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International SEO for Your Multilingual Website: A Checklist

Here's what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

Filip Smet

Updated on April 30, 2024

Implementing an international SEO strategy for your multilingual website is essential if you want to penetrate new markets, grow your brand awareness, and increase your sales revenue. But how do you do that?

In this article, we will outline the process involved in implementing an international SEO strategy so you can take your multilingual website and business to the next level.

What is International SEO?

International SEO is a process of optimizing your website to give it the best chance of ranking highly on search engines that are used by the countries and languages you want to target.

The objective is to drive more traffic to your multilingual website from international audiences that weren’t previously visiting it.

Benefits of International SEO

When done effectively, international SEO provides your business with two main benefits – namely, increased visibility and an expanded customer base. Optimizing your multilingual website content for different regions helps search engines comprehend why your content is relevant to users from those regions. 

This approach also increases the likelihood of your website appearing in local SERPs for relevant queries. 

Additionally, international SEO is an effective way to expand your reach and introduce your brand to new audiences worldwide. If your competitors haven’t started doing the same, you’ll gain an advantage in every new market you enter where they aren’t present.

How to create an effective International SEO strategy

How to Create an Effective International SEO Strategy

Here’s what you need to do to create an effective international SEO strategy for your multilingual website.

1. Clearly define your international markets

You will probably know which international markets you want to target based on specific non-SEO-related factors, such as your desire and capability to operate in certain countries.

However, you should also make a point of checking out SEO metrics to establish which regions or markets hold the most lucrative potential for your business. 

You can get a clue by searching your competitor’s websites in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and discovering which countries they get most of their organic traffic from.

2. Determine what languages are spoken in each region

If you intend to target countries where the user’s native tongue could be one of several languages, you should consider making your website’s content available in every dialect.

For example, in Canada, most of the population speaks English, while a certain amount speak French as their native tongue.

Therefore, you’ll need to produce content in versions of both languages for that country.

3. Choose a URL Structure that helps your international SEO

If you have a multilingual website, it is a good idea to create specific URL structures that categorize which market the content is aimed at.

You can either purchase top-level domains for every country you want to operate in or subfolders such as: www.yourwebsite.com/fr (for France).

Doing this will help search engines easily index your content for specific target markets.

4. Install a CDN

There is nothing worse than trying to visit a website that is slow to load.

If you operate one website from a single server that targets users in several different countries, this could be a real issue.

For this reason, you should install a content delivery network to engage a group of internationally distributed servers that will load your website much more quickly from a localized server.

Doing this should help reduce load times and bounce rates significantly.

5. Do keyword research for all international SEO markets

If your website is ranking well in your own country, there is a good chance it is because you did your keyword research.

Therefore, it follows that you should do the same for every single country your website wants to target.

Using Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, you can quickly establish which keywords – relevant to your business – are searched the most in each of your target market countries.

Once you have ascertained this, you can take steps to incorporate them into your website pages.

6. Stick to one language per page

With an international URL structure in place for your site and all the keyword research completed for each region, you’ll be able to devise a localized content plan for each international market.

However, for each page, only one language must be used. Subsequently, for every content piece you create, you should make a separate website page for each language you want to target.

You should localize the content as much as possible by including relevant currencies, addresses, phone numbers, time zones, and images.

Google’s purpose is to provide users with the most relevant information to their search queries. Therefore, adding these nuances to your localized web pages will help you to rank better.

7. Make sure internal links only direct towards the same language content

Most of us know that internal linking is a major SEO factor. However, an easy trap to fall into when implementing an international SEO plan is to link your content to a page in a different language than the one you intend to target. Doing this confuses the user journey and sends mixed signals to Google.

Subsequently, you should make a concerted effort to link your pages to ones that target the same language or geographic region.

8. Properly configure hreflang

Hreflang is a bit of coding that tends to reside in the backend of a website page or through sitemaps.

Its main purpose is to provide Google with a list of alternative URLs for a particular page, which helps the search engine understand which market the current page is targeting.

Properly configuring hreflang improves the user experience and allows your rankings to benefit from close duplicates – especially versions that use the same language.

Although PageRank is not passed through hreflang, Google uses the most authoritative version in the searched language to determine the ranking position. When a user searches, Google serves the most relevant version for that user.

To review your hreflang implementation, Ahrefs’ Site Audit is a good place to start. However, you will first need to run an SEO audit of your website.

9. Develop a backlink profile for all your target countries

If you want to expand your business beyond your home country, it’s essential to establish authority in foreign markets.

One of the best ways to do this is to build backlinks from highly authoritative sites in each language or country you are targeting.

That is because your existing backlinks might not carry the same weight in different countries.

This step is often overlooked, but it’s crucial. After all, backlinks from an authority website in Spain might carry more gravitas and relevance to a Spanish target market than a backlink from an Australian authority site.

Using Google Console, you will be able to determine from which country your backlinks are coming and establish which regions you might need to focus on.

Conclusion

When you’re building a multilingual website, it’s crucial to implement an international SEO plan. 

Without one, you will struggle to achieve market penetration in countries other than the one in which you are based, let alone grow exponentially.

If you implement the strategies outlined in this post, you’ll go a long way to doing that. After all, you won’t just be improving your website’s rankings, you will also be enhancing the overall experience of your users.

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About the author

Filip Smet

Filip Smet is a Product Manager for Globallink. Hailing from Belgium, he brings a blend of precision and creativity to his work. You can find him spinning his favorite records or honing his backhand on the tennis court when he’s not working.

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