Weglot blog

Multilingual SEO | The definitive checklist

I’m quite sure you’ve already put in a lot of hard work to make sure your current website ranks high in search engines, and maybe you’re sitting comfortably on the first page of Google (nice work). 

But, what happens when your company expands and you’re now tasked with having to complete the whole process again, but, ranking with new languages? Otherwise known as multilingual SEO.

If you fail to focus your efforts on multilingual SEO just as you did in your original language, then you risk your website not being found or used in other countries – which would mean that all important global expansion might not work out quite how you intended…  

The prospect of multilingual SEO probably sounds like a daunting task, right? But, it doesn’t have to be. 

What is multilingual SEO

Just to clear up that question, multilingual SEO is, in fact, really all about applying the same basic principles of standard SEOBut, with the addition of some guidelines to follow that will ensure the languages you’ve translated your website into, also benefit from your SEO efforts. 

It’s the practice of translating existing content into new languages, and optimizing that content for SEO – to drive targeted search traffic. 

An important part to multilingual SEO, and an area where it differs from traditional SEO, is that you’ll want to make sure people are seeing the correct pages for their location. 

Unfortunately, much the same with standard SEO, there are no ‘magic tricks’ to help accelerate your website to the first page of Google. 

But, we’re here to guide you through the ins and outs of multilingual SEO. 

We’ll first take a look at the content side of multilingual SEO, which covers your translations, multilingual keywords, metadata translation, finishing with multilingual SEO link building. 

Next, is the more technical side of things, with URL structure taking centre stage, as well as hreflang tags and language switching options.

Multilingual content SEO  

First things first, let’s look at the content side of things. 

We’re going to go ahead and assume you’ve already decided which language(s) you’re translating your website into, and what markets you’re targeting (if not, check out this article). 

So the next step of that process is to determine what content to translate. 

1. What content should you translate?

You might be tempted to look at the vast amount of words and pages you have on your current website and panic at the prospect of translation. 

And, your next option might be to consider only translating a few of your key pages. However, to create a consistent user experience, best practice would be to translate all your content. 

After all, if you’re entering new markets – which will require a significant amount of time and resources – you should also work on giving them the same quality of content to your new user. 

But panic not, there are solutions to help you with these problems. 

Translation solutions are made to take the difficulty out of going multilingual. 

Weglot does just that. Install Weglot and it’ll translate and display all your website content in 5 minutes. No code and no developer time needed.

2. Multilingual keywords

You’ll then need to consider multilingual keyword research. This will help you rank better for your translated content. 

What might be a keyword on your English site, won’t necessarily be the same for your translated site. You’ll want to carry out the same level of keyword research you conducted in your original language to ensure you’re really targeting your new audience. 

Don’t forget the fundamentals of SEO though – keyword stuffing is not good for optimization – so avoid adding keywords unnecessarily to your content. 

Good news! You can easily add and replace keywords within your Weglot dashboard. 

This can either be done through the translations section, whereby you can search for a specific word, and then manually update the translated version.

Or, you can do this within your ‘Translation Tools’ section, then ‘Search and replace’.

Don’t forget, that while Google is the main search engine for the US and other English speaking countries, there are other search engines that are more popular in other places. Such as, Baidu in China. 

So, you’ll need to take this into account when planning your multilingual keyword search strategy.

3. Automated + human translation

This leads us on to talk about automated and human translation, which we’ve discussed in further detail in a previous post

For speed and a first layer of translation, automated translation is ideal.  

But, now you’ve got your translated website…what’s next?  

Once you start going down the route of a multilingual website, it might be the right time to start considering the added bonus of human translation to enhance your content for multilingual SEO

This could just mean replacing one or two words to fully localize your content, or perhaps a manual review of the automated translation, so any nuances or colloquialisms can be fine tuned. 

This process will ensure you’ve ironed out any cultural differences  and a chance to add in your new keywords.

4. Metadata translation

Your meta title and meta description are crucial parts of your multilingual SEO. They help search engines and potential visitors understand the content of your page, and are treated as a key piece of information when indexing a website/page. 

They’ve worked well for your traditional SEO, so now it’s time to utilize them for your translated content. 

More good news! This is very simple to do if you’re using Weglot, as all your metadata is automatically translated. 

But, if you want to edit it, then you can do this through your Weglot dashboard. Just copy and paste the original metadata into the search feature in your ‘Translations’ section. Here you can make any adjustments you want. 

5. Multilingual link building structure

In case you haven’t heard of link building beforeit’s a way for websites to build their search engine ranking by creating backlinks to their website. This is through guest blogs, online comments, article features etc from websites with a high domain authority.

You’ve probably worked on this for your original website, so it’s worth taking the time to do the same for your translated site. 

Luckily, your translated content isn’t classed as a duplicate by Google, so you won’t be penalized for your translated blog. Which means, you should have plenty of content already in your new site language! 

You’ll then need to reach out to bloggers working in the language/country you’ve translated your website into/for and build relationships to secure those all important backlinks. 

You can also review the backlinks of your competitors to see what opportunities might work for you too. This can be done through Ahrefs

Technical SEO

There are two different sides to multilingual SEO. The next step is to look at the ‘behind the scenes’ actions you’ll need to implement, such as your URL structure, Hreflang tags and language switcher. 

It’s worth noting that a lot of these areas can be quite tricky to implement, however, many of them are automated if you use Weglot as your translation solution.

6. Site and domain URL structure 

We’ve touched briefly on this when looking at the content side of things, but what you’ll also need to consider is how your translated content will be displayed and what URL structure you’ll choose – as this will have a big impact on your multilingual SEO. 

Google best practices recommend using dedicated URLs that include a language indicator. 

There are a few options to choose from when it comes to this: 

  • Country-specific domain: e.g. www.example.de
  • Subdomain: e.g. de.example.com
  • Subdirectory: e.g. example.com/de/
  • URL parameters: e.g. example.com/?lang=fr 

Country-specific domains

A country-specific domain might look like a good option from the outside, but, consider the cost of owning and managing multiple domains. 

You’ll also have to carry out SEO on each site separately and additionally, there’s a lack of connection between your sites. 

Subdomains

Subdomains are easy to set up and are well received by Google. You also only need to pay for one domain name – bonus! 

Subdirectories 

Again, these are easy URLs to set up in CMS systems. There’s also no risk of a Google penalty as the folders are part of the same subdomain. Much like subdomains, they are liked by Google.  

URL parameters

Although URL parameters are loved by developers, they are considered a nightmare in terms of SEO. They add technical language to all your URLs which search engines don’t like (nor do your website users!). They’re also difficult to type in a search bar which does not make for a good user experience…that’s a no then.  

With Weglot your content is automatically displayed without the need for duplicated websites or duplicated translations on pages, and you’ll get a subdirectory or a subdomain URL depending on the CMS you’re using. 

Weglot uses rewrite rules to automatically create a unique URL for each language, which ranks favorably with search engines. 

This is considered best practice when it comes to multilingual SEO. 

If you haven’t chosen Weglot as your translation solution, then make sure you don’t do something illogical like displaying all your translated content on one page. 

Putting all languages on one page is extremely bad for SEO as Google can only index a page once, with one meta title and one meta description. 

So, essentially, your translation efforts would have gone to waste as you’ll never been found in Google searches for your new language. 

7. Server-side translation

We briefly touched on enhancing your website translations within the content side of things. And now we’re going to talk about how multilingual translation solutions actually work. 

You might be wondering what that has to do with multilingual SEO, so it’s worth explaining it a bit further, in case you’re looking at your translation options. 

To simplify it, translating your content can happen at two different moments. 

Client-side (Javascript snippet) – where your original content is sent to your site visitor, and it’s only there that the content is swapped with the translation. This can be good in certain situations, but it does make it hard for Google bots to index the translations, as they will only “see” the original content. Which, to point out the obvious, doesn’t look good for your multilingual SEO capabilities.

However, server-side is where your original content is swapped with the translation before the page is sent to the visitor, so the translations are in the source code of the page. Which is perfect for Google bots to detect it! It also means your SEO tags (metadata, alt tags etc) are automatically translated in the source code.  

And, server-side translation is exactly how Weglot works.

8. Hreflang tag

Ok, so this is where things can get a little more complicated if you’re not a developer. 

Hreflang tags are small elements in your page source code used to tell Google about pages that are similar in content, but targeting different languages. They help determine both the language of the page and which region it’s intended for.

But to add them is both complicated and time-consuming, particularly for beginners. 

You’ll need to insert your hreflang tags into the <head> section of your HTML page, HTTP headers or in your sitemap. However, you’ll need to be consistent here and choose only one option to place your hreflang tags otherwise they can be misinterpreted by search engines.  

Google has a best practice guide for adding hreflang tags, which you can check out here

However, if you use Weglot, this step is automatically done for you, so you don’t have to worry about adding any additional code, no matter which CMS you’re using! 

9. Make it easy for users to switch languages 

Remember, IP addresses don’t actually indicate which country a person is in, or what language they want to view your content in. 

If you’re a French speaking person in Spain, then it might be frustrating to land on the Spanish speaking version of the website, with no option to change it into your desired language. 

So first, it’s better to have the default language based on the web browser language (this is what Weglot does)

Make sure the different versions of your website are easily visible for your site visitors. This will lead to longer site visits as users can actually get the content they want – which all adds to your multilingual SEO performance. 

By adding your language switcher in the header, your website visitors can easily navigate to where they want to be.


(La Machine Cycle Club – using Weglot)

With Weglot you can edit your language switcher to appear wherever you want on your website, including options for flags, language name or language shortcode – regardless of the CMS you’re using. 

Summary 

The above list might seem a little daunting, especially as you’ve just gone through the same process for your original website. But, if you follow the steps above, you’ll be there in no time. 

Remember that both content and the technical aspects in the backend of your website are equally important when it comes to multilingual SEO, especially those pesky hreflang tags. 

But, more importantly, you can cut out many of the steps above by choosing Weglot as your multilingual translation solution – as many of the multilingual SEO steps are taken care of, especially when it comes to the technical aspects! 

Check out Weglot’s 10 day free trial

Want more? Read: How much does it really cost to translate my website?, 10 Tips for Creating Killer Content that Converts in Any Language, A Best Practice Guide for WordPress Multilingual Websites

About the author
Elizabeth Pokorny

Content Manager at Weglot

JOIN 50,000+ WEBSITES ALREADY USING WEGLOT

Try Weglot for free