SEO Best Practices for Multi-Language Websites

When your target audiences speak different languages, SEO for multi-language websites is critical for success. You must adapt your website's content and technical structure to cater to multiple languages and regional variations if you want your website to be found.

While there are some complexities involved with international SEO, there are also opportunities for effective multilingual SEO strategies:

  • Multilingual content optimization can expand your reach to a global audience, increasing your potential customer base.
  • Providing content in users' native languages makes for an improved user experience, making it easier for them to understand and engage with your website.
  • Multilingual SEO helps your website rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) for relevant keywords in different languages, leading to increased organic traffic.
  • Many businesses overlook multilingual SEO, giving you a competitive advantage to stand out in international markets.

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What is Multilingual SEO?

Multilingual SEO is the process of optimizing digital content to rank well in search engine results for multiple languages. Using targeted keywords, meta tags, and content translation ensure that a website is accessible and visible to speakers of different languages.

The importance of multilingual SEO? Its ability to expand the reach of a website to a global audience, improve user experience for non-native language speakers, and increase organic traffic from audiences with diverse linguistic backgrounds.

Monolingual SEO is different in that it only focuses on a single language.

Multilingual SEO requires a more comprehensive approach to account for linguistic nuances, cultural differences, and different search behaviors across different regions of the world. It’s much more involved and it includes careful consideration of language-specific keyword research, content localization, and technical implementation to make sure it meets the needs of an international audience. 

Identify Your Markets: Conducting Market Research for Target Countries and Languages

Market research plays one of the most important roles to identify target countries and languages for multilingual SEO. Providing insights into consumer behavior, language preferences, and cultural nuances specific to each market, businesses can tailor their content and SEO strategies much more effectively, ensuring resonance with international audiences and driving organic traffic.

There are some proven methods and online tools for conducting effective market research for multilingual SEO. These include surveys, interviews, and data analysis to understand the language preferences and search habits of the target audience in different countries.

In addition, using keyword research platforms, analytics software, and social listening tools can provide valuable information. Google Market Finder is a valuable yet often overlooked free tool from Google that offers essential insights for businesses. By analyzing data from Google's search volume and other sources, Market Finder provides valuable suggestions for potential markets that are likely to be receptive to a business's offerings. This can be especially beneficial for businesses looking to expand internationally or identify new customer bases.

Analyzing search demand and user behavior in different regions allows businesses to identify language-specific keywords and understand cultural nuances and ensure their content meets the unique needs of diverse audiences, an important aspect of multilingual SEO. This data-driven approach enables effective targeting and optimization for international markets and drives better search results. 

Technical SEO for Multilingual Websites

Now, we’re going to delve into some of the technical aspects that are critical for multilingual SEO success. These include:

  • Implementing hreflang tags to indicate language and regional targeting.
  • Creating a clear site structure that facilitates language switcher functionality.
  • Server location or CDN to improve website loading times in different regions. CDN is becoming an especially important aspect of international SEO.
  • Local SEO signals, including local contact information and currency, these may be included through schema types of structured data.
  • Speed optimization for enhancing site speed for users in different locations.

These technical considerations play an important role in SEO for multi-language websites to rank effectively in diverse linguistic markets.

URL Structure for Language Targeting

There are some definite pros and cons when exploring different URL configurations - country code top level domains (ccTLDs), subdirectories, and subdomains. Subdirectories consolidate authority but can lead to complexities in site management, whereas subdomains are easy to maintain but may dilute domain authority. Top-level domains provide clear geo-targeting but require separate SEO efforts and aren’t cost-effective. Knowing the pros and cons of each method is crucial for making informed decisions based on factors like site structure, resources, and target audience.

Country-Code Top-level Domain (ccTLD)

  • Advantages: Clearly indicates the target country to users, enables the use of localized hosting for improved page load times
  • Disadvantages: Typically, more expensive due to the need to acquire multiple domains, managing multiple domains can pose technical challenges, content or design updates must be replicated across multiple websites, the URL does not specify the language (e.g., .ca could be for English or French speakers)

Subdirectories (Subfolders)

  • Advantages: Relatively simple to establish, customizable naming (e.g., example.com/fr), easier tracking and reporting
  • Disadvantages: Users may be less familiar with this URL structure

Subdomains

  • Advantages: Capability to use localized hosting, customizable naming (e.g., fr.example.com)
  • Disadvantages: The disadvantages of using subdomains are similar to those of ccTLDs. Managing multiple domains can pose technical challenges, users may be less familiar with this URL structure, content and design updates must be replicated across multiple websites

    The Essential Role of Hreflang Tags

    In multilingual SEO, hreflang tags are a crucial element that works to indicate to search engines the language and regional targeting of content; implementing hreflang tags correctly is essential so the correct content appears in the search results for users in different regions. Best practices include:

    • Using ISO language and country codes
    • Ensuring reciprocal tagging for equivalently translated pages
    • Using self-referencing URLs to specify the default language version of a page

    There are three different methods to implement hreflang tags – HTML method, XML sitemap method, and HTTP header method.

    HTML Method

    The simplest and most fundamental approach to designate alternate pages is by incorporating relevant hreflang attributes into the HTML code of the page, specifically within the <head> section. To ensure accuracy, it is essential to reference the complete language group linked to the page, along with the page itself. However, a drawback of this method is that each time an article is translated into another language, it necessitates the addition of another hreflang tag to all versions of that article.

    XML Sitemap Method

    In the case of a substantial number of hreflang entries, it is advisable to consider incorporating your alternate pages in your XML sitemap. The primary advantage of this approach lies in the ability of the XML Sitemap to facilitate centralized modifications to your hreflang attributes. To commence, you must include a <loc> element for each URL, along with xhtml:link entries for every language and region version of the page. If a page has three versions, the XML sitemap will contain three entries—one for each URL—each with three identical listings. However, a drawback of this method is that larger sites with numerous languages may experience an abundance of permutations, potentially causing the sitemap size to surpass the 50MB limit.

    HTTP Header Method

    Utilizing HTTP headers is an effective approach for implementing hreflang attributes for non-HTML content on your website, including doc files, pdfs, and more. These headers serve to transmit data between a server and a client, encompassing details such as the request date, referrer, preferred language, and other relevant information. While this method can be applied to HTML content as well, it has the potential to significantly increase server requests, therefore it is best employed only when truly essential.

    Canonical URLs help consolidate duplicate content, while cross-domain alternates facilitate referencing equivalent pages on separate domains. The x-default tag is used to specify a default page when no page matches the user's language and location. This goes a long way to ensure a seamless browsing experience across international audiences. 

    Ensuring Mobile Responsiveness

    The importance of a mobile-friendly website is crucial for multilingual SEO because it directly affects the user experience and search engine rankings. Optimizing the mobile experience across different languages means ensuring responsive design, fast loading times, and intuitive navigation for users across various devices and regions, ultimately contributing to improved user engagement and multilingual SEO performance.

    Content Optimization for Multilingual SEO

    Multilingual content optimization involves maintaining the context and SEO parameters during content translation into multiple languages. This is crucial because it keeps the original message and ensuring consistent optimization across different language versions of the site. Plus, effective multilingual SEO involves careful planning and execution to optimize a website's search visibility for various languages and regions without diluting the brand's global authority. Best practices like localized content, proper hreflang tag usage, and responsive design should be used because they can significantly enhance the SEO performance of multi-language sites.

    Keyword Research for Different Languages

    Utilizing tools that support diverse language databases and understanding the local search behaviors are important when conducting keyword research in multiple languages. Things that must be considered include cultural nuances, idiomatic expressions, and regional preferences. 

    Check out this straightforward example highlighting how specific words differ from one country to another, despite sharing the same language: For instance, the term “soccer” is utilized in the U.S., whereas in most other English-speaking countries, it's referred to as “football.” Similarly, in Australia, individuals may refer to “flip-flops,” whereas in the UK, they are commonly known as “thongs.”

    Identifying relevant keywords for each target market will ensure that the content resonates with the target audience and aligns with their search habits. Collaborating with native speakers or local experts should also provide valuable information about specific language usage and search trends in different regions.

    Creating Quality, Culturally Relevant Content

    Creating content that properly connects with each language's audience involves more than just direct translations. Adapting the content to local contexts, preferences, and cultural sensitivities is what’s needed for effective multilingual SEO. By creating culturally relevant and localized content for each language, user engagement and trust will be improved.

    Metadata Optimization in Multiple Languages 

    Optimizing titles, descriptions, and headers for each language on a multilingual website include language-specific keyword research to ensure relevance and local search intent. Creating unique and compelling titles, descriptions, and headers in each language will improve the SEO and the user experience by providing tailored and linguistically appropriate content for diverse audiences. Hreflang tags that are correctly implemented will signal to search engines the linguistic and regional targeting of each page.

    Americaneagle.com ad for SEO services with a rising graph, Google search bar, and colorful SEO letters.

    Building Authority with Multilingual Link Building

    Link building is a crucial aspect of SEO for multilingual websites because it helps improve their visibility and ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs). By acquiring backlinks from high-quality and relevant websites, multilingual sites will enhance their credibility in the eyes of search engines. By implementing a strategic and sustainable link-building strategy, multilingual sites can improve their overall SEO performance and reach a wider audience.

    Acquiring Language-Specific Backlinks

    There are some proven strategies for gaining backlinks from relevant, language-specific sources. This is crucial for multilingual SEO success. Some effective strategies to acquire these valuable backlinks include guest posting, using Connectively (formerly HARO), a platform that connects journalists with experts for interviews and quotes, local business listings, and content syndication. 

    Localized Outreach and Content Marketing

    Engaging with local influencers, blogs, and forums for link-building in different languages is important as part of local outreach and content marketing. Actively participating in language-specific forums, discussion groups, or social media communities related to your industry and giving helpful answers, insights, and establishing yourself as an authority is great for an effective international SEO strategy.  

    Monitoring and Analyzing Multilingual SEO Performance

    Using SEO tools that provide language-specific tracking capabilities, like keyword ranking and organic traffic metrics for each language, is crucial for effectively monitoring the performance of multilingual websites. Utilizing international SEO techniques like hreflang tags, as we already discussed, can provide valuable insights into the visibility and ranking of multilingual content across different areas.

    Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to Watch

    Tracking language-specific organic traffic, conversion rates, and keyword rankings across different language versions of a website is important when identifying and measuring KPIs specific to multilingual SEO. By reviewing these KPIs, businesses can gather valuable data to help them make informed decisions for multilingual content optimization.

    Utilizing SEO Analytics Tools

    Utilizing tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz can provide excellent insights into backlink profiles, keyword performance, and on-page optimization across different versions of your multilingual website. Leveraging Google Search Console's international targeting features and analyzing language-specific data in Google Analytics can provide valuable information for refining multilingual SEO strategies and improving overall website visibility and performance.

    Common Multilingual SEO Mistakes to Avoid

    There are some frequent errors common in multilingual SEO, including:

    • Using the same URL for all your multilingual web versions
    • Using machine translation
    • Automatically redirecting users to international website without a choice
    • Ignoring foreign market product availability
    • Neglecting to translate "hidden" website content
    • Not conducting individual keyword research for each market
    • Not localizing website content for different countries
    • Not engaging in local link building.
    • Just using direct translation alone

    In multi-language SEO strategies, all of these mistakes can be avoided by following multilingual SEO best practices. Please also note: don’t link to content in different languages internally. It's important to ensure that internal links correspond with the language of the page they're on.

    Incorrect Implementation of Hreflang Tags

    As mentioned, hreflang tags are essential for websites that target multiple languages or regions because they help search engines understand the language and regional variations of your content so users are directed to the most relevant version of your website. However, there are several common errors that can occur when implementing hreflang tags:

    • Not Covering All Language and Regional Variants
    • Incorrect Language Codes
    • Missing Self-Referential Tags

    Here are the most common errors related to language and region codes, along with hreflang tags:

    • Non-standard codes usage: Avoid using non-standard codes, as they can result in improper language or regional targeting.
    • Missing self-referential tags: Ensure each page includes a hreflang tag pointing to itself to maintain proper self-reference.
    • Inconsistency across pages: All pages should consistently reference each other, especially when adding new language variants.
    • Incorrect URLs in tags: Be mindful of pointing hreflang tags to accurate and existing URLs to avoid confusing search engines.
    • Not including all language variants: It's essential to include hreflang tags for all relevant language and regional variants.

    Additionally, these three issues are particularly common:

    • Content conflicts: Ensure the content of a page aligns with its hreflang tag's language or regional targeting.
    • Not updating tags when removing a language: Remove hreflang references to any deleted language version to prevent broken links and indexing issues.
    • Neglecting tags when adding a new language: When introducing a new language version, update all existing pages' hreflang tags to include this new language for proper indexing and user direction.

    Incorrect implementation will provide a poor user experience, cause search engines to provide the wrong version of your site to users and provide an overall negative impact when it comes to your website SEO. To avoid these issues, it's crucial to carefully review your hreflang implementation to ensure that language codes are correct, self-referential tags are included, and all language and regional variations are covered.

    Neglecting Local Search Trends and Keywords

    While many businesses focus on general, high-volume keywords, overlooking region-specific keywords will mean lower search engine rankings, and improper keyword research can lead to missed opportunities to rank (an example being if you’re using a keyword that ranks well in the U.S., but there’s a different keyword for the same thing in Australia).

    Direct Translation of Content without Localization

    Directly translating content from one language to another without considering local context and cultural nuances can lead to several issues that can negatively impact the effectiveness of your strategies and result in irrelevant content, loss of cultural context, and more SEO issues. You must take into account any specific linguistic differences.

    Case Studies and Success Stories

    Here are some real-world examples of businesses successfully implementing multilingual SEO strategies:

    New York City Department of Education

    Americaneagle.com worked with the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) to redevelop their website. NYCDOE is the largest school district in the United States, with 1,800 schools and 135,000 teachers serving 1.1 million students. The site can now be instantly translated into many foreign languages, and NYCDOE content authors can specify which documents should be translated before they appear on the website through an external partnership arranged by Americaneagle.com. Visit the New York City Department of Education case study to learn more. 

    Bandera Electric Cooperative

    Bandera Electric Cooperative (BEC) serves over 27,000 members and 35,000 active meters in Central Texas. Their mission is to provide reliable electric and related services at the lowest cost to enhance the quality of life. BEC partnered with Americaneagle.com to modernize their website for better customer experience and for lead generation. The redesigned site now includes multilingual functionality and an outage/service map for customers. Learn more about this successful multilingual SEO project on our Bandera Electric Cooperative case study page. 

    Close-up of hands typing on laptop keyboard with digital world map network overlay, symbolizing global online connectivity.

    Master Multilingual SEO with Americaneagle.com

    Americaneagle.com's experience and expertise when it comes to navigating the nuances of multilingual SEO is unparalleled. We have over two decades of experience and success in managing multi-language websites for clients in a wide range of industries.

    We’d be happy to discuss our tailored SEO solutions that cater to diverse linguistic markets. Please contact us with any online project you have in mind!

    Multilingual SEO FAQs

    What are the key steps in defining international markets for SEO purposes?

    You may already have an idea of which global markets to target based on non-SEO factors, such as your ability to operate in a specific country, but it's also important to consider SEO metrics to determine which markets offer the highest potential for your business.

    How do you consider multiple languages within a global market for SEO?

    Consider providing content in multiple languages for countries with users speaking different first languages as part of your global SEO strategy. In culturally diverse countries with a single official language, it may be necessary to create international content in multiple languages for accessibility, such as for a website about visas or immigration services.

    What are the pros and cons of different URL structures for international SEO (ccTLDs, subfolders, subdomains)?

    Utilizing country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) can enhance international SEO by signaling to search engines the specific country targeting, but it may require separate link building and maintenance efforts. Subfolders are beneficial for consolidating all link equity into a single domain, aiding overall domain authority, while subdomains offer flexibility but may dilute the domain's authority across different language versions, impacting SEO performance.

    How does a content delivery network (CDN) benefit international SEO?

    Slow site loading from abroad can impact international SEO rankings. If you use a ccTLD or subfolder URL structure with localized hosting for each site, it's likely that your content will load fast in foreign markets. However, if you serve users in multiple countries from one international website, it's crucial to implement a content delivery network (CDN).

    What is the importance of keyword research for each foreign market in international SEO?

    Keyword research for each foreign market in international SEO is crucial for understanding the unique search behavior and language nuances of target audiences, enabling the creation of culturally relevant and high-performing content.

    Why is it recommended to use one language per page in a multilingual website?

    It’s important to use only one language per page. This means creating a separate web page for each additional language you want to target with your content. It is not advisable to dynamically translate copy on the same URL. Google suggests using dedicated URLs, as this enables its crawlers to effectively find, read, and index all variations of your content.

    What are the best practices for internal linking in a multilingual website?

    When implementing internal linking in a multilingual website, it's crucial to use consistent anchor text, focus on editorially placed internal links that make sense in content, and prioritize quality over quantity to enhance SEO performance.

    How do you properly implement hreflang tags for international SEO?

    To properly implement hreflang tags for international SEO, follow these steps: Identify language and region, add Hreflang tags to HTML, include return links, use canonical tags, and test and monitor.

    Why should you avoid redirecting users based on their IP address or cookies?

    IP addresses and cookies are not always reliable indicators of a user's location or preferences. Search engines may not be able to access the different versions of the page because they would become redirected themselves.

    What are the strategies for building a backlink profile in target countries?

    To build a strong backlink profile in target countries, it's essential to engage in outreach to local websites and influencers, create high-quality, localized content that naturally attracts backlinks, and leverage partnerships with local businesses or organizations to earn relevant and authoritative links within the target market.


    About Author

    Shawn Griffin
    Shawn has been with Americaneagle.com since 1999 in a variety of roles. Currently, Shawn is part of our digital marketing and content team. In addition to editing and producing written company pieces, he produces copy for clients and he also helps to produce our radio and TV spots. He wants to make sure everybody knows that it’s truly a collaborative effort – between many, including the people he’s worked for during the past 20+ years!


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