What is Multilingual SEO?

Jun 30, 2022

Rebecca Nguyen

Expanding your website or online business to international markets requires extra time, attention, and resources. One of the most crucial components of these efforts is multilingual SEO. 

When your site effectively uses multilingual SEO, foreign searchers can find it quickly and help make your business successful even in other countries. In this article, we'll take a closer look at what multilingual SEO is, how to incorporate it into your website, and how your site can benefit from it.

What is Multilingual SEO?

Basically, it means optimizing your website and its content for different languages and locations. It makes it easier for users in other countries, who speak other languages, to find your website. Only about 20% of the world’s population speaks English, so opening your website to various languages and regions helps broaden your reach.

For example, if you have an online business with a website written in English and want to grow your sales by expanding into another country, you may decide to translate your site into French and create a French version of your website. 

Targeting a language in this way can be effective since many languages are spoken around the world, not just in single countries. Constructing a French site gives you access not only to France but to areas of Canada, Africa, and the Caribbean, too. 

However, the process of broadening your site with pages in several languages can become complicated and expensive. That's why developing and tracking your SEO strategy is essential to your site's success.

Developing a Multilingual SEO Strategy

Let's discuss how to do multilingual SEO so that you can take advantage of it for your business. First, you will need to determine if there is an international market for your product or service. The dedication and resources required of multilingual SEO won't be worth it if there's not a ready audience for your site.

After you finish your research, it's wise to choose only one or two to start with since expanding into international markets takes considerable time and dedication.

Next, you'll have to decide whether you want to concentrate your efforts on specific regions, countries, languages, or all three. Regions are the most challenging to target because they include multiple countries and languages. Countries and languages are much more popular options for beginning a multilingual SEO strategy.

Once you get these fundamental considerations out of the way, you will have to focus on content, domains, and hreflang tags.


Unfortunately, creating content for multilingual SEO isn't as easy as uploading all of your previous work to Google Translate. 

Like you did when you generated content for your original site, you will have to research the keywords used in the languages and countries you have chosen for your expansion. Your new content needs to be adapted and formulated for this fresh audience.

Of course, you will need to do some translation of your original content, too. This process can be difficult because of the intricacies of language and idiomatic expressions. 

While translation machines and programs do a better job than they used to, the best option is still a native speaker of the target language who knows how to avoid awkward translations that can make your copy sound clunky.

Domain and URL

You have several choices in terms of domain and URL for your multilingual sites. The one you choose depends on multiple factors, including your resources, the size of your business, and the goals you have for your website.

You have four domain options:

  • A country code Top-Level Domain, or ccTLD, is the best choice for local rankings, but it can be expensive and, because it's an independent domain, it competes with your original site for rankings. This option works well for large companies with established brands. The URL would look like this: example.de.

  • A subdirectory is a subfolder of your original domain that stores your international content. This choice is smart for those targeting new markets by language. The URL would be example.com/de.

  • A different domain is a less costly choice, though it has many drawbacks, including poor local ranking abilities and competing with your other site.

  • A subdomain, like de.example.com, doesn't demand as much maintenance as other options, but there can be flow issues between domains.

Hreflang Tags

There is perhaps no more critical component to your multilingual SEO strategy than hreflang tags. These tags let search engines know that your site has pages created for multiple languages. Without these, search engines may lower your website in their rankings, believing the pages to be duplicate content. 

Hreflang tags also help search engines direct users to the correct sites based on the language they want.

Cultural Considerations

One potential complication of multilingual SEO is the cultural differences that exist between countries. Being aware of a culture's principles, beliefs, and mores helps customize the site for those audiences. This customization is also known as localization

Certain colors, images, and symbols have different meanings from one culture to another. Using these correctly allows you to avoid offending someone and builds trust with searchers. If you use human translators to help you convert your site, they can also help you navigate these nuances.

You may also want to consider adding a language tab to your site where visitors can see which languages your site offers and select their native tongue. To give your site a professional edge, you can include a range of currencies that coincide with the target language, as well.

Benefits of Multilingual SEO

The most apparent advantage of utilizing multilingual SEO is the potential to reach a greater audience, which means gaining access to more customers. While users of your site are probably similar in many ways, even across languages and countries, offering a site in someone's native tongue builds trust and enhances the user experience.

When visitors enjoy your website, they'll spend more time exploring it and are more likely to make a purchase or fill out a form, leading to an improved conversion rate. An increased conversion rate will provide a boost to your site's SEO.

As long as you're doing multilingual SEO the right way, you can increase your audience, expand your business, and improve your rankings in other countries and languages.

Wrapping Up

To expand your business effectively, you'll need an understanding of multilingual SEO. This process optimizes your website for multiple languages and countries so that customers worldwide can find your site. To take full advantage, you'll need to develop a comprehensive strategy.

After you determine which markets to expand into and how to target them, you can turn your focus to the content of your site, your domain and URL, and implementing hreflang tags. Adapting your content to match your new audience requires keyword research, fresh content created specifically for this audience, and a localized translation of your original content.

Choosing the best domain for your site will help searchers find you, as will the hreflang tags that allow search engines to recognize your pages as targeted for different languages. Search engines will then index your pages properly instead of marking them as a duplicate content. 

Even though this process sounds complicated, the benefits are worth the time. Because users are searching in their native languages, search engines will seek out sites in those languages. In this way, when you optimize your site with multilingual SEO, you can reach a greater audience, enhance your business, and rank highly all over the world.