Did you know that? English is used by only ¼ of Internet users… The rest of the searches are therefore done in other languages!
If you want to expand internationally, to address customers who speak other languages or who are in other countries, you will need to implement a multilingual SEO strategy to be visible in Google’s SERP and other search engines.
What are the right questions to ask yourself before you start, what are the best practices to adopt? Eminence’s experts are here to explain everything.
Multilingual SEO: an international strategy challenge
What is multilingual SEO?
Multilingual SEO is a set of web techniques to optimize the natural referencing of a site proposed in at least 2 languages so that each version is visible by Internet users. It allows you to create personalized content adapted either by country or by language. For example, for an e-commerce platform, international SEO integrates essential functionalities for the Internet user such as:
- currency display;
- information on the stock status by product and by country;
- delivery information for each geographic zone (carrier, delivery times, relay points, Click & Collect option);
- Customized editorial content adapted to each culture, to the needs and consumption habits of Internet users.
- All CMS (WordPress, Shopify, PrestaShop, Magento, etc.) support multilingual SEO: ask Eminence, your Swiss digital agency, to evaluate which CMS is best suited to your needs and objectives.
What is the difference with multi-regional SEO?
This technique is for companies that want to develop in a country with several languages, such as
- Switzerland, where depending on the region, French, German, Italian, or Romansh are spoken;
- Belgium, with its 3 official languages (Dutch, French, and German) and where linguistic tensions are strong;
- in the USA, where English is the official language, but where community belonging is very strong and Google queries can be made in English, Spanish, etc.
Note that we speak of “country targeting” when we target countries (it is a form of geolocalization) and “language targeting” when we target languages.
Why have a multilingual website?
There are many reasons to opt for multilingual SEO, such as a development objective in Europe or internationally, the desire to create specific content and product or commercial offers by country, the establishment in a country with several official languages, etc.
But international SEO is above all the assurance of an optimized natural referencing based on localization, because from one French-speaking or English-speaking country to another, the language specificities change. For example, in France, the term “cell phone” is used, while in Switzerland the word “natel” is most often used. In Belgium, the term “GSM” is used and in Quebec it is “cell phone”. We understand that depending on the country, a mobile operator will have to have a personalized approach to develop in each of its territories, in order to position its offer on a keyword adapted to each culture. That’s what multilingual SEO is all about.
How do you know if you need a multilingual SEO strategy?
- If you already have a website, study your traffic statistics: focus on countries and languages with Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
- Are you thinking about your online presence? Study your personas: where do they live, what languages do they speak? These are basic questions for your SEO strategy.
Geolocalization for what other digital, marketing, and commercial issues?
Beyond natural referencing, geolocalization, and targeting of customers/prospects, multilingual SEO is the promise of a better e-reputation, sales development, and increased revenue!
A beautiful promise at first glance, but it requires real in-depth work to achieve it. Indeed, the work to be done is not reduced to a simple translation of web content!
Domain name, URL construction with adequate tags, sitemap update, internal linking, netlinking strategy, etc. All the web fundamentals need to be worked on, which requires solid skills in international SEO strategy.
How to build a multilingual SEO strategy in several countries and languages?
Let’s discover together what are the SEO steps necessary to build a multilingual website.
Step 1: The domain name
In a multilingual SEO strategy, 3 possibilities are available to you, as illustrated in the invented example below, with the different kinds of possibilities in Italia of www.eminence.ch :
- The TLD or Top Level Domain (website) : www.eminence.it
- The sub-domain : www.it.eminence.ch
- The folder : www.eminence.ch/it/ (main site including a folder for the Italian version)
How to make the right choice among these 3 options?
Eminence has compared the advantages and disadvantages of the different online strategic approaches to perform abroad.
1- THE TLD OR TOP LEVEL DOMAIN (website)
Example : www.eminence.it
Main goal ? Country targeting
For who ? For companies that want to segment their communication by country, even if the language is the same (e.g., USA and GB).
– Very effective in terms of natural referencing and geolocation thanks to a local IP address reinforcing the Google EAT.
– Not all domain names are “punished” by Google in the event of a penalty from one of the sites.
– Ideal for a long-term strategy.
– Ultra-targeted communication: different offers and catalogs by country.
– Local requests are better taken into account.
– Finer preliminary analysis: search intention + PAA + search for long-tail terms for more refined data and ultra-personalized content.
– Different back-offices per site.
– More expensive approach: hosting and maintenance costs relative to the number of sites created.
– Considered as an independent URL: each new site does not benefit from the authority of the main site and involves a new netlinking strategy by country.
2- THE SUB-DOMAIN
Example : www.it.eminence.ch
Main goal ? Language targeting
Pour qui ? Companies that want the best value for money and that target not countries, but different languages.
– Good efficiency in terms of natural referencing and SEO results.
– Allows you to develop a UX dedicated to the version in question.
– Considered as an independent URL: the subdomain created does not benefit from the authority of the main site, a new netlinking strategy will have to be put in place.
– Integration that requires technical skills.
3- THE FOLDER
Example : www.eminence.ch/it/
Main goal ? Language targeting
For who ? For companies that have a common offer for all targeted countries. For multi-regional sites: company that targets a country with several languages.
– Easy from a technical point of view.
– Economical: single hosting and reduced maintenance costs.
– Benefits from the authority of the main site.
– Not very effective in the long term and few results in terms of organic traffic.
– Catalog not differentiated by country.
Step 2: URL Hreflang Tag and Sitemap
Hreflang tags are essential for multilingual SEO and take place in the code. They allow to:
- build your country/language page URLs correctly, and for Google to display the best version of the site to the visitor according to his IP address and the language of the browser;
- display on the correct version of the website;
- avoid Google penalties for duplicate content from one version of the website to another.
Hreflang tags are formulated through a international SEO code language. (Source: Aleyda Solis)
Of course, to complete the SEO with different languages process, you will need to update your sitemap (XML site) to optimize the work of natural referencing and geolocation, in order to indicate to Google your new “language” URLs created.
Step 3: Translating the content of your web pages and metas
For your multilingual version, forget automatic translation plugins like Google Translate and other lexical transcription automation systems. Semantics is more important than ever in multilingual SEO and digital communication strategy: work with a native translator interpreter to obtain a perfectly translated version. A good translation is also a guarantee of reassurance: would you trust a website with shaky formulations, poorly understood text, and spelling mistakes?
To optimize your natural referencing, remember that multilingual SEO is also the translation of:
- meta titles,
- meta descriptions,
- meta images to reference your images because Google Image still generates 22.6% of searches. Netoffensive.
Step 4: Netlinking to gain authority
With a Top Level Domain or a sub-domain, your multilingual sites are independent of the main site and you will have to set up a netlinking strategy by language or by country, in order to obtain the most relevant incoming links and be perceived by Google as a referral site (unnecessary with the folder or directory system, which benefits the site’s overall appeal). Depending on the nationality, the processes are not identical and are more or less flexible and contractualized.
Do you want to implement an effective multilingue SEO strategy and achieve your business goals?
Mistakes to avoid when developing multilingual sites
Undoubtedly a growth accelerator, international SEO cannot be improvised and requires meticulous work. As you have understood, certain pitfalls are to be avoided, such as:
- Neglecting the reflection and analysis part relating to the domain name, because the action plan is not quite identical, nor the expected results in terms of natural referencing and e-reputation.
- Thinking that an automatic translation plugin is enough when you want to do SEO with many languages.
- Plan to integrate in a single HTML page a text in two or more languages.
- Skip the step of multilingual SEO optimization of metas and images.
- Forgetting to translate the texts of the navigation elements.
Multilingual SEO must meet clear communication and marketing objectives and requires long preparation and analysis work. Although invisible, many parameters come into play and can be decisive in ensuring the achievement of your short, medium, and long-term objectives.
Are you looking for an expert digital agency in Geneva to set up or optimize your presence in different territories or regions? Trust the Eminence team who supported McDonald’s® Switzerland in its multilingual SEO strategy, to communicate on its territory in 3 national languages, integrating linguistic and regional specificities.