Getting International SEO Right, Painlessly

So, you’re convinced you need a multilingual website to better serve all the different countries your company operates in. Before you go ahead and start to translate website content, spare a few minutes to consider how you’re going to get the SEO right for the international versions of your website.




Get Local

When you’re optimizing your global website for search, the first thing to keep in mind is that mere translation of keywords usually isn’t enough. Your target audience may be using different terms in their local parlance. This in-language keyword research should be done before you begin translation, because you can then include it in the terminology – by way of a translation style guide and/or glossary – that you will ask your translators to use.

Choice of URL Structures Is Not an Exact Science

In this documentation that Google provides, you can see the pros and cons of all the choices you can make when it comes to how you can host your multilingual sites.

You can choose from ccTLDs (country-level Top Level Domains like, subdomains (, or subdirectories (

Your budget, the amount of time you’re willing to devote to maintain the international sites, and even legal requirements are things that will help you determine the URL structure. For example, if you choose ccTLDs, remember that these will function as new and separate entities and you will have to make a renewed SEO effort to drive traffic to these websites.

However You Host Them, Make Sure They’re Discoverable

However you decide to host your multinational sites, make sure that visitors can jump to any country or language, regardless of what page they end up on. Geotargeting may not always direct users to the part of your site that offers their preferred language or country information.

Work on Getting Local, Inbound Links

Many search engines give importance to links from within their own country, particularly if the site is also hosted within that country.

As you begin tapping into a local market, consider inbound marketing strategies such as social media campaigns in those international locations. This is one great way to connect with local websites and businesses as well as shoppers and consumers. Bonus: Locale-based linking will help build the authority of your website.

Duplicate Content – Should You Worry about It?

Google says it will not penalize translations of original content for multinational or multilingual sites. However, if you are not localizing your entire website but are only translating the boilerplate text, be careful. Google frowns on practices that create bad customer experiences and you can be sure it will not rank such sites favorably.

Also interestingly, Google says that if you use automated translations as-is – that is, without getting them edited by humans – to create your multilingual content, it be considered duplicate content. Moral of the story? Create your translations by hand. If you have to use machine translation, post-editing is a must.

It’s clear that getting SEO right is hard work, especially if you have multiple country sites. Internationalization in the old days would involve a lot of developer time, as they had to go through the entire website or application to manually extract all content—marketing copy, menus, error messages, images containing text, everything—into what’s called a “strings file.” But thanks to Smartling’s Global Delivery Network, these tasks are all now automated, freeing up your time to concentrate on making international SEO work for you.

CTA banner guide to international SEO