A Complete Guide to Multilingual SEO

multilingual seo

When targeting global markets, you want to make it easy for users of diverse languages to get the right version of your website via Google.

In summary, you have to publish only accurately translated, SEO optimized pages and also make sure they are available to the appropriate users. In this blog post, you will have a brief look at the best methods in multilingual SEO, which will help you reach out to new audiences.

What is multilingual SEO?

First of all, it’s necessary to define the distinction between multiregional and multilingual SEO. The first one refers to SEO methods that optimize a website for visitors in various geographical zones. The latter, which is the main subject of this blog post, relates to the manner of optimizing a website that is available in many languages. Nevertheless, we will briefly touch on multiregional SEO as well, since the two methods are usually used together.

Let’s have a look at what you must take into account when implementing multilingual Search engine optimization.

Choose your URL carefully

The structure of a multilingual URL has to be translated in the initial steps of your SEO plan.

What are your alternatives?

There are three approaches you can take when structuring a multilingual URL:

· Use sub-directories
· Use country-code top-level domains
· Use subdomains

Each of these approaches has associations concerning SEO advantages, price, influence on the local brand, maintenance, and web hosting. Let’s have a look at every path, evaluating their pros and cons.

Sometimes, targeting a particular region will be the same as targeting a particular language – but not always. For example, there are English speakers everywhere, so if you need to reach people in the English language, it will not make sense to target only American or UK users.

1. Country-code top-level domain names (ccTLDs)

ccTLDs are two-letter codes that show search engines and visitors where the site was registered. For example, Google owns google.fr and google.de, which are targeted to users in France and Germany respectively.

On the positive side, this method allows clear geo-targeting and makes it easy to distribute your sites, which means you don’t need to bother with where your hosting servers are located. Most visitors will be able to recognize just by looking at the URL – whether they are your designated readers.

For SEO purposes, utilizing a ccTLD is the most powerful way of allowing search engines to know, that your content is created for people living in a certain area, rather than people speaking a particular language. This implies that your content will show up in SERPs appropriate to the region.

On the other hand, however, registering many ccTLDs and hosting many sites can be costly. Moreover, not all ccTLDs could be available, which can cause confusion if visitors think that you own a ccTLD for every country in which you run your business.

Before registering a domain name, check local regulations to ensure you are allowed to do so. In some states, you will need to have a private or company residence address in the area. xxx

Using ccTLDs is also somewhat high-maintenance strategy since you will have to maintain many websites. Lastly, because your websites will be separated from one another, you will need to create content and authority from scratch for each domain.

Nevertheless, the most significant thing to keep in mind is that a ccTLD isn’t suitable if you only plan to target by language, not by country. It is best kept for businesses who are making fresh content that is tailored for a different country.

2. Subdomains with local generic top-level domain names (gTLDs)

Alternatively, you may inject the relevant two-letter code into your top-level domain to form a subdomain. This will solve availability concerns. For example, au.site.com and fr.site.com would target Australian and French visitors respectively.

As with ccTLDs, this strategy makes it easy to create separate websites for each of your destination areas. You can manage web hosting servers in different places, and subdomains, generally speaking, are easy to set up. Google’s Webmaster Tools allows you to target particular geographic regions.

On the flip side, your guests may find subdomains more complicated than ccTLDs. For instance, they might be uncertain whether the letters point to a country or a language. From an SEO viewpoint, gTLDs send a weaker sign to Google and other search engines.

3. Sub-directories with gTLDs

The third alternative is to build a website that contains various sub-directories. For example, if you needed to target users in France, you will create sitename.com/fr/. It’s simple to set up different sub-directories, and you can adopt Google’s Webmaster tools for geotargeting. Furthermore, it’s a low-maintenance alternative since you will use only one hosting provider.

From an SEO perspective, this method has a major benefit – it allows you to combine your domain authority (DA). You can, consequently, benefit from the SEO work you have put into your current website. It’s also very easy to start adding new content in different languages if you decide to do so in the future.

On the other hand, this method binds you to one server location. Moreover, it needs more time and works to separate your websites. Furthermore, same as with gTLDs, visitors might not acknowledge the target region simply by looking at your URL.

Sometimes, depending on the volume of your business and the area in which you are operating, it may be essential to diversify your tactics. You can learn more about this in the case studies below.

How do large businesses structure their multilingual URLs?

To see how these methods operate in practice, let’s have a look at two examples: NIVEA and Philips. These companies demonstrate that structuring multilingual URLs demands a flexible strategy.

Case study #1: NIVEA

NIVEA is a global cosmetics corporation that runs in nearly 100 countries. When visiting nivea.com, you are asked to choose a local website by clicking on the name of the country. Their homepage lists every country in the local language and the English version, if suitable.

When you select “China,” you are led to nivea.com.cn, a subdomain that is composed in Chinese. NIVEA also uses sub-domains for several other global sites. In other cases, they use ccTLDs. For instance, their German URL is nivea.de.

When it comes to Canada, NIVEA has chosen to use sub-directories that drill down ever further deep – this allows them to present their website in 2 languages. The French variation is nivea.ca/fr-ca/, whereas the English version is accessible at nivea.ca/en-ca.

Case study #2: Philips

Philips is an international electronics corporation, and their homepage is philips.com/global. This subdirectory page is the international English variant of their site. When you scroll to the bottom of the website, you will be presented with the possibility to pick a different country or language.

Clicking on this link will take you to a page comparable to NIVEA’s navigation page. Nevertheless, unlike NIVEA, they list the language of each site next to its link. For instance, “French” is listed next to “France,” and “English” is next to “USA.” This makes the website more convenient for multilingual speakers.

Same as NIVEA, Philips arranges their multilingual URLs in many different ways. For example, their Mexican site is philips.com.mx – a subdomain. But, their Italian website is philips.it. Same as NIVEA, they offer French & English variants of their Canadian website, but the root domain – philips.ca – is the same.

Harness the power of hreflang

Adding pages containing similar content, even if every version is in another language, can damage your rankings. The pages will eventually end up in conflict with each other. Consequently, the ranking of every page will drop down.

You can bypass this obstacle by utilizing hreflang tags. These tags are a kind of markup that corresponds with a search engine, telling it which version of your page should be displayed to a visitor. They can be used to differentiate between web pages tailored to various countries, pages written in several languages, or a hybrid of both.

For example, hreflang tags can be utilized to differentiate between French or English content on the Canadian site. The tags protect your rankings by indicating to Google that you have deliberately created copies of your content, but every copy is purposely optimized for a separate group of people. Hreflang is a complicated subject, but you can check out this in-depth tutorial.

How to utilize keywords in multilingual SEO?

Keyword research is an indispensable weapon in any SEO plan, and it is particularly important in multilingual SEO. When creating content in a different language, use a popular keyword tool such as Moz to examine the new language. In the best case scenario, you will see both short and long-tail keywords that have a low level of competition yet constant high search volume.

Bear in mind that you must combine keywords into your backlinks together with your ongoing SEO strategy. This is called “off-site SEO.” As soon as you have obtained your ideal keywords, you can add the version in a different language or optimize your content throughout the translating process.

Both options will work fine. Don’t overlook the ALT tags, which too should be optimized, internal links, and other on-page factors besides the text. To help you stay organized, create a spreadsheet of your keywords in English and their corresponding translation in the targeted language.

When you are building backlinks, submit the content to websites written in the right language. Google may penalize you if you try and outplay the system, for instance by writing an article in French with English anchor text.

Why should you vary site’s content by language & region?

In no way, you may you translate pages with no respect for the social norms and sensitivity of your target group. Concepts, metaphors, and symbolism may bear different meanings in other nations, and references to pop culture or governments may not translate well. If you are in doubt, always work closely with a translator that is well-versed in your target language and the demands of those who speak it.

Should Avoid Using URL Parameters to Show the Language?

A URL parameter is the element of a website address that appears after an equals sign, an ampersand, or different attribute. URL parameters can, theoretically, be used to control multilingual sites.

By using a query string parameter that ends in a two-letter language code, you can send a user to the tailored content. For example, “site.com?lang=fr” can be utilized to direct a visitor to the French translation of a website.

Even though many SEO experts believe that URL parameters produce mediocre results for multilingual sites, many companies make (good) use of them, probably because it is a simple solution to implement.

Google officially recommends to avoid it, because your parameters may or may not end up being indexed in a search engine. They recommend you use an hreflang tag instead.


Multilingual SEO entails a multifaceted strategy that takes into account your audience’s position, language, and content choices. You will have to study your URL structure, keyword research plan, and localization methods. Use a professional translator wherever possible, and take the time to learn about SEO, if your knowledge in this area is insufficient. Your efforts will pay off, eventually.


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