Multilingual SEO: the most important Optimisation Hacks

May 29th, 2015 by Viviane Carter
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If you offer a website in two or more languages, it is important to remember to optimise your website for search engines like Google and Bing. With multilingual websites, there are some extra factors to consider when tweaking your website for SEO.

One language per page

Use only one language on a single page and avoid side-by-side translations. This makes it easier for Google to recognise the main language of your website.

Use a good translator

If you have to rely on an external provider for your website translation, make sure to use a good translator. No, Google Translate doesn’t cut it. Language is complex and only a human being can pick up on little cultural nuances that make the difference between a good and a bad translation. Automatic translations can often be difficult to read and be riddled with mistakes.

Keyword research

Even when providing websites in the same languages, but aimed at different audiences, e.g. the UK and the US, there can be differences in the terminology used. A keyword that works well for one audience may not necessarily work for another audience. Keep this in mind when creating copy and meta data for your website.

Domain & URL structure

There are several options you can choose for your domain & URL structure:

  1. ccTLDs like website.co.uk, website.de and website.fr

The advantage with ccTLDs is that the geotargeting is clear from the URL ending and websites can be easily separated.

  1. Subdomains with gTLDs like uk.website.com, de.website.com and fr.website.com

Subdomains are easy to set up and can use geotargeting through the Google Search Console (former Webmaster Tools).  They are cheaper than individual domains but the separation may not be as clear to the user as with separate TLDs.

  1. Subdirectories with gTLDs like website.com/uk/, website.com/de/, website.com/fr/

These are similar to using subdomains, with one advantage if you have a mobile website version located at e.g. m.website.com.

Using URL parameters for creating multilingual websites is not recommended.

SEO for other search engines

Google is not the most popular search engine in all countries. This is important to remember when optimising your website for other countries, such as Russia where Yandex is the largest search engine.

Avoid automatic redirects

We do not recommend redirecting users based on their IP/location or their browser settings. These redirects can actually keep both users and search engines from viewing all versions of your site.

Use rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” tags

The rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” tag helps Google identify which URLs should be served to a visitor based on language and location. This is ideal for pages which exist on each of your websites, such as the about page or the contact page. You can use the following tag to define the URLs of all different language versions:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-gb” href=” http://website.com/uk” />

It is important that you add this tag for all language versions of a specific page to all language versions of this page, including the one the user is on. If you offer your content in three languages versions, you want to add a reference to all pages including the one that the tag is included in, i.e.

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-gb” href=” http://website.com/uk” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”de-de” href=” http://website.com/de” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr-fr” href=” http://website.com/uk” />

The hreflang value denotes both language and location. de-de refers to German content for users in Germany. This allows you to create separate versions for Germany (de-de) and Austria (at-de) for example.

Defining a default version

With the tag <link rel=”alternate” href=”http://website.com/” hreflang=”x-default” />  you can define the default version of a website outside of your targeted regions. E.g.

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-gb” href=” http://website.com/uk” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”de-de” href=” http://website.com/de” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr-fr” href=” http://website.com/uk” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://website.com/” hreflang=”x-default” />

This means that for anyone outside of the UK, Germany and France, the default website http://website.com/ will be shown.

Cross link correctly

It is best to cross link from one page to the same page in another language. This means you should link your UK “About” page to your German “About” page and your French “About” page, not to the German homepage and the French homepage.

If you have any questions about multilingual SEO or need help optimising your multilingual website, please get in touch. Serps Invaders are a digital marketing agency specialising in international and multilingual cross-channel digital marketing campaigns.


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