Multilingual SEO: Things to Remember

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Google has recently done a series on the usability of multilingual websites and it got me thinking about multilingual SEO. How do you, in fact, optimize the same website for keywords in multiple languages?

But let’s start with the core basics. In simple terms, a multilingual website is a website that has content in more than one language. And such website has a lot of on-page stuff that is often done wrong. Let’s take a look at some common issues:

1) Language recognition

Once Google’s crawler lands on your multilingual website, it starts with determining the main language on every page. Google can recognize a page as being in more than one language but you can avoid crawler confusion by doing the following:

  • Stick to only one language per page
  • Avoid side-by-side translations
  • Use the same language for all elements of the page: headers, sidebars, menus, etc.

Some web editors create code-level attributes automatically but these attributes are not very reliable, so keep in mind that Google ignores all code-level information (from “lang” attributes to DTD (Document Type Definitions) during language recognition.

2) URL structure

A typical pet peeve of SEO but even more so with multilingual websites. To make the most of your URLs, consider language-specific extensions. Language-specific extensions are often used on multilingual websites to help users (and crawlers) identify the sections of the website they are on and the language the page is in. For example:

This is a great way to organize URLs on a multilingual website because not only does it help the user, but it also makes it easier for the crawler to analyze the indexing of your content. But what if you want to create URLs with characters other than English? Here’s how to do it right:

  • Use UTF-8 encoding for non-English characters
  • Make sure your UTF-8 encoded URLs are properly escaped when linked from within your content

i.e. if a URL contains an é, which is a non-English character:ént.html

here’s how it will look properly escaped:

It is important to note that Google directly extracts character encodings from HTTP headers, HTML page headers, and content. There isn’t much you need to do about character encoding, other than watching out for conflicting information – for example, between content and headers. While Google can recognize different character encodings, use UTF-8 on your website whenever possible.

3) Crawling and Indexing

Another common area of focus for SEO. On multilingual websites, follow these recommendations to get more pages crawled:

  • Avoid redirects based on user’s perceived language: they could, in fact, prevent both users and SEs from looking at more pages on your site.
  • Keep the content for each language on separate URLs
  • Don’t use cookies to show translated page versions
  • Cross-link page by page

Last but not least, please remember that Google does not recommend automatic translations.

By getting the on-page basics right, you will set a great base for your multilingual SEO in the future and, unlike so many others, you will not have to beg (in multiple languages) SE crawlers to come and index your content.

Maria Nikishyna

Maria Nikishyna

Maria Nikishyna is an accomplished search engine marketer specializing in paid and organic lead gen programs. When Maria is not optimizing websites, she’s an SEM... Read Full Bio
Maria Nikishyna

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  • Very fine job….We have worked on some multiple languages sites and we feel using top level domain name to make distinction between different languages and areas is optimal solution from the SEO point of view.

  • Thank you for the post.

    But for websites with multi languages, should the main language (e.g. English) be on:

    a. www example com / en
    b. www example com (root)

    If on a folder, is that a good SEO practice having the root as a hub for all languages?

    Thank you.


    • @Andryo: ideally you have a dedicted local TLD per country you like to target. In case you do not want that but keep a .com tld for instance – you could either use /en for English language pages – however, you should consider if you want to target languages or countries – for instance, is your offering relevant to everyone in the world that speaks english? if you do indeed want to make a difference between let's say uk and us – then i would recommend to use /en-us and /en-uk – this will also allow you to geo-target them seperately with Google Tool Master Tools.
      Here are few more tips for international SEO

      • Hi Miss Zed,

        Thank you for your reply.

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  • Nice article,

    I would also agree that one domain extension for one language is also the best choice.

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  • Great article with valuable SEO tips about how to optimize a website with different languages. Hope these tips will helpful for every webmaster to attract more and more visitors from different website from different languages.