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International SEO Strategy for Non-Dominant Language Audiences

Want to target a specific, smaller second-language audience in a dominant-language country? Learn this SEO strategy for international business success.

International SEO Strategy for Non-Dominant Language Audiences

The ability to target niche or smaller audiences in specific countries is critical to your success in International SEO. It can determine whether a business succeeds or fails.

But too often, the only option site owners think they have is one-size-fits-most, broadly-based geotargeting by IP or a single language spoken by the majority of the population.

What about your options for targeting niche language audiences — those outside of the country’s dominant language?

Create Content in the Target Language

Start by creating content in the language dialect the audience you’d like to target uses online.

Just like with standard International SEO, having content in the right language is the first step to success.

If your target audience are likely to search online in Spanish, even when Spanish is not the main language used in that country, providing the content in Spanish definitely helps in connecting with them.

If you already have a Spanish language site for your Spanish-as-primary-language countries, you could use that to target them in the countries where Spanish is less popular.

For example, you have a Spanish site already for Spain, you could use it to connect Spanish speakers or expats in Germany instead of creating a brand new Spanish site for people in Germany.

It may seem like a lot of work and not as effective, but this practice of offering information in their language is effective, and many organizations are already doing this (especially with offline materials).

If you go to cities like New York and San Francisco where many languages are spoken, you find newspapers including town news and restaurant guides in different languages.

Emigrants may read in English, but these local businesses understand that providing the information in their first language lets them connect more directly with these valuable customers.

Use Hreflang Tags to Help Content to Be Discovered by Your Audience

I have written about using Hreflang tags here before, and it is a must-have tool for International SEO in terms of audience targeting.

Either you have one language site for multiple countries or one for each country. You need to be careful with the Hreflang tags settings when you are targeting a minority language group.

Example 1: Targeting English speakers in Japan

You have a website in English targeting people in the USA, and now you want to target English speakers in Japan. You could use the same site by adding another Hreflang tag.

Your current Hreflang tag should be “en-us.”

You could either change it to “en” to target English speakers anywhere, or add another tag with “en-jp” for the same URL to indicate this is also for English spoken in Japan.

If you create a separate English site specifically for English speakers in Japan, you use “en-jp” for pages on that site and use “en-us” for the site designed for USA.

Example 2: Targeting Japanese speakers in the United States

Japanese is considered a single country language. This means that Japanese people are the only group of people who speak the language, and the majority of Japanese reside in Japan.

Because of that, you can usually create one Japanese site and use “ja” as a Hreflang tag. If you want to target the nearly 450 thousand Japanese residents in the USA as well as Japan, you can use “ja-us” and “ja-jp.”

Example 3: Excluding Japanese speakers outside of the USA and Japan

This cannot be done with the Hreflang tags since it doesn’t offer an exclusion option.

You can manage this by using IP detection to exclude anyone trying to access the site outside of the USA and Japan.

(Do not block the search engine bots!)

The localization of the content also helps by using locally-specific information including currencies, metrics, and addresses.

Localize the Language for the Audience

This is not simply localizing English to Japanese, but using the correct content format for the target audience.

Japanese in the US may use different keywords and search using katakana or kanji characters.

The first two points are probably apparent to many smart SEO professionals, but even they often times overlook this last point.

It is important to understand that the queries people use to search are heavily influenced by the country in which they live.

It is highly likely that they use different words and phrases to search for the same or similar information as someone on the primary language market.

For example, Japanese engineers who live in Japan use “アッテネータ” for “attenuator,” while Japanese engineers live in the USA may use “アテニュエータ” which sounds more like attenuator.

Similarly, you find the difference in popularity as search query with “計装アンプ” vs. “インスツルメンテーションアンプ” for “instrumentation amplifier,” and “ジャイロセンサー” vs. “ジャイロスコープ” for “gyroscope.”

This is not unique to Japanese, but also for many people living in foreign countries.

If you have multiple sites in the same language targeting different countries, you may want to conduct a quick research project to understand the words your target audience use in each country. This goes beyond the spelling differences.

By the way, your paid search colleagues may appreciate the data, too.


Audience targeting for International SEO isn’t always as straight forward as mapping language to the country.

In general, having one site per language makes it easier to manage, but you may miss out huge opportunities by not targeting nuances in a specific country.

In order to maximize the business opportunity, I also recommend that you research queries in each country even when the audience speaks in the same language, and never leave them as copied versions.

More Resources:

VIP CONTRIBUTOR Motoko Hunt President, International Search Marketing at AJPR

Since Motoko established AJPR in 1998, she has been providing the online marketing services targeting Japan, Asia and other markets ...

International SEO Strategy for Non-Dominant Language Audiences

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