Going International: SEO Strategies for a Global Audience

Feb 28, 2024Lead Generation, SEO

Businesses grow and expand and in many cases that means international expansion. Selling, shipping and understanding international markets is complicated and it’s easy to overlook digital impacts when there are so many variables to consider. However, your website is the face of your business and it’s critical that you have the right strategy in place to ensure your expansion plans are a success. This guide was built with the intention to help businesses successfully scale their international business with support from multilingual SEO.

What is Multilingual SEO?

Multilingual SEO is the practice of properly targeting content and code to specific languages and regions. Think of it as making sure your international customers have access to your site through Google search using the right language and content. If you’re dreaming of taking your business global, or you already operate in multiple countries, this is something you can’t afford to overlook. So, why is Multilingual SEO so important, you ask? Well, imagine trying to stand out in a crowded room where everyone speaks different languages. Multilingual SEO is your loudspeaker, but instead of just being loud, it’s also speaking everyone’s language. It’s about making sure your website doesn’t just show up, but shines in search results across the world, giving you that edge over competitors who might not be as linguistically savvy. For international companies, this isn’t just nice to have; it’s a must-have for connecting with a global audience and ensuring your digital presence is felt far and wide. It’s like having a secret code that unlocks the door to worldwide markets.
Multilingual SEO Guide: Targeting an International Audience

Specialized Multilingual SEO Strategies

When it comes to taking your business international, the journey begins with a clear roadmap. The critical first step? Mapping out the countries, regions, and languages you plan to target. This isn’t just about translating your website into a handful of languages and calling it a day. It’s about crafting a strategy that considers the unique cultural and linguistic nuances of each market you’re entering.

Consider What Regions You Need to Target

When expanding internationally, you need to consider the core markets to target. This seems like a no brainer but it’s a n important step to ensure you are not overcomplicating or cannibalizing your efforts. Creating and executing a successful SEO program takes a lot of consistent effort and you’ll want to focus your attention where it matters. 

A core consideration during this strategy phase is how you are going to handle countries that speak the same language. For example, are you going to have one English site that applies to the US, UK and Canada or will you have three variations – one for each country? There isn’t a “best way” but there is an easier way – which is focusing on the language vs the country. Now that isn’t a possible solution for many ecommerce sites because shipping and monetary values are different based on the country. 

Having these conversation BEFORE creating new sites and/or translations will keep the entire team focused on the why and how to successfully expand.  

Determine How Languages Will Be Structured 

Will each region have it’s own unique domain? A subdomain? A subfolder? We recommend focusing all efforts on one domain with unique subdomains or subfolders for each region but the technical impacts of that needs to be explored with your development team. You’ll want to explore what is possible and then determine what will work best for your business. This part is all about exploration and understanding before taking major action. 

Creating Content That Resonates Across Cultures

The key to successful multilingual content is not just about accurate translation; it’s about cultural resonance. This means going beyond literal translation to adapt your message in a way that feels local and engaging to your audience. It involves understanding cultural norms, values, and idioms, and incorporating them into your content. For instance, humor, metaphors, and references that work well in one culture might fall flat or even offend in another. Research and collaboration with native speakers or cultural consultants can help ensure your content truly speaks to your audience, no matter where they are.

Tailoring E-commerce SEO for Multilingual Online Stores

E-commerce websites face a unique set of challenges and opportunities when it comes to multilingual SEO. Here, the focus shifts to not just translating product descriptions and marketing content, but also optimizing for local search terms and shopping behaviors. This includes understanding how people in different regions search for products like yours, what keywords they use, and how they phrase their queries.

For example, the way shoes are searched for in the US might differ significantly from searches in Germany, not just in language but in the terms and attributes shoppers prioritize. Additionally, consider the technical SEO aspects, such as hreflang tags, which help search engines understand the language and regional targeting of your pages, ensuring the right version of your site shows up in search results.

Tailoring your SEO strategy for multilingual e-commerce also means paying attention to local SEO factors, like using local currencies, units of measure, and even local social proof, such as reviews from customers in the target region. All these elements signal to both users and search engines that your online store is tailored to meet the specific needs and preferences of shoppers in that market.

Choosing the Right Translation Tool for Your Website

Integrating translation tools into your website can dramatically enhance its accessibility and user experience for a global audience. Here are some of the top tools that can help you achieve a seamless multilingual website:

  • Google Translate Plugin: It’s one of the most widely used tools for quick and easy website translations. Although not perfect, it offers a convenient way for visitors to translate your website into their language with just a click. It’s a good starting point for small businesses or blogs looking to reach a broader audience without a significant investment.
  • Weglot: This is a cloud-based platform that offers a more sophisticated approach to website translation. It detects and translates all your website content in real-time and allows you to manage and edit translations easily. Weglot is compatible with all major website content management systems (CMS) and offers a seamless user experience, making it a great option for businesses of all sizes.
  • WPML (WordPress Multilingual Plugin): If your website is powered by WordPress, WPML is a powerful plugin that lets you create a fully multilingual website. It allows you to translate pages, posts, custom types, taxonomy, menus, and even the theme’s texts. It’s a comprehensive solution that gives you complete control over the translations, including the ability to hire professional translation services directly through the plugin.
  • Lingotek Translation: This is a cloud-based translation management system that offers services for websites looking to automate the translation process. Integrated with WordPress through the Lingotek plugin, it provides options for machine, professional, and community translation services, making it versatile for different types of projects and budgets.

When choosing a translation tool, consider your website’s specific needs, including the level of translation accuracy required, your budget, and the languages you wish to support. Also, consider the SEO capabilities of these tools, as having a multilingual website is not just about translating content, but also about ensuring it can be found by users across different languages and regions.

Are you a marketer looking to improve your SEO game. Check out our content brief guide to improve your content strategy today!

The Foundation of Multilingual SEO: Language & Content Dexterity

Mastering multilingual SEO starts with a deep dive into the linguistic nuances and search habits of your target audience. This involves sophisticated keyword research in multiple languages, leveraging specialized tools and insights to discover how your international audience searches online. Here are a few tips to help you diversify your content to target the right international audience:
  • Conducting Multilingual Keyword Research Forget direct translations; explore the unique ways people search in different languages. Utilize tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, or Ahrefs, which offer insights into local search trends and keyword usage. In many cases leveraging local insights and engaging with local SEO experts is the key to success here. With a number of our international clients, we work closely with other agencies to support the global efforts. It’s an important caveat to note that there needs to be a collective global strategy for all countries and contributors to stay on track.
  • Finding Non-English Keywords Dive into tools that support multi-language keyword research to identify the terms your global audience uses. Investigate local forums, social media, and competitor sites to uncover culturally specific phrases and keywords. This exploration will guide you in crafting a localized keyword strategy that resonates with each target market.

Technical Facets of Multilingual SEO

Technical SEO is the most important and commonly overlooked aspect of multilingual seo. Just because you have target keywords and multiple languages DOES NOT mean Google and other search engines will be able to properly identify the correct location to the correct content. This is especially true when it comes to countries with common languages – examples would be differentiating the US, UK, Canada and Australia that are all English speaking countries with nuanced differences. Technical optimizations are the key for properly directing search engines to rank the correct content in the right countries.

Implementing hreflang Tags Correctly Across Pages

Hreflang tags are a critical element of technical SEO for multilingual websites. These tags help search engines understand the language and geographical targeting of your content, ensuring that the right version of your site is shown to users based on their location and language preferences. Implementing hreflang tags correctly involves specifying the language (using ISO 639-1 codes) and optionally the region (using ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 codes) for each page’s content. For websites with multiple language versions, each version of a page must have a self-referencing hreflang tag as well as references to all other language versions. This ensures that search engines can accurately map the relationships between the different versions of your content, reducing the risk of serving the wrong language page to users.

Hreflang Resources

Hreflang is a tricky task that requires expertise and experience to get right. Here are a few quality resources to help build out the correct hreflang tags for your website:
  • Google Search Central: Google’s own documentation offers the most authoritative advice on hreflang implementation.
  • Moz: Known for its wide range of SEO tools and resources, Moz offers insightful articles and guides on hreflang tags.
  • SEMRush: SEMRush’s blog features comprehensive articles on international SEO and hreflang tags, offering strategies, common mistakes, and case studies.
  • Search Engine Journal: This site is a treasure trove of SEO knowledge, with numerous articles dedicated to hreflang implementation.

Constructing Multilingual Sitemaps for Google Indexing

Alongside correct hreflang implementation, constructing multilingual sitemaps is another technical cornerstone for optimizing your website for international audiences. A sitemap is essentially a roadmap of your website that helps search engines find, crawl, and index your content. For multilingual sites, creating separate sitemaps for each language version can improve the efficiency of Google’s indexing process. Your multilingual sitemaps should include URLs for each language version of your content, along with the corresponding hreflang annotations. This not only aids in more accurate indexing but also assists search engines in understanding the structure of your multilingual website and the connections between its various language versions. Wrapping up, nailing your multilingual SEO strategy is pretty much the golden ticket if you’re looking to expand internationally. It’s all about getting your message to resonate with your target customers worldwide, in their own languages and cultural contexts. By fine-tuning your content, doing your homework on keywords, and getting the technical bits like hreflang tags right, you’re setting yourself up for some serious visibility and connection with a global audience. So, while it might seem like a bit of a climb at first, the view from the top—where your brand speaks everyone’s language and truly resonates on a global scale—is well worth it. After all, in today’s world, being able to chat with your customers in their language is the key to winning hearts and markets far and wide.

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