to regions such as China, Germany, France, Italy and so on, then using a pictorial dropdown menu is very helpful. But if you just want to translate and optimize your website for different languages for the Canadian market than this isn’t the best choice.

In addition, be careful about how many flags you are adding. This is a good choice for websites which don’t offer too many language options. Displaying 15 country flags would be confusing and messy.

8. Pay attention to backlinks

Here is another aspect which truly shows how important multilingual SEO actually is.

Just imagine if you were a German citizen and you are going through this great informative page about something you are interested in, but once you click on a backlink to get more information, it leads you to a French page. You wouldn’t be very happy, would you?

That is why you should only add backlinks and promotional links that are in the same language as your translated content.

During the translating process, you’ll need to replace your existing links for different ones in the corresponding language.

The links you will add need to be as informative, credible, and valid as the ones you replaced.

What can help you out is to do a backlink analysis of your international competitors and international directories and review sites which could feature your website once it is translated in specific languages.

Contact bloggers and website owners who link to similar sites as yours and ask them if they are willing to cooperate. In return, you can link their website in your newly-translated content.

9. Hire a bilingual marketer

Besides hiring a bilingual translator for multilingual SEO, you should also make sure that you hire a bilingual marketer to ensure that nothing is lost in translation. It would be best if you can find someone who can do both.

He or she can be the one who will deal with marketing in that targeted language, reach out to bloggers for backlinks, and so on.

They will also be familiar with the culture and audience in the targeted region so they can give you some advice on what works best and how you should approach conquering that region.

A translator might not be informed of all of this so you can miss out some valuable marketing information if you only hire a bilingual translator.

You can ask professional marketers if they know someone from the targeted country who can help you out. They probably have some international acquaintances.

If this doesn’t work, use online platforms such as UpWork which connects employers and employees from all around the world.

Over to you

Moving to international markets or translating your website into different languages can be very beneficial for the growth of your business.

Nowadays, when the Internet allows us to connect with people all around the globe it would be a shame not to take advantage of this opportunity.

The above-mentioned tips will help you to start your multilingual optimization process with all the important facts and procedures firmly engraved in your mind.

Armed with these tips, you will be ready to take over the world and achieve your goals. So what are you waiting for?

Author’s bio.

Daniela McVicker is a passionate digital marketer. Daniela is interested in everything related to SEO and blogging. She collaborates with Ratedbystudents and other websites where she shares her experience and helps marketers make their name in the online world.

1 thought on “Multilingual SEO: How to Optimize Your Site in 9 Steps

  1. It’s very good information that you shared SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimization’. It’s the practice of optimizing websites to make them reach a high position in Google’s – or other search engines’ – search results. SEO focuses on rankings in the organic (non-paid) search results.

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