Multilingual SEO - Search Engine Optimization for international markets
Thanks to the internet, the world is your oyster – there’s nothing stopping you from selling to customers in other countries. But be honest: Are your international sales numbers meeting your expectations? Even if you’ve had your website professionally translated and localized, you may still find that your foreign-language pages aren’t attracting enough visitors or fail to convert.

The reason may be that your content isn’t optimized for your global audiences. Nearly half of all shoppers start their purchase journeys on search engines, and with almost two billion websites on the internet, the competition for attention is steep. If you want customers in your target markets to find you and give your business a boost, you need a multilingual SEO strategy.

Here are six reasons why multilingual SEO is the key to international growth.

1. Keep pace with emerging languages & growing markets

English still dominates the internet, but other languages are gaining ground. While nearly 26 percent of all internet users speak English, Chinese is currently in second place at 19 percent, followed by Spanish and Arabic. Unlike English, which has pretty much flat-lined, the market share of these emerging languages continues to grow.

If you’re not offering your website in multiple languages, you’re missing out on a huge potential customer base. Although many people around the globe know how to speak English, this doesn’t translate into search and buying habits. In fact, 76 percent of consumers prefer to buy products from websites that are offered in their native language, according to a study by the research firm Common Sense Advisory. What’s more, 40 percent never purchase from websites in other languages.

Photo credit: Pixabay

But in this day and age, simply offering different language versions of your website won’t cut it. What you need is unique, high-quality multilingual content that is optimized for the users – and the relevant search engines – in your target markets.

2. Get more bang for your content marketing buck

For human buyers, content plays an important role in purchase decisions. For search engines, it sends ranking signals that decide whether your website will be displayed on page one of the search results, or somewhere among the also-rans. By publishing multilingual SEO content, you will increase your website’s visibility and raise brand awareness across multiple markets.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Adapting your content for other languages allows you to increase your reach beyond national boundaries – assuming it gets seen. Google loves fresh content, but with millions of blog posts published every day, it can be hard to cut through the clutter.

That’s why you need to optimize all content with your audience in mind. In the international arena, this means you must:

  • Identify relevant keywords for your target market
  • Ensure cultural relevancy
  • Find the right balance between appealing to human readers and search algorithms
  • Know which search engines are used in your target market (e.g., Baidu in China or Yandex in Russia)

Good SEO practices in each target market will increase your chances of capturing readers’ attention. They will spend more time on your page, which search engines see as a positive ranking signal. Quality content also gets more likes and shares on social media and inbound links from other pages. All of this is good for SEO.

3. Capture the right eyes at the right time

SEO is the ultimate customer magnet. Being found organically presupposes a certain level of interest. At the moment of search, you have the user’s complete attention. Consumers who are searching for something also have a stronger intent to purchase. Optimizing your multilingual website will put your name, logo, and message in front of the right eyes at the right time.

Photo credit: Pixabay

But let’s face it: If you’re not listed on page one of the search results, you’re not getting the click. Why? Because most people don’t make it to page two when they’re looking for answers. Studies show that the top five listings on a Google search results page receive 65 percent of the clicks.

In the global marketplace, competition is much steeper than in your home market, as you’re competing against international companies and local businesses based in your target country. If your multilingual website isn’t SEO friendly, your chances of ranking in the coveted top tier are slim to none.

4. Build trust in your brand

In the early days of SEO, businesses could rise to the top of the search results with quick-win tactics, such as keyword stuffing or link farming. These tricks no longer work. Today, an effective SEO strategy is built on authority, relevance, and trust – factors that convince both search engines and internet users that your website is legit.

This is particularly important when you’re trying to win over customers in international markets, who may not be familiar with your brand. Posting up-to-date, relevant content that’s optimized for your foreign target audiences shows off your expertise and establishes credibility. It also gives you a chance to build links to and from other in-country websites, which strengthens your domain authority and further improves your search ranking.

5. Gain an edge over your competition

Many of your competitors are ignoring their non-English-speaking audiences. Those who offer multilingual websites often neglect to optimize them, effectively leaving money on the table. Whether you run a small business or a huge corporation, SEO can lead to huge gains in terms of revenue and ROI.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Compared to other marketing initiatives, SEO is also extremely cost-efficient. Even with hiring an SEO expert, you’re likely to spend far less on the content optimization process than you would on buying ad space or airtime in international media outlets. Plus, SEO measures don’t have a built-in expiration date.

With 91 percent of all web pages getting zero organic search traffic, the barrier to entry is pretty low, so beat your competition to the punch by harnessing the power of SEO.

6. Improve the user experience

SEO and user experience go hand in hand: What’s good for one is good for the other. In fact, around 80 percent of the measures to optimize your multilingual website are practices you should be doing anyway to provide the best UX.

Photo credit: Pixabay

If you want to appeal to man and machine, here are a few key aspects to consider.

Offer great content that’s written for humans

The hallmarks of quality content marketing also apply to SEO content. Readability and relevance are among the most important ranking factors. If you regularly publish good multilingual content that offers added value for your target audience, you’re well on your way to international SEO success.

Structure your website to guide visitors and search engines

A clear website design improves the user experience and positively affects your SEO ranking. Keeping the foreign-language versions of your website simple and easy to navigate helps users find what they are looking for – and search engines, too.

Make your website mobile friendly

Shopping via smartphone is becoming as normal as shopping in person. In a survey conducted by MasterCard, eight out of ten Europeans said they make purchases via their mobile devices. Google has recognized this trend and switched to mobile-first indexing in September 2020. Optimizing your multilingual website for mobile devices will improve the shopping experience for users on smartphones or tablets while boosting your search engine ranking.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Keep accessibility in mind

Providing alternative text descriptions for images and captions, or subtitles for audiovisual materials, opens the doors to a whole new customer segment while improving SEO. By making your content accessible to people who are blind, visually impaired, D/deaf, or hard of hearing, you allow them to participate more actively in your website experience. At the same time, you make your content accessible to search bots – a win-win.

Tips for getting started

Now that you’re aware of the benefits of a multilingual SEO strategy, how do you go about it? The following recommendations will guide you on your way to iSEO success.

Identify key pages

You don’t have to optimize your entire website at once. Focus on your most important multilingual landing pages and those that drive the most conversions. Start offering valuable, optimized content such as blog posts, white papers, infographics, or case studies in the language of your foreign target customers.

Hire an expert

Multilingual SEO is a complex blend of language, SEO, and copywriting skills. It also requires cultural insight to understand the search and user habits in the target market. Professional translators with SEO experience and other multilingual SEO specialists can help you find just the right words to attract humans and algorithms alike.

Beware of false economies

Resist the temptation to take shortcuts. Using machine translation to churn out foreign-language content and cramming in keywords is a sure-fire way to earn a stiff penalty from Google. Instead of ranking at the top, your website may end up getting removed from the search results pages altogether.

Be patient

SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. With expert help, you may see better rankings and a rise in your international sales in just a few months. Keep at it consistently and you will see results. Consider multilingual SEO an investment in your long-term business success.


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