Multilingual SEO

Multilingual SEO is the process of optimizing digital content to make it more search-friendly and more easily found across multiple language markets. Language markets may be defined as areas where that language is commonly used. This is distinctive from thinking in terms of countries, a distinction that proves critical when preparing content for multiple languages.

What does multilingual SEO have in common with conventional SEO?

SEO has become somewhat arcane to many marketers and creators. Add in the need to support multiple translations and localization into different cultures, and the entire process becomes even more complex. Fortunately, best practices are well-documented and search engines, like Google, offer tools to help their crawlers find the best content for a query, including the ability to serve it up in the searcher’s preferred language if a translated version is available. It is this ability to determine language preferences that differentiates multilingual SEO from conventional optimization.

Why is international user experience an important business consideration?

It is common for SEO professionals to focus heavily on search rankings over user experience. Early on, this was based on ‘gaming’ the system by trying to trick it to rank content higher. This was done with fairly primitive things like keyword stuffing, where the desired search inquiry phrase is sprinkled liberally through the content, often too liberally. Other tricks like this sometimes worked but they offered the searcher a poor experience as they searched for relevant and useful results.

Today, we know that the quality of the content, its relevance, readability, and context are the critical aspects of successful SEO. The challenge in multilingual SEO is to transfer these factors to multiple languages and cultures, a process known by the umbrella term ‘localization’. Ultimately the criteria for successful optimization cross borders but there are steps that need to be taken to make that process more efficient, especially dealing with large quantities of content and many languages.

How do the complexities of multilingual sites, regions, and languages affect SEO?

This complexity is high because of localization issues. How do we ensure our multilingual content is being found and is useful to customers in global markets? Like any global market entry plan, building a process for managing multilingual content is critical to winning business in other regions. For example, if I am a French native speaker in Switzerland doing online research, how is it assured that your content is served up in my preferred language? German or Swiss German is a primary language for the Swiss, but a significant minority speak French.

Why is the hreflang code snippet important?

The above is an example of the particular complexities of multilingual SEO. Fortunately, we have tools to help a search engine serve up our content in the desired language of our audience. First, the engine can ‘read’ the language preferences set in the searcher’s browser to define their preference. But the content manager doing multilingual SEO must use tools provided by the engines to understand which content is the correct match of region, language, etc.

This is done by inserting a piece of code into the digital content called a hreflang tag or snippet. This snippet is customized, with standard country and region codes, to tell the engine which content is best for the reader. It matches the language preference to content containing the right tag. Most search engines provide this utility and most language service businesses are familiar with the relatively complex processes. That is one example of multilingual SEO.

How can we avoid duplicate content across multiple languages?

Another advantage of the hreflang tag is the avoidance of duplicate content. Duplicate content, even if unintentional, is punished in search rankings or may not even get indexed. So, if you publish a blog post for a UK site and then again in a US site, it is going to look like duplicate content. Hreflang allows you to specify a country or a language region, or both, and then publish that content once, knowing it will be served up in the specified site and language, without appearing to be duplicate content.

How are cultural differences respected across multiple languages?

Localization often involves customizing content for the customs of a culture, while retaining its intended meaning. This is done by changing colloquialisms and usage elements familiar in the original but not translating well in the target language. This gains another layer of complexity when many language pairs are involved. Native speakers for both should review the translated content, a personalized process that can be costly and time-consuming. Multilingual SEO and content management streamlines this complexity through a process called internationalization.

How does internationalization improve global content and SEO strategy?

Internationalization is the process of making the content friendly to many languages when it is originally created, eliminating some of the need for extensive localization. It is a specialty involving linguistic experts that understand potential issues across multiple languages. They edit the content before it is ever translated to remove and change potential problems with syntax, grammar, and other elements that can complicate translation into the target languages. This is done as a content strategy across all created content. But it is also a multilingual SEO strategy.

When you create standards for internationalizing content you can also create standards ensuring that content follows SEO best practices. This avoids the need for manual optimization of non-standard content and greatly simplifies the management of global content. This is the essence of a successful multilingual SEO process.

What is the impact of multilingual SEO on global business growth?

Ultimately, the goal should be to provide potential buyers or users the best information experience, regardless of language. When you deliver relevant content in language that resonates with and respects the consumer you build brand loyalty, improve reputation and, ideally, invite referrals and positive reviews, all critical today to success in any market. Multilingual SEO not only brings visitors to your message via search, it helps you build new business in new language markets.