How To Get Started With International And Multilingual Search Engine Optimization

Multilingual SEO

The Yellow Pages are collecting dust or getting recycled as soon as they are dropped off at your door as the world has turned digital. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is crucial for driving targeted organic (aka natural) search traffic from search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo etc. to your company’s website and long gone are the days that we used to rely on finding information in a printed directory. 

Are you in charge of digital marketing and SEO at your company? Have you been tasked with implementing an international and multilingual SEO (aka ISEO or MSEO) strategy at your globally operating company?

If you’re not sure where or how to start, here are a few tips and best practices. Make sure to reach out if I can answer any questions you may have after reading this article.

So What Exactly Is International SEO?

Let’s get started with answering the most basic question. ISEO is the process of optimizing your translated and localized websites to rank higher on search engine results pages. It involves applying most of the SEO principles and best practices that you’d implement for your source language website.

Should I Optimize Our Multilingual Websites If Our Source Language Website Is Not Properly Optimized?

This is probably the biggest mistake I see people do when they get started with ISEO. Before you can even think about optimizing your global websites, the source language version of your website needs to be properly optimized.

If that’s not done, you may end up replicating the same mistakes into multiple languages, which is a very costly mistake and time-consuming to fix.

Getting your source language website optimized is not rocket science but it requires knowledge, resources and time. In an article entitled, “What Is Search Engine Optimization?,” I share additional tips and best practices.

Everyone Speaks English These Days, So Why Do I Need To Consider Translating And Optimizing My Website Into Multiple Languages?

People prefer to browse online in their own language and they are more likely to purchase a product from your site if the site looks, sounds and feels as if it was created in that particular market.

Also, when it comes to English—there are multiple flavours that you need to consider. If you’re an American company interested in making a splash in the UK, you should replicate your website, or at least some key pages, to accommodate for British English spelling.

I Know That Keyword Research For SEO Is Important. Is It OK If I Just Translate My Source Language Keywords Into The Target Languages?

Understanding how your target audience in foreign markets are searching for your products or services, and then optimizing your multilingual websites for those search terms are fundamental components of ISEO.

Again, having an SEO strategy for your English (or other source languages) website is where you need to start with global SEO.

If you’re localizing and translating your website into several languages and you don’t have an ISEO plan, you’re missing a big opportunity to reach your target foreign language audiences.

Many people I talk to about international SEO think that it’s enough to just translate the English keywords, but it’s not. The keywords actually have to be transcreated, which is the process of taking the English keywords and researching terms in the target languages by linguists who are trained in SEO. I recommend you read an article entitled, “An Introduction to International SEO Keyword Research and the Transcreation Process” before getting started with this process since it’ll drive your entire strategy moving forward.

Sounds Like ISEO Is A lot Of Work. What Can I Get Out Of Doing It?

Yes, ISEO is quite involved and you’ll need specific skills, resources and time to implement a sales-generating strategy.

By doing so, you’ll not only see increased global organic search engine traffic, but more importantly, you should see an increase in lead and sales from your global markets as well as an increase in international brand recognition.

What’s The Best Way To Set Up My Domain Structure For My Multilingual Websites?

Google has some great information on their website but there are basically three different options that you need to consider:

  1. Unique domain names or country code top-level domains (ccTLD): (e.g., domain.fr, domain.de, domain.ch)
  2. Country-specific subdomains (e.g., fr.domain.com, de.domain.com, ch.domain.com)
  3. Country- and language-specific sub-directories (e.g., domain.com/de, domain.com/fr, domain.com/ch, domain.com/us/en, domain.com/us/es, etc.)

Keep in mind that all of these options have pros and cons. There are also many technical things on your website that you need to consider, including international targeting, website speed, the implementation of hreflang codes, and so on.

I Keep On Hearing About The hreflang Tag. What Is It?

The hreflang is a tag that enables you to tell Google which language to serve up to on a specific page. It seems like implementing hreflang codes would be a straightforward task, but just like setting up your domain structure, there are certain considerations that you need to take into account.

The article entitled, “How to Use Hreflang for a Multilingual Website” by Search Engine Journal shares a ton of useful information on this topic. 

Our Global Websites Were Optimized Last Year; Are We Good Or Is ISEO An Ongoing Thing?

As with your source language SEO, you’re never really done with ISEO. Optimizing your multilingual websites is a very important part of the ISEO process, but your efforts don’t ever stop.

You’ll have to develop and implement a multilingual content marketing strategy and a global social media marketing strategy, keep an eye on your technical and functional SEO considerations, and so much more.

There are roughly 250 main rankings signals in Google’s algorithm and the search giant constantly updates its algorithm.

Even the smallest change could have a huge impact on your SEO and ISEO strategy. Keeping your site updated and properly optimized is key to your long-term success and it will ultimately get your web pages ranked high in search engines.

Is Everyone Using Google Around the Globe As Their Main Search Engine? Do I Need To Optimize For Other Search Engines?

This may come as a surprise but not everyone uses Google around the world. For example, Google was banned in China for a long time and they are now slowly getting into this huge market.

People in China still favor Baidu, people in Russia primarily use Yandex, and Naver is the dominant search engine in South Korea.

Bing is popular in the United States, Hong Kong and Canada. So you can’t just assume Google is it – you need to know what search engine to target in each foreign language market.

If these markets are very important for your company, you will need to develop a strategy that takes these non-Google search engines into account.

Conclusion

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the things that you need to consider in regards to ISEO. Global search engine optimization is not for everyone but it’s well worth the investment. You can either keep it in-house or team up with an international SEO consultant such as me.

If you decide to work with an ISEO expert, make sure that they are available for one-on-one on-site or online consulting. I work with customers around the world and use screen share applications such as WebEx, Zoom, Skype, etc. Technology truly has shrunk the world and you’re no limited to working with a consultant who lives in your town.

If you’re thinking about hiring a consultant, I’d recommend starting with an introductory meeting and then ask the consultant to provide you with a basic audit of your website and a recommended strategy.

Depending on the findings of the basic audit, you can then decide if you need a more extensive audit, additional information about the recommended strategy, proposed next steps, etc. Getting your ISEO strategy right is absolutely crucial and can make your company a lot of money; don’t take it lightly.

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