Having an international target audience can raise a few interesting SEO questions that will impact the structure of your website. Learn the best ways to approach SEO for a multi-language website.
Table of contents:
- How to Do SEO for a Multi-Language Website
- Where to Start with Multilingual SEO Planning
- Creating Multiple Language Versions Of Content
- Why is Multi-language Website SEO Important?
Knowing, how to do multi-language seo is very important. Having a stunning and engaging website is excellent, but it won’t mean anything if it is only available in a language the audience can’t understand. By adding multi-language variations to your website, you can open your site to a whole new audience and grow your organic traffic from search engines.
But, multi-language SEO is incredibly complex, and there are a few common issues that can occur if this type of project is not planned and executed correctly. This multilanguage SEO guide will detail how to handle it and explain the best ways to structure the content for different languages on your website. While multi-language SEO may require a bit of planning and come with a few extra steps, it can give you a leg up on your competition!
How to do SEO for a Multi-Language Website
Multilingual SEO is focused on optimizing your website’s content and technical performance so that it can appear in the search results for users of multiple languages. The benefit of multi-language SEO targeting is pretty simple: adding more languages to your website significantly increases your target audience. While English is the 3rd most popular language online, having the ability for your international visitors to consume your content in their native language offers excellent growth potential.
Targeting your audiences with their preferred language makes it easier to address their needs and account for any language or communication differences. Three typical scenarios lead a website to create multiple location variations for its content.
- A website is serving users from the same country that speak multiple languages. Ex: Canadian website serving content in English and French.
- A website is serving users that speak multiple languages without differentiation based on their location. Ex: A global website serving content in French, Spanish, and English without modifications based on their location.
- A website is serving users that speak multiple languages while serving unique content based on their locations. Ex: a global website that serves English and French-speaking users in Canada different content than French speakers in France and English speakers in the United States.
Determining which of these situations best matches your company is crucial to planning and implementing a larger search engine optimization strategy. Generally, if there isn’t a particular reason to show different content to different locations, it is easier to focus on language-specific content rather than language- and country-specific content.
Multi-Language vs. Multi-Location SEO
Combining international and multilingual SEO targeting makes the process even more complicated. The crossover between multiple languages with multiple countries can result in overlapping content that makes the whole project feel like it is tied up in knots.
That’s why one of the first things to consider when you think about how to do multilanguage SEO is how your website will target multiple languages within multiple countries or if it will focus on just a single nation with multilingual speakers. This is critical because it allows you to layout the entire website architecture before executing the SEO plan.
Where to Start with Multilingual SEO Planning
Multi-language SEO can be incredibly complex, in most cases, it is best to work with an experienced SEO company to make sure that your website is developed correctly from the start. The goal of multi-language SEO is to send a clear signal to search engines about what content should be shown on search results and the intended audience of that page.
First, let’s quickly address some overarching questions, and then throughout this multilanguage SEO guide, we will expand on the concepts that provide our quick answers.
- Can a website rank at the top of Google for searches in multiple languages? Yes
- Are there different ways to structure your company’s site to make it easier to handle multiple languages? Yes
- Is there a way to signal to Google which pages are for which language? Yes
As with any SEO campaign, there are many different elements to optimizing a multi-language website and ranking well. Likewise, there are many aspects to juggle, from translating content to ensuring that your pages aren’t competing with themselves for ranking.
There are various practical approaches and tactics, so, unfortunately, it isn’t possible to cover everything within this guide. If you want to learn more, you can schedule a free SEO consultation with Delante’s SEO experts to get personalized recommendations for creating or updating your multi-language website.
Deciding on URL Structure
Google says, “It’s difficult to determine geotargeting 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.”
Therefore, if you can map out a consistent website architecture and URL structure first, the rest of the multi-language SEO project will be much easier
Below are the three most effective ways to design your URL structure for a multi-language and/or multi-location website:
1. Top-Level Domains (Ex: https://example.fr)
This type of URL structure is based on using individual top-level domains for targeting different audiences (including using ccTLDs which are top-level domains reserved typically for a typical country).
The company could purchase the .fr domain for targeting French-speaking users in France and .uk for English-speaking users in England, .de for German-speaking users in Germany and .us for English-speaking users in the United States.
This approach allows for greater flexibility and control but doesn’t provide shared authority across all domains. While selecting specific country-level domains is effective for international targeting based on region, the website still needs to take further steps to indicate to Google the appropriate languages for users and how the different domains connect or overlap for similar content. Plus, from an SEO and analytics tracking perspective, things can get very messy when you have multiple top-level domains.
2. Subdirectories (Ex: https://example.com/fr/)
This URL structure serves as a way to make URLs unique within your existing sitemap while having the ability to serve different markets and languages from your domain. Subdirectories serve as pathways within the folder structure of your website.
While subdomains are treated separately from your primary domain, subdirectories are extensions of your site’s domain. Each of the subdirectories can efficiently pass the ranking potential of links from one directory or folder structure to the others. This makes this the ideal option in most cases for efficiently managing SEO for targeting regions/countries, languages, or both.
3. Subdomains (e.g. https://fr.example.com)
Subdomains serve as a way to organize your site to establish different content types that are separate from your root domain. However, this option is not as popular because the authority and trust benefits from external links are not passed to the different subdomains as efficiently compared to subdirectories.
Below you can see the pros and cons for each of these primary URL structure options listed in the Google Search Console Advanced SEO User Guidelines.
Note: Regardless of the URL structure chosen, incorrectly structuring your multi-location and multilingual SEO can result in ranking issues across the entire portfolio of content and websites.
Creating Multiple Language Versions of Content
Once the site architecture and URL structure are settled, many marketers find the next step in multilingual SEO is creating a dedicated URL for each page of new language-specific content on the website. A dedicated URL for your translated page can tell search engines that the page corresponds with a specific language so that it knows how to handle the duplicate versions and which one should be shown within search results for different language speakers.
While not all duplicate content is detrimental, it does force Google and other search engines to choose which page is the best fit, and Google can choose a page that will provide a worse user experience. Plus, if the content is maliciously duplicated or copied, it is possible to receive a penalty for excessive duplicate content as a worst-case scenario.
Note: Google doesn’t recommend setting up automatic redirects based on a user’s perceived language. Instead, Google guidelines recommend offering on-page links to allow users the option of switching to a different language if you are using dedicated URLs to differentiate the content by language. However, if you include these on-page links, remember that flags do not represent languages; rather, the flags only represent nations. So, please try to avoid using flag icons next to the language links.
The next thing we will discuss in this multilanguage SEO guide is creating and translating content for different website versions, so if you’re wondering how to deal with this problem, keep on reading!
Translating Content vs. Creating New Content
Creating new website content in another language can be quite challenging if it isn’t your primary language. If you want to write this content internally, the content must be created or translated by someone fluent in both languages.
When it comes to making sure that the new language variations are still high-quality content, you can’t simply use Google Translate or another AI translation app. There are too many errors and different grammar changes between languages to use these tools on a large scale. Instead, it would be best to work with a writer who can take these differences into account and make informed decisions on the translations.
Rather than translating your existing content, you also have the option to create new content from scratch for each location variation. This may take longer and require more work, but it may be a long-term benefit if there are substantial cultural or language differences. To save money, it may be worthwhile to consider hiring a freelancer to help in the content writing and review process.
In addition to translating the on-page content, it is crucial to translate and update your page metadata with any multi-language website, such as titles and meta descriptions.
Regardless of your route for creating language-specific content, it is essential not to mix different languages on the same page. Having part of the page content in one language and part of the content in another can cause confusion and frustration for users. This split-language issue often happens on websites where only the main content is translated, but the header, footer, sidebar, or user comment section remains in the original language. Many website plug-ins can help translate user-generated content for forums and comment sections.
Using Hreflang Tags
It is essential to make it as easy as possible for Google to understand the content on your website and the text’s language. While Google can see the visible content on the page and use it to determine the language, it is much more effective to use proper meta tags to tell Google the intended language of the page.
Adding Hreflang tags to your website is the best way to tell search engines how to distinguish which dedicated URLs are the appropriate page for each language option on the website. Therefore, proper technical SEO implementation of this tag is critical to differentiating pages with different languages, regional content variations, and a combination of language and regional variations.
The Hreflang tag can be added to a website using link elements in the <head> of the page, HTTP headers, or an XML Sitemap. The input value of the Hreflang tag should use the (in ISO 639-1 format) and optionally a region (in ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 format).
- de: German language content, independent of region
- en-GB: English language content, for Great Britain users
- de-ES: German language content, for users in Spain
Note: It is possible to add location targeting on the country level through Google Search Console. However, Google does not recommend using this geotargeting feature if the same pages on your site target more than a single country, as it might limit the reach of your content in search results for the non-selected locations.
Another consideration to keep in mind is that for competitive searches, simply having page content translated into other languages may not be enough to be successful in multilingual SEO. Different keywords and phrases from the original language may not match up correctly in the new language, which means your content may not match the way users are searching.
To make sure your multilingual content is effective, it is essential to conduct keyword research within your new target market’s language.
Why is Multi-language Website SEO Important?
Now you know, how to do multilanguage SEO. But why is it even important? The addition of well-executed, multi-language SEO tactics can further the reach of your website and allow it to connect with a new target audience. This new audience unlocks increased visibility and accessibility and can open a new revenue stream for your company. However, mistakes caused by incorrectly implementing multi-language SEO and technical updates can cost time, money and create roadblocks on the path to your larger SEO goals.
In conclusion, multi-language SEO may come with a few more hurdles than traditional SEO, but the expanded reach of your site’s content could be worth it. So, get started with your multilingual SEO campaign today with the help of Delante’s website services. Our multilingual SEO experts can help you stay ahead of your competition and quickly adjust to the constant changes in the search landscape.