Multilingual SEO: 5 Best Practices to Remember in 2023

We live in a globalized world, where borders and languages are becoming less and less of a barrier. Thanks to the Internet, we can communicate with people from all over the world regardless of where they’re from.

For businesses, this is a great opportunity to expand their reach to new audiences and markets.

In order to take advantage of this opportunity, businesses need to consider how to optimize their websites for multiple languages.

This requires careful planning, since companies that miss this aspect and avoid website translation, or that ignore any important step of localization, will likely see their potential customer base decline over time. If companies are willing to make the necessary commitment, there are clear benefits to having more than one language on their websites.

In this article, we will give some basic advice on optimizing websites for multiple languages, as well as discover top 5 best practices to remember in terms of multilingual SEO.

Multilingual Websites

A multilingual website is a website that’s designed to look good and function properly in as many different languages as possible. On a multilingual website, all content is presented in the primary language of the website, but is also available in other languages in the same structure and format.

On a properly designed and developed multilingual website, all content in different languages should be interlinked so both users and search engines can easily find and switch language depending on their needs and requirements.

However, creating a multilingual website is usually more than simply copying website structure and translating articles. The most important part of creating a website in multiple languages is multilingual SEO.

What is Multilingual SEO?

In general, search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a way that’s considered positive by search engines. SEO focuses on three core tasks that are necessary for a website to appear on the first page of a search engine result: content, links and metadata.

One of the most important SEO tasks is to create a website that’s capable of being indexed in as many different languages as possible. This is referred to as “multilingual SEO”.

Multilingual SEO is the process of optimizing a website to make it appear more relevant to a specific set of search queries in a specific set of languages. This is done by making sure that the content on your website is optimized for search engines in every particular language.

This includes making sure that content is properly translated, that the right keywords are being used, and that the content is being organized in the most effective way. All of this is done with the goal of maximizing the number of people that are able to find the content that you want them to find.

5 Most Common Tips in Multilingual SEO Campaigns

The main thing you need to do is understand the basics of how search engines work for multilingual websites. Search engines use a complex set of algorithms to determine the content on your page that is most relevant to a user’s search in every particular language.

The better your website answers the search query, the higher your rankings will be. The more relevant your content in every language is, the more likely it is to be found in a search.

Here are 5 of the top known and common tips for your international SEO. Here we are going to discuss only on-page SEO. Off-page optimization which includes building links for international site, contacting influencers for better brand awareness is a separate task.

1. Choose URL structure

The first step in your multilingual SEO is creating proper URL structure for different languages.

Instead of utilizing cookies or browser settings to change the content language on a website, Google recommends using alternative URLs for each translated version.

URL structure is essential for a multilingual website and there are a few options you can choose from:

  1. Country-specific domain.
    The best example here is Google itself. If you take a look at how their website appears in different countries, you will see different domains for each country and language: google.de, google.fr, google.es, etc.
  2. Language-specific subdomains.
    In this case, you only need to register one domain name i.e. website.com and then add subdomains for each specific language: de.website.com, fr.website.com, es.website.com, etc.
  3. Language ID as folders
    This is often used as the best solution for multilingual URL structure. You will not need to register dozens of domain names or bother with subdomains. In this case, website software will add a short language identifier as a folder name in the URLs: www.website.com/de/, www.website.com/fr/, www.website.com/es/

There are other options like dynamic URL parameters, storing language info in cookies, but they are thought to be unreliable and not recommended for usage.

2. Add “hreflang” Tags

According to Google, “hreflang” is used to ensure that your content is shown in the right context and for the right language. You should use “hreflang” tags to help Google find the right language version of a page if you use unique URLs for various languages.

There are many specific rules for “hreflang” tags usage but in general, “hreflang” tag functions as a link for a search engine that will tell Google there are different language versions of the same page.

For example, if the same page is available in German, you need to insert this code to the top of your page:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="https://de.website.com/page.html" />

3. Create Sitemaps for Each Language

Although XML sitemaps are an important method of helping search engines scan your website, this is often forgotten or missed when talking about multilingual websites.

This can be done in different ways, one of them is using “hreflang” child tags in the main sitemap. Another option here is creating a separate sitemap for each language and then adding all of them to the sitemap index file. Finally, you can put all possible URLs in the same XML sitemap, but this may be a bad idea if your website includes hundreds of URLs.

No matter what you choose, do not forget to let Google know you have different pages for each language by adding them to your sitemap files.

4. Translate Metadata Tags

You translated your content, created sitemaps, added “hreflang” tags, but your translated pages still appear in English in search results.

Why is that? Does Googe translate them back?

No! Most likely you forgot to translated additional tags in your HTML that help search engines discover and understand your content. These are <title>, <meta description> and <meta keywords> tags.

Although they are often ignored or rewritten by search engines, they still help you rank better for the new languages you’re targeting.

5. Avoid Country Flags!

Unlike previous ones, this tip is not that common and well known. Consider it our bonus secret advice!

What is the best way to symbolize language on a website? The first idea is a flag. Why not use a French flag in a language selector when launching a French version of your website?

This is wrong! Remember, countries are not equal to languages!

First of all, people in many countries speak different languages. Even more important, the same languages may be spoken worldwide in different countries! For example, people living in Brazil may be insulted by the requirement to choose a Portuguese flag for their native language.

Although still acceptable, we do not recommend the usage of flags in your language selectors.

Summary: Multilingual SEO on Autopilot

There are various essential SEO aspects to remember when designing a multilingual website. You must confirm that your articles are properly translated, your on-page multilingual SEO follows all rules and nothing will prevent your website from being indexed by search engines.

Not only will dealing with the tasks increase your positions in search engines, but it would also enhance the overall user engagement and your conversion rates.

Sounds too complicated? Don’t worry, Autoglot WordPress translation plugin can take care of the majority of these tasks.

Autoglot plugin will automatically translate your content, create a unique URL structure, add sitemaps for each language, generate “hreflang” tags, and even translate all meta tags – even those generated by 3rd party SEO plugins!

You only need to install the plugin, register in our control panel, and choose the languages.

Easy as 1-2-3!

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