International SEO – how does multi-language SEO work?

Published by Stefan Nordström on

Multi-language SEO

Multi-language SEO (international SEO), search engine optimization in several languages, can be challenging. It’s commonly a part of business expansion to international markets, but freelancers like me also do to maximize the reach.

In this blog post, I will go through the challenges of multi-language SEO, and share my thoughts and experience. Hopefully, you’ll know more after reading it, and you’ll be ready to take the next step with your digital content.

By Stefan Nordström

Stefan Nordström - frilansande konsult inom digital marknadsföring som copywriting och SEO

  • Freelancing digital marketing consultant
  • 8 years of in-house and freelance experience
  • Expertise: SEO, copywriting, newsletters, conversion optimization, digital strategy
  • LinkedIn | Mail | Instagram

Multi-language SEO – the basics

The basics of multi-language SEO are pretty much the same as regular SEO, but you have to perform them for each market. It includes steps like:

  • Keyword analysis
  • Competition analysis
  • SEO strategy
  • Copywriting
  • Analytics, KPI’s and optimization

The SEO competition varies vastly between different countries. The English language always has a very high level of competition, which isn’t always the case for smaller markets, for instance Sweden, Norway and Denmark. This means that you need to find a tailor-made SEO approach for each language.

Multi-language SEO – the technical aspects

Working with international SEO means that you have a few questions to answer before you even start. The first one is about your site: will you create separate domains for each country, or will you have a multi-language site with all the SEO content? Both methods have their pros and cons.

Pros and cons

A large, multi-language website usually means more and stronger links and more content. But it’s also good to be aware that country-specific domains may rank better in Google for that language, and that visitors may trust the site more.

Recommendations in the SEO community

The recommendations really differ when it comes to this. Some SEO experts say multi-language sites are the way to go, other clearly recommend multiple domains. Personally, I think the status of your current plays a big part in the decision. If you have a web site that’s been around for a long time, with good content and a high authority level, it can take a very long time to rebuild it again with new, country-specific domains.

Hreflang-tags – a must for multi-language SEO on one site

You need to make clear to Google that your site has multiple languages. This can be done using the hreflang meta tag. When you do this, Google will know which part of your sites are in which language.

The easiest way to do this – if you use WordPress – is to find a good multi-language plugin that does the work for you. It’s how I’ve chosen to do it, and it’s definitely smooth. It’s also possible to adjust this in Google Search Console on a domain, sub-domain and catalog level.

Navigation and multi-language SEO

A sites or sites with multiple languages need to have a clear way to navigate. Where can you change language, and how can you make it easy to find the content in each version of the site?

A common way to do it is to have a language toggle in one of the upper corners, which usually works well if you have a few languages. But if there are many languages, you might have to have a separate language toggle page to avoid mess and confusion. No matter how you do it, it needs to be clear and user-friendly on every platform.

Is some of the content country-specific?

Website and content-creation aside, you also need to look at the differences between the languages and markets. The content is usually better off not being identical and translated, even if it would simplify the process. Some things are only relevant for specific markets, and the more country-specific the content is, the more dynamic and varied the site becomes.

Who is responsible for each language? Where do you find them?

Multi-language SEO means that you need to find competence in each market. And the partners you find need to understand the brand, the products, the field and your company. Multi-language SEO is very dependent on this, since the optimization has to be successful in each isolated market.

I’ve been a part of this process several times, as a Swedish SEO-copywriter. It usually works well, and in those cases multi-language SEO is a great way to build your brand and find new customers. Employing a bunch of SEO experts and content creators in each market may seem like a dream scenario, but it’s certainly possible.

When the languages and partners become many, someone needs to be in control of the work. Tasks like content creation, delegation and follow-up becomes even more important as you enter several SEO markets. If you’re working in really many markets, employing an agency that specializes in multiple languages could be a good idea.

5 more international SEO tips

Those are the basic challenges of multi-language SEO. But there are also some other things to keep in mind. Here are 5 quick ones:

  • Remember to create a logical URL structure in each language
  • Translate and create unique meta tags in each language
  • Never mix several languages on one page
  • Do all you can to sync the international content creation
  • Don’t do Google Translate or other machine/direct translations, hire competent copywriters that can translate and write with quality in mind

Are you looking for someone to help you with multi-language SEO or other digital tasks?

Do you need someone to help out with multi-language SEO, or maybe one specific market? I’m available for SEO, copywriting and much more in both Swedish and English. Get in touch by adding me on LinkedIn or e-mailing nordstromstefan86@gmail.com.


Stefan Nordström

Digital marketing freelancer and consultant originally from Stockholm, Sweden.

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