Ready for website localization? 5 multilingual SEO tips to get started


So you have a successful, optimized website. It ranks high in search engines for multiple keywords in your home country, and audiences are flooding in. That’s great! But you notice that traffic numbers are lower than you want for your international audiences. Why is this happening? What may be missing is website translation coupled with a strong multilingual SEO strategy.


1. Align keywords to target locales—and put them in your metadata

With website localization, it’s important to think about multilingual SEO (MSEO) right away. It’s not enough to simply translate your website’s current keywords. Your various audiences may search for your products or services using different terminology than what a simple direct translation of your keywords can provide. You’ll want to cater to those searches appropriately.

When thinking about your translated website, work with your translation team to identify keywords that resonate in each of your target locales. Using a translation team native to the target market you are researching is paramount. Once you have a solid list of terms, weave them throughout your Web copy and put them in your metadata as well—your website’s description and keyword metatags.

2. Use a domain and URL structure that will direct traffic appropriately 

Because it’s difficult to determine geotargeting on a page by page basis, you will want to consider using a URL structure that makes it easy to segment parts of your website for geotargeting. You have a few options here based upon your overall web needs and business goals.

A country code top-level domain (ccTLD) is simply the domain suffix that associates a website with a geographical area—such as .fr or .uk. With this domain structure, an international company would purchase country-specific domains for every country they operate in before or during the website localization process. This is perhaps the most effective way of optimizing a website for an international audience to make sure it gets found by the right people.

You see, this domain structure clearly indicates that these websites are meant for various countries (and audiences understand these country-specific suffixes). Because of that, search engines rank these sites better for audiences in those countries. Though, it must be considered that if you go with this domain structure, it’s not without its challenges and can get tricky from an SEO management and analytics tracking perspective.

More recently, search engines (and their accompanying algorithms) have been getting smarter. An argument can be made for implementing subdomains or directories. There are many generic top-level domains (gTLD) that can still be geotargeted, yet allow for easy build-out of multilingual “sites.” In this instance you would purchase one non-country-specific domain, which hosts all the different (multilingual) versions of your website.

Subdomains with gTLDs, e.g.,, etc., are easy to set up, allow for different server locations and make for easy separation of sites. Even if it might be harder for users to recognize geotargeting from the URL alone (i.e. is “de” the language or country?), this option serves those with limited time and resources.

Subdirectories with gTDLs, e.g.,, etc., are, like subdomains, are easy to set up. Plus, updating and maintaining your site in this option is easier to handle too. There is an argument in favor of using subdirectories (aka subfolders) over subdomains and gTLDs as it allows the site to benefit from existing ranking achieved on the source domain. While this is less significant with recent changes in Google’s algorithms, it’s worth investigation for your organization’s localization strategy.

Regardless of which option you implement, your domain and URL structure will influence how you develop and manage your multilingual SEO strategy moving forward.

3. Kick your multilingual SEO up a notch with Webmaster resources

Many companies use Google Search Console to help monitor their website’s analytics. Perhaps you do, too. When looking at optimizing international websites, this tool has an added bonus for multilingual SEO. You have the ability to target websites by location. What this means is that you’re able to go into the dashboard and select a target location for your website. This tells search engines that your website is intended for a certain region, which then helps Google prioritize the site for that country.

A downside of this is that it can sometimes be a bit more manual if operating from a global .com domain instead of a country code top level domain—but not impossible!

Search engines will recognize and rank gTLDs as long as you’re taking the proper steps to 1) set up geographic targeting (in Google Webmaster this is done with the Set Geographic Target tool) and 2) maintaining a strong SEO strategy with well-written content.

4. Avoid duplicate content penalties with the hreflang attribute

In your multilingual SEO efforts, you will probably come across the hreflang tag. But what is it? Quite simply, it’s an attribute or tag that was created by Google to tell its algorithm that “this page is translated to a specific language” and should therefore be prioritized. This is more effective not for differentiating by country but for regionalizing.

For example, let’s say you have separate sites for the UK and the US. Even if the content is extremely similar, the pages are tagged with the appropriate language attribute, which boosts their rankings on country-specific search engines. This helps to avoid duplicate content penalty because Google recognizes you don’t have duplicate pages on your site, but rather optimized pages for users in different regions and languages. This tag (in combination with the other three strategies covered here) also allows Google to guide Web surfers to the right version of your website.

5. Server location and page speed matter

The speed of your site matters. Make sure that it’s optimized for as fast a page load as possible. When it comes to target markets it can also be a benefit to make sure your site is hosted on a server or content distribution network (CDN) with a location close to your foreign audience. This ensures that page loads are faster and search engines reward this metric.

Leave the translating to the experts

Lastly, website localization should be done by experts. Under no circumstances should free translation tools found on the Internet be used.
After all, your website is your storefront to world. You want to ensure that your translations are accurate and of high quality—something that cannot, I repeat, cannot be accomplished with those free translation tools.

Still have questions? I’d be happy to chat about MSEO and website translation! Reach me through the comments below or send me a note through our website contact form.