An SEO guide for multi-regional and multilingual sites

It can be challenging to make sure that Google and other search engines index your web pages correctly if your website serves multiple languages. There are several ways to handle international content.

What Are Multilingual SEO, Multiregional SEO?

Multilingual SEO is the practice of offering optimized website content in a variety of languages. Multiregional SEO is the practice of creating optimized website content that is tailored specifically to multiple geographic regions.

These two strategies often have overlap, which is why we are covering them both in this post. They also tie in with other aspects of online marketing, such as conversion rate optimization, pay per click and content strategy.

The first thing you need to do is determine what regions you are targeting. Next, you need to decide which languages you are going to make available to those regions. This is critical, because it allows you to lay out the entire project.

Here is a guide on how to deal with international Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for your website.

Also read: A Guide to Manage Google Algorithm Changes


1. Use local domains for each language

After you determine the language and regions, you need to choose your domain and/or URL structure strategy.

Google's Official Webmaster Central blog states, It's difficult to determine geotargeting on a page by page basis, so it makes sense to consider using a URL structure that makes it easy to segment parts of the website for geotargeting.

A very good way to serve international content is to use country specific domains. For example, use yourcompany.com.ng for Nigeria, yourcompany.de for Germany, yourcompany.fr for France, etc.

If you have a .ng domain, it will be much easier to get high rankings on Nigerian search engines. In addition, a Nigerian website with English content is very easy to understand for website visitors and search engines.

It is much less confusing than a website that contains English, German, Spanish and other content.

Also read: A Simple Guide to Website Performance Evaluation


2. Important Information About Top Level Domains

Some domains are generic and others are location-specific. According to Google, these are the generic top-level domains (gTLDs) which do not specific a country. Google treats the following as gTLDs that can be geotargeted in Webmaster Tools.

Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs)

.aero

.biz

.cat

.com

.coop

.edu

.gov

.info

.int

.jobs

.net

.mil

.mobi

.museum

.name

.org

.pro

.tel

.travel

Regional Top-Level Domains (rTLDs)

According to Google, these domains are associated with a region, but they treat them as top level as well (much like .com or .org).

.eu

.asia

Generic Country Code Top Level Domains (gccTLDs)

Here is a list of the ccTLDs. Keep in mind that Google is always changing this list. Also, this list is specific to the Google search engine

.as

.bz

.cc

.cd

.co

.dj

.fm

.la

.me

.ms

.nu

.sc

.sr

.tv

.tk

.ws

.ng

Also read: Boost Your Website SEO with Google Analytics


2. Let your visitors choose which language they want to see

Another way to present international content is to let your website visitors choose the appropriate version. Your homepage contains a country and language selector to let users choose their favorite version.

After the selection, the user should be redirected to a web page that has a unique URL, i.e. each language version should use unique URLs.

If you use this method, it is important that your web pages use the x-default rel-alternate-hreflang annotation for the country selector page, which was specifically created for these kinds of pages.

In general, this method is more confusing than the first method. It's easier to make mistakes that can lead to problems with search engines.

Also read: A Guide to Website Optimization for Mobile Devices

How Search Engines Determine the Language

As Google has declared, it uses only the visible content on the webpage to determine its language. Not any source code information such as attributes would help Google determine the language. When considering the language issue, search engines won't take a whole site as an assessment unit. What they care about is that what is a specific webpage's language is, that is, search engines determine language only at the page level.

To avoid making search engines confused and to help them determine the language correctly, only one language should be used on each page, both in content and navigation. The website can include web pages in several languages, but every page should include only one language.

Also read: OnPage SEO Guide for Top Search Engine Ranking

3. Redirect visitors automatically

Instead of letting your website visitors choose, you can also redirect them based on their location and their language settings. You can do this with 302 redirects or by dynamically serving the right HTML content.

This method also requires the x-default rel-alternate-hreflang annotation and you must also make sure that the language pages have individual URLs.

Automatic redirects can be annoying. For example, if a person from the US is on vacation in Europe, it is not good if the US version cannot be accessed. It's also easy to make mistakes that can lead to indexing problems if you use this method.

Regardless of the method that you use to present your international content, you should make sure that all pages have rel-alternate-hreflang annotations.

In addition, all pages must be accessible for Googlebot (you can test this with a website audit tool. Visitors should also be able to visit different language versions of your website.

Getting high rankings for international websites is even more difficult than getting high rankings for regular websites.

Also read: SEO - What Search Engines Love and Hate About Websites


Conclusions

From the perspective of search engines, pages that provide the same content in different languages would not be considered as duplicate content, and are actually quite user-friendly to provide content in different languages to visitors from different countries or regions.

From another perspective, by creating several language versions of the webpage and helping search engines to index them all, would provide the website a better chance to get traffic from regions using different languages.

One common problem involving multi-lingual sites is the automatic redirection based on the user's perceived language (based on the IP address/cookie/browser language, etc.), which could prevent users and search engines from viewing all versions of the website, especially when there is not a cross-link between each language version of the site.

Also read: How To Manage the Sudden Disappearance of a Website from Google SERPs


Another more serious problem is that the website server can return different versions of the web pages in the same URL according to different user perceived languages. This may confuse search engines and visitors as well as to what is the exact language and content of the page (only one specific URL). To make the site search engine friendly, different content must be used for each different URL.

Since we know that there is no problem for search engines to determine the pages language if there isn't more than one language within each webpage, we can organize different language parts of the multi-regional and multi-lingual site well to help search engines understand each part and thereby help the sites pages get better rankings.


Recommendations to follow when planning or optimizing your multi-regional and multilingual sites:

Decide to use country-code top-level domain names or sub domains or subdirectories to organize different parts of the site. Choose ccTLDs, subdirectories or sub domains depending on your company's specific situation, such as your company's budget, site scale and so on.

Create different versions of web pages on the site in different languages to suit different visitors. Each page should be created in only one language and each language version of the pages should have their own URLs.

Organize pages in same language together and put them into different country-level domains or sub directories or sub domains.

Set up Cross-links between different language parts of the site and link each language version together.

Add the site to Google Webmaster Tool and set geotargeting for each part to indicate their targeted countries.

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