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Posted 11th June 2024

Don’t Get Lost in Translation: Best Practices for Multilingual SEO

The right approach to SEO across all your target languages doesn’t just help the search engines find and index your website and content – it empowers your international audiences to discover and engage with your brand in their native languages, letting you maximise your reach while building trust with global audiences.

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don’t get lost in translation: best practices for multilingual seo.


Don’t Get Lost in Translation: Best Practices for Multilingual SEO
multilingual SEO

By Sam Martin-Ross, UK Managing Director of digital marketing agency, Eskimoz.

Building an effective search engine optimisation strategy can be a daunting task, particularly if that strategy needs to be deployed across multiple languages.

The right approach to SEO across all your target languages doesn’t just help the search engines find and index your website and content – it empowers your international audiences to discover and engage with your brand in their native languages, letting you maximise your reach while building trust with global audiences.

URL Structure

Google wants to promote content in the preferred language of the user. To do this, it indexes websites based on the URL structure, allowing it to serve up relevant content in various languages. Given this, it’s important to ensure you are using dedicated URLs for each language or country you are targeting, allowing the search engine to crawl, index and rank your webpages more effectively.

There are a few different ways of achieving this through your URL structure. The first is a Multi Domain Strategy, involving implementing one domain per language you are targeting. Here, you might use ‘.fr’ for your French-language pages and ‘.de’ for German-language ones.

Another option is using a subdirectory, allowing you to centralise your hosting on a single multilingual website by using subdirectories for each language. Alternatively, you might opt for a subdomain strategy, which uses a language tag before other elements of the URL structure.

Hreflang Tags

Another crucial technical element of your multilingual SEO strategy should be hreflang tags. These are an important HTML attribute that enable you to specify the language and geographical targeting of your webpages. Google uses these to determine not only the language of a particular webpage, but also the region it is intended for, and understand what pages are different language variations of each other. In practical terms, getting hreflang tags right is the difference between Google showing the French version of your website to French-speakers and your German version to German-speakers. They are also useful for localised versions of a website, for example, US English vs. UK English.

Depending on the number of languages or regions you are targeting, getting your hreflang tags right can become a rather complicated process, however, there are various plugins available that help to streamline and automate this process, such as WPML, which is especially useful for keeping hreflang tags up to date as your website grows over time.

Keyword Localisation

Keywords are the backbone of any SEO strategy, but can become rather tricky when dealing with multiple languages. It’s important to bear in mind that keywords are not universal (sometimes even when dealing with the same language across different regions!), so solid research is crucial to ensuring your keywords are targeting what you intend them to.

A good start is determining your most effective keywords for the primary language of your content, as this will give you a starting point for each of your other target languages. However, it’s important to recognise that merely translating your keywords is not enough, as it may not always be possible to directly translate your most popular keywords, or a direct translation may convey an entirely different meaning to the one intended.

A multilingual approach to keywords requires ensuring the meaning and targeting are being optimally conveyed through sufficient localisation, that is, taking into account the nuances, syntax, grammar and user behaviour associated with your target languages.

Content Localisation

While creating multilingual websites and content might appear as easy as simply lifting your original content and translating it into your target language, in practice, ensuring that content ranks well and engages your target audience requires a much deeper approach.

As with keywords, localisation of content means substantially adapting it to conform to the linguistic and cultural norms and customs of your target languages. This not only creates a more impactful experience for your users, but boosts your rankings in the search results, allowing you to build stronger connection and engagement with international audiences.

Native speakers and locals for the regions you want to target are of course a natural choice for this task, but it’s also important to bear in mind that truly effective multilingual SEO also requires several interconnected skillsets. Those that not only speak your target language at the native level, but also have good insight into those markets and consumer behaviours, as well as more general marketing and SEO expertise are more able to apply this knowledge to search intention, content, keywords and wider technical concerns.

Final thoughts

Driving engagement with diverse international audiences through an effective SEO strategy is a cornerstone of multilingual marketing, in practice, however, it can be a rather complex undertaking.

Investing in high-quality translation and localisation while balancing and integrating them with the technical aspects with content and keywords are key to building your presence, engagement and discoverability in international markets.

Categories: Business Advice, News


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