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Multilingual Sites

Multilingual and Regional SEO

Contents:

 

Multilingual and Regional SEO

If you’re planning on targeting multiple countries or languages with your website you will need to make a number of major decisions about how you will go about doing that. We aim to answer all of those and a range of other considerations in this guide.

Why This is Important?

There are many reasons why you would want to target or treat regions differently, language being an obvious one. If want to sell your product online in another country you will need to understand the fundamental impacts of the SEO components in this strategy.

Simply launching a new website or sub-domain in the wrong way could lead to a range of problems and impacts to the organic performance of the content.

Plan Ahead

Considering the road ahead is critical to the success of your strategy; what works for a small site or just a couple of regions, may not be efficient when done at scale. You may be launching a new site now targeting a different country, but if that strategy works, you might roll this out globally…

Structural Options for Multilingual / Regional Sites

There are considerations from many perspectives, when choosing your structure from cost to logistics and management time, that must all be considered. If you are to choose the right strategy for your business, you must consider what impacts you are best equipped to deal with.

There are arguments to be made in favour or against each of the available options, all of which assume that you have set them correctly from an SEO perspective.

Country Code TLDs (Top-Level Domains)

This means using an entirely different domain with a country specific suffix like .co.uk or .com.au to host the content to target a specific region. If you have a co.uk site and you want to sell products more effectively in France, you could buy the .fr of your current domain… On that site, you would host the French version of your content and use EUR rather than GBP for pricing, etc.

Some countries won’t sell just anyone a domain name either, Australia requires you to have a registered business with an ABN (Australian Business Number) to own a .com.au domain.
Pros

  • This is a very clear and obvious sign to the user what country the site is targeting. You cannot underestimate the value of this, especially for ecommerce sites, where people might assume high shipping fees or irrelevant results.
  • It is very easy to separate site data, treating all sites and regions differently as required. We would add, that this is not significantly easier than with most other methods.
  • This makes the server location irrelevant… This is a minor advantage.
  • In some cases (e.g. Australia) the domain will have some more intrinsic trust with Google as there are legal requirements to own a site.
  • Can provide some benefit when link building in a region to have a TLD for that region.

Cons

  • A brand-new domain will not inherit as much of a sites authority as with sub-domains or sub-directories in the short term.
  • This is more expensive than other methods but becomes increasingly expensive with scale… If you want to target 20 countries, that 20 domains minimum that you need to buy. You need to consider how much this impacts your decision.
  • If you can’t get the domain you want off the shelf, then you may have to fork out a load of money for it, then repeat for every other country. In some cases, it may not be possible to get the domain you want at all.
  • There is also the potential for more amounts of infrastructure for TLDs than with other options
  • The flip side of the legal requirements is that you may not be able to get a .com.au domain for example, if you can’t meet the requirements.
  • Cannot use Google Search Console GEO Targeting (but doesn’t really need to)

Sub-domains with Global TLDs

In this example, a sub-domain is used to host the content for different regions or languages… A site targeting France could in this case use sub-domains like this:

fr.example.com
france.example.com

Unlike top-level domains, this may not be as strong or clear a message about what region you are targeting than with a different TLD. That said, it does have some advantages over other options

Pros

  • This is typically very easy to setup by contrast to a new domain from a number of perspectives.
  • Can use Google Search Console GEO Targeting
  • Allows for different server locations (TLD’s do not require them & sub-directories can’t use them)
  • Good and immediate inheritance of domain authority from principle TLD.
  • It is very easy to separate site data, treating all sites and regions differently as required. We would add, that this is not significantly easier than with most other methods.

Cons

  • Not as obvious to users as TLDs which region the URL is targeting
  • Doesn’t provide any advantage to link building in specific regions
  • Additional server / hosting costs

Sub-directories with Global TLDs

In this example, a sub-directory is used to host the content for different regions or languages… A site targeting France could in this case use sub-directory like this:

example.com/fr/

This is quite common as it is easy to setup but suffers similar cons to the sub domain option with few substantial benefits.

Pros

  • It is very easy to separate site data, treating all sites and regions differently as required. We would add, that this is not significantly easier than with most other methods.
  • This is the easiest to setup of all three options
  • This is the cheapest option
  • This option requires the least maintenance
  • Can use Google Search Console GEO Targeting

Cons

  • Not as obvious to users as TLDs which region the URL is targeting
  • Can only use a single server location (making this the worst of the options in this regard specific regard)
  • It’s not as easy to separate to the data and the sites compared to other options

URL Parameters

This is incredibly bad practice and should not be implemented. A site targeting France could in this case use URL parameters like this:

example.com?loc=fr
example.com?country=france

Pros

  • None of the good!

Cons

  • All of the bad!

Which One Do You Implement?

Clearly, we can rule out URL parameters as a solution to your multilingual SEO strategy! Aside from that, which option you should choose needs to reflect your resources and budget… Multiple TLD’s are the strongest long-term solution but wither sub-domain or directories are a good alternative.

Google Search Console (GEO Targeting)

Google Search Console / Webmaster Tools allows you to add either sub-domains and sub-directories, and manage the geotargeting.
After adding the property, navigate to ‘Search Traffic’ > ‘International Targeting’, as is shown in the image below you can choose from a dropdown menu what region your site targets:

Geotargeting Google Search Console

This is really an alternative to TLDs which are targeted automatically to a specific country.

Server IP Location

This is something that used to be a bigger factor in the murky past… Nowadays there are a number of technologies that have made this redundant in many cases such as distributed CDNs for example. This hasn’t completely removed the benefit of localised server IPs, but it has moved some of the emphasis onto other avenues. Google themselves say that you shouldn’t rely on this alone.

Hreflang

Ultimately this tag signals to Google that there is a relationship to an alternate language or region version at the URL specified and this page.

This tag works in a very similar way to the canonical tag but with additional attributes. For example, in the full tag shown below we open with rel (same as with the canonical tag)… In addition to the ‘canonical’ URL we also stipulate the hreflang attribute:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="de-de" href="https://de.example.com/" />

Read more about hreflang.

Canonicalisation

Typically, we would use canonical tags to indicate which version of the content should be shown, as is the case with most canonical issues. Language and region are a couple of exceptions to this, where you should not use canonical tag.

The rule is that the canonical tag can be used within a language or region version but not across / between them. For example, if you have a site that targets the UK and USA in English and within the UK version you have a page that canonicalizes to another UK page or itself, this would be fine.

Read more about Canonicalisation.

GEO Tags

GEO Tags are a simple way of telling Search Engines what physical region or location the page (that the code is on) serves. If you site targets multiple regions, has stores or shops, you could benefit from using this tag to more effectively target that region.

GEO Tags provide a small advantage in local listings for or for searches Google think indicates the need for a local business. Essentially GEO Tags provide an additional benefit that should be taken advantage of.

Read more about geo tags.

Other Considerations

We have covered the technical considerations for your multi-region strategy, but the job is far from job! To properly optimise your site and ensure that it receives as much favour as possible from Google, you need to ensure the following components are all in place.

On-Page SEO Components

There are a number of on-page SEO components that will have to be altered in order to more effectively target different regions and languages. There’s little point going to the effort of making a new foreign language site but leaving all the Meta data in English… So here are some on-page SEO considerations:

Page title

This is one of the most powerful on-page ranking factors and should be written in the language that it is targeting and optimised appropriately.

Meta description

Again, use the language that you’re targeting, this is your sales message, so it may be worth understanding what your new foreign audience value.

GEO tags

If you have GEO Tags on your site, these may need to be updated or removed, this is especially relevant if you are copying pages or directory structures.

Page content

Maybe an obvious one, but leaving random bits of foreign language content in the wrong place can send mixed signals and worsen the user experience. More than this, content should be targeted to a region, using idioms and colloquial terminology from another region may not translate well. Different cultures can value things differently, you need to understand the nuances of your target audience.

Read more about on-page SEO.

Foreign Language Keyword Research

If you are to effectively target a new region, performing keyword research in the native language is essential. Keywords can and do vary between region and language, you need to know what people are searching for.

Multilingual Link Building

If you’re to effectively target a region and rank in it, you must be prepared to build and acquire links in that region.

Laws

There are different laws in every country, some of these may affect your online presence. In the EU for example there are cookie laws that should be followed, other countries prevent you from advertising certain products.

Common Mistakes

We’ve detailed below some of the more frequent mistakes made on multilingual sites to help you avoid them.

IP Detection & Auto-Redirects

At some point someone thought, if we can detect the country or region of the site user, we can redirect them to the correct version of the site… And so was born, a terrible idea.

Google advise against this, largely because of how it can affect their ability to crawl your site. It can also be inaccurate, systematically causing a percentage of users to have a poor user experience. There is nothing wrong with asking a user if they in a particular region, and if so would they like to go to the page / site for that region.

Canonical Issues

As mentioned, canonical tags should not be used to indicate which version of the multilingual or regional site should be preferred. This is one type of canonical issue, but more commonly we see incorrect canonical tags implemented, especially where pages are copied and altered, these can be missed.

Incorrect Language in Meta Data

Forgetting to update Meta data is easy as it’s not always immediately obvious, but this will significantly impact the site’s ability to rank for its target keywords.

Incorrect Implementation of hreflang

This is a common mistake due to the way in which the tag is applied to the page, being inconsistent with other tags. Read our guide to hreflang for a more complete understanding of how to implement this tag on multilingual sites.

Poor Translation

We have put some emphasis on understanding your target audience, this is best practice, but failure to do your research can lead to some pretty bad results… Coors bear, an American company launched their ‘turn it loose’ campaign in Mexico only to find that it basically translated to: you will get diarrhoea if you drink Coors bear! There are some other funny examples of international marketing campaigns that failed to translate here.

Top Tips

Here are some other top tips for multilingual or regional sites:

  • Create a good navigation / linking structure that allows users to properly navigate your multilingual or regional sites
  • Do not use cookies to display translated versions of your website
  • Try to avoid side-by-side translation, this can cause issues with Google determining the language
  • You do not need to use lang attributes
  • Use a single language for content and navigation on each page… be consistent on any given page
  • Bing deals with multilingual and regional sites differently to Google

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