Multilingual SEO — How to Start a Business Abroad

Karolina MatyskaKarolina Matyska
Published: 11.10.2019
16 minute

In the era of the internet, expanding a business to international market doesn’t have to be complicated. Your goal is to make the website seen and recognized in other countries, so you need to have an effective multilingual SEO strategy in place and take massive, determined action.


Having a multilingual website is not enough, you need to remember about keeping a high position in search engines also on local markets. But, first things first: What a multilingual SEO is and how you can start one? 


Challenges to overcome when you enter new markets


The internationalization of e-commerce made it possible to expand a business to other countries without having to leave your home patch. According to Internet Retailer, e-commerce global sales grew 18% in 2018 and it is expected to become the largest retail channel in the world by 2021.


Before you start expanding your business to other markets, you need to know that there are a number of challenges to face. Below you will find some of them, so make sure you have all the things set to avoid mistakes.


Targeting the right countries


At first, decide what countries are your main target. If you’re not sure what to target, review the analytics of your site, with a focus on traffic. It’s really important to know your customers well before localizing content.


Deciding what CMS to choose


Use a CMS (content management system) that lets you make your website multilingual with content that is easily indexed by search engines.


Considering whether to set up separate domains, subdomains or subfolders 


When you choose right, you’ll avoid SEO mistakes. So you need to take all the pros and cons of each solution into consideration.

Writing content in other languages 


It’s not only making your content more readable, but you need to make the translation with the multilingual SEO in mind. When looking for the right keywords you should optimize your content for, go to Keyword Explorer in Senuto.

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Having a multilingual marketing strategy in place


Use SEO strategy for multiple locations the right way and let customers from other countries find you.


Seems like too much work? Read on and let us get you through the entire process. Smoothly and easily.


Local SEO vs global SEO


At first, what are the differences between local SEO and global SEO?


While local SEO helps businesses promote their products and services to local customers, global SEO lets you reach potential customers internationally.


Keywords for local SEO perform differently compared to global search results, and the competition of these keywords is usually low or medium. This is because local SEO includes specific place names and phrases used by people in a particular area, so you’re mostly putting an emphasis on your target location.


And, what about global SEO? 


Global SEO targets more general keywords that can be found by anyone all over the world, but it also comes with larger competitors. However, it might be a perfect fit when you’re serving customers internationally. The effects can be even better when you combine it with local SEO tactics, as you should be where your customers are.


Overall, your multilingual SEO strategy is based on content that needs to be adapted to other countries or even specified locations.


Multilingual SEO — best practices


It’s crucial to follow the best practices for multilingual SEO, as the bad implementation can hurt your rankings. But, is having various sites for different languages necessary? Perhaps you can put all the languages on the same page? Well, the answer is always NO.


This is because search engines index your site based on a single Meta Title and Meta Description, so it can hurt your SEO, not to mention that it’s confusing for your website visitors. The same when you use the hashtag (#) in the URL to direct users to a certain part of the site, or when you use cookies to manage languages.


Here’s what you should do instead.

Conduct keyword research for different languages 


The first thing you should do before preparing multilingual versions of your site is doing  keyword research.



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Check both keywords search volume and keyword difficulty in various locations and decide which of them could perform best in accordance to your business.


Note that you should always analyze keywords with different variants, e.g. with and without accents, orthography or letters typical for a certain language (for instance a letter ß in German).


Why is that so important? The answer is simple: You’re giving people a chance to find your site in their mother tongue. But, keep in mind that depending on Google Translator results isn’t a good idea.


Pick the right CMS for your website 


OK, you did keyword research and you know your target audience, so it’s time to decide which CMS would be the best fit when you make your website multilingual. I bet you’re probably using one of the most popular content management systems, such as WordPress, Magento, or Drupal.


The good news is that each of them provides solutions for creating multilingual websites. You can use the same database in various cases — when you decide to create a website with separate domains, as well as for subdomains and subfolders. This means that you can save a lot of time, as every time you make any changes on your site, everything will be updated automatically.  A shared database is also helpful when it comes to linking pages to equivalent sites in other languages.


When your existing website is created using one of the CMS that enables multilingual solutions, a web developer shouldn’t have problems making the site multilingual. But, when your site isn’t powered by a multilingual CMS, you need to recreate it among one of the aforementioned platforms, copy the entire code to create a new site, or create a new different language website with multilingual CMS and then translate it to other languages.


Select the domain 


Another challenge is the domain structure. Now, it’s time to decide whether you should go for separate domains, subfolders or subdomains.


Separate domains


When you decide to use a separate domain for each language, known as multiple top-level domains (TLD), you need to set up the domains according to the following example: Let’s say that your original site is, so the Spanish version will be, a German one will be, and a French one will be, to name a few.


There are, of course, some drawbacks of this method, such as the domain that is unavailable, the time spent on preparing all of the pages and fulfill them with content, costs of managing multiple domains, or having to run SEO for each site separately.


Bear in mind that for Google, one complex site might perform much better than several smaller websites. This is because robots prefer more content on a site, which equals more related keywords, more internal links, etc.


Are there any advantages?


The most obvious is that the domain address stays in line with the country it’s targeted in. Having separate domains can be easier to manage, but only when each site is managed by a different person. But, when there’s just one team member that needs to manage all of the pages, especially when there are many of them, it can hurt the quality of each site.


Moreover, there could be various requirements for privacy policy and terms and conditions in different locations, so it’s easier to place them on separate sites.


Subfolders and subdomains


You can also consider creating subfolders for countries, such as or subdomains, like Subfolders and subdomains can be easier to set up for people with limited technical skills. However, remember that subdomains are perceived by search engines as separate pages, so having the subfolder structure can be better for your SEO results.


The decision about the domain structure can be easier when there’s your company’s name in the domain. But, what if it’s a keyword rich domain? You need to consider what’s more important for you. However, when your branding is based on what you have in the domain name, it’s probably better to buy the domains that are equivalent in other languages.


Maybe you should use parameters or location detection?


You could also see some websites using URL parameters, like the following, and perhaps you’re now considering using them. Before you decide for using parameters, you should know that they’re adding unnecessary elements to your URLs, which is not only more difficult to read, but also it’s not good for SEO, as these types of links are harder to track.


Another solution is using location detection and automatic redirects, which helps visitors reach a website with content translated into their language. But, it can have a negative impact on the index and, as it’s location-based, it can be opened by visitors that are just visiting the specified location and don’t know the language they see on your site. So, it can severely decrease the user experience.


What you can do instead of using redirects? The solution is adding links to other languages in the header, so visitors can simply switch the language.


Some of the businesses want their translated websites to be hosted in the same country as their target audience, but it’s not necessary and it doesn’t affect your local SEO that much.

How to create SEO-friendly content for a multilingual site 


You need the content to be seen by people who search in their local language, so if you target your products or services to the French audience, people who search in French should be directed to the French site.


Creating content for other languages can be the most time-consuming process. One of the advantages of multilingual SEO is that you can use existing content and what you need is translating it into other languages. However, sometimes it is better to write unique content that is directly targeted to a specified region. Let’s dig deeper into it.

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Creating content based on the existing website


There’s not always a need to create new content, the thing is to make the existing content accessible to new audiences. So, translate all active pages or start with best-performing pages. Check what content converts best and perhaps there are some blog posts or texts that don’t bring you good results. If there are some, you can skip them while translating the content into other languages.


Translate the existing content that you have on your original site. Depending on your resources or skillset, you can do this yourself or outsource the translation to someone else. However, keep in mind that it’s better when the content is created by a native that knows the cultural differences and feels the flow of the language.


It’s also better when a translation is made by content managers, as they know how to use words to convince potential clients to buy a product or service. It’s about the knowledge and experience that a translation agency might not have. Ideally, it’s a bilingual native speaker who knows both languages fluently, so you will have content that is easy to read and doesn’t cause cultural differences. It’s also about the measures, such as centimeters instead of inches, Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, etc.


You can also start with translating the current content and then polishing it to sound more natural to natives.


Writing content from scratch


You can also write the entire content from the ground up.


But, don’t even think about using automated translators, unless you want your website looks unprofessional. The translation made by machines is usually not accurate and can cause misunderstandings and lead to lost sales. It can even be seen as spam. It’s also about the keywords — if they are translated word-for-word, you might be targeting incorrect phrases.


If you decide to outsource this, provide a copywriter with the details on what should be included on your website.


The combination of two


There’s also another option that is based on combining the two aforementioned strategies. You can paraphrase existing content and embed it into the local culture. The main message and context will be the same and you will end up with brand new content on your multilingual website.


Overall, you need to make sure that the content in a foreign language meets cultural differences.


Note that there are many countries that use the same language. For instance, a German website can be targeted to countries like Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Belgium, and Luxembourg. You should also remember that people who speak other languages don’t have to live in their home country, so the cultural differences are not always the same for a certain language. This is why you need to know your target audience well and your strategy should include whether the Spanish website is for customers who live in Spain or maybe for those who speak Spanish but live in the US. This is why the main, English website can be translated into other languages for people that speak a different language but live in the same region. In general, the content needs to be optimized for different languages or for various locations, it all depends on which regions you want to target.


What about SEO in multilingual content?


It’s much easier to create content when you know your target keyword for a specified language, however, you can also write content first and then optimize it to improve your local SEO.


Nevertheless, if you don’t have the resources to prepare various language versions at once, consider sending users to an English version of your site, as it’s most likely that a majority of people speak English better than any other language.


To sum up, here are the most important things when creating content for a multilingual site:


  • Do multilingual keyword research, find ones with relatively low competition levels.
  • Focus on the possible cultural differences.
  • Hire a native, so your copy will meet your new target audience needs.
  • Don’t use automated translators.


Duplicate content


Make sure that content on your website is not duplicated. It’s actually one of the most common risks of multilingual SEO that can severely harm rankings. This is because pages with similar content compete with each other. The solution here is hreflang.


With hreflang, you tell Google what language is used on a certain page. When the hreflang tags are set properly on your pages, search engines will display the most appropriate site to your visitors based on their language settings and location. It’s a technical implementation, so you should ask someone with a technical background for help.

International SEO strategy in action 


Have you ever wondered how you can distribute and promote multilingual content?


Normally, you optimize your content for one language. When you sell your products or services through one country or a region, it’s enough. But when you want to expand to other countries, it’s getting more complicated. Now you need multilingual link building campaign.

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Overall, it’s similar to building recognition of your current site. Besides internal linking, you can also reach bloggers and build relationships with journalists that cover topics relevant to your website content and writes articles in different languages.


The thing is that the majority of incoming links should be in the same language as your site, they also should be relevant to make them look natural. Otherwise, poor quality links or a number of links from websites with totally different content can harm your multilingual SEO.


You may want to use guest blogging as a strategy of winning backlinks to your website.


And, as you probably know, quality backlinks (from websites with high domain authority), website content, as well as user experience are important to Google to determine whether the website should rank high or not.


If your team doesn’t consist of people that are fluent in different languages, perhaps you should hire an agency that will help you promote your website among other markets.


Other search engines than Google


Also, keep in mind that there are countries where Google isn’t the major search engine. For instance, in Russia more popular is Yandex, while Chinese customers prefer using Baidu.


You’re opening your business to a whole new audience, so track your results, check your analytics, and monitor backlinks. It all opens up your website to new potential customers, so do your best to make it visible in the depths of the internet.

Multilingual SEO – Wrapping up 


Of course, you want your website to be found in other countries, so you need to implement an SEO strategy for multiple locations. It comes with extra investments in SEO but when done properly, it will bring you a number of new customers and higher profits in the long run.


Remember that there are no shortcuts here, an SEO is a long-lasting process and it takes time to see results. However, when you follow best practices for multilingual SEO, you’ll achieve your goals and attract more customers, giving them a better user experience.

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Karolina Matyska

Lingwistka, copywriterka, online marketerka, ale przede wszystkim – fanka dobrego content marketingu. Z contentem związałam się zaraz po studiach, z Senuto i SEO – w 2018 roku.

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