What is Multilingual SEO?

13 August 2021
by Archie Williamson
5 mins
What is Multilingual SEO?

Multilingual SEO is the practice of optimising a website for different languages to rank in international search engines and to help people in overseas countries find the right content.

Expanding into new markets is an exciting time for a business but taking your products and services global brings with it fresh challenges, not least the need for customers to understand your website. If everything is just optimised for search engines in English-speaking countries, you will struggle to meet the needs of people abroad.

Multilingual SEO is essential if you want to operate in multiple geographic regions then. Translating content into new languages, optimising web pages and tailoring the experience for each different market will give you a much better chance of converting clicks and driving sales.

Where is the best place to start?

Content creation

You will need to create new content or adapt existing articles, blogs and product pages for international sites. And this content must be just as engaging, insightful and well-researched as English language content. Taking advantage of content marketing services can fill the skill gap here if you don’t have any creative experts for each different language available in-house.

As you will still be crafting content with SEO in mind – this time for international search engines – you should come up with a list of relevant keywords that can be targeted in a new language. Keyword research should not just be transported over from your English SEO campaigns, or any words merely translated as they can often have different meanings in other languages.

By working with native speakers of foreign languages, you will be able to produce content that takes cultural and linguistic factors into account. While the language is different, Google search still works in the same way. That means high quality content that solves pain points and offers value will be the most appealing for audiences and more likely to rank at the top of SERPs.

Domain structure

The hierarchy and structure of a website is also critical for multilingual SEO as Google takes cues from these technical factors to better understand your content and then serve it to users in search. The most important for international business is the domain structure. The three types you can choose from are:

  • Country codes or ‘ccTLDs’ such as example.de
  • Subdirectories such as example.com/de
  • Subdomains such as de.example.com

There are pros and cons to each of these domain structures. Using ccTLDs is arguably the best structure but there is a major downside that it will essentially operate as an independent domain and require considerable effort and resources to maintain.

In its own guidance, 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.”

Because domain structure goes beyond just SEO, this is something you need to consider carefully with IT and higher ups as the right decision will depend on the size of your business and marketing department.


One issue that can emerge with multilingual SEO is duplicate content as you will be publishing similar content across multiple pages. These pages can then compete against each other in search, which can have a negative impact on rankings. This is more of a problem when you are publishing content in the same language for two different regions, like the US and UK.

However, it should also be a consideration when crafting content in different languages. Fortunately, you can use ‘hreflang’ tags to markup content. This will tell Google what content you want to show to a particular audience in search engines. Hreflang code prevents pages from competing against each other and potentially reducing your visibility.

On-page elements

It is also a good idea to mix up the meta information that you include on each of your pages, even if the content covers similar topics and themes. While a title and meta description might work well for a UK audience, it may need some tweaking for another language or region.

The same is true for keywords, H1, H2 and H3 tags, images and internal links. These are elements that an international SEO agency will be able to create and optimise for you so your content is unique and tailored for a local audience in another country. By outsourcing SEO, you can improve your domestic search performance and lay the groundwork for success as you grow and expand into new markets. 

User IP detection

Another technical change that can improve multilingual SEO is implementing user agent and IP location detection to serve content to users based on where they are located and the device they are using. According to Search Engine Land, using both of these forms of detection can have a positive impact on key metrics such as bounce rates and conversions.

Page experience

Finally, with Google now placing a greater emphasis on the page experience, you should consider how your site can be optimised to make it easier for people to find and enjoy content. Factors like excellent internal linking, fast loading pages, and intuitive navigation can all contribute to a better experience in the same way as they do for your English language pages.

And a better overall experience will then lead into better performance in search as your content is more likely to be deemed relevant, useful and high quality by Google. With multilingual SEO, you should always be looking at ways to improve how content is matched to a user’s demographic and then delivering on a memorable experience.

It can be difficult to switch from a traditional SEO strategy that only takes a single location into account to one that covers multiple languages and regions, especially if expansion is putting additional pressure on your business.

If you contact us today, you can start to overhaul your SEO and improve your search rankings both at home and in international markets. We offer a range of content-driven services that can increase your visibility in search, drive more traffic to your most important pages, and then retain the interest of visitors in order to convert.


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