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What is multilingual SEO?

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Do you want your website and the offer presented on it to also reach foreign customers? Reaching people who use languages ​​other than Polish with your content provides a lot of new opportunities. It is a task that requires a large investment in SEO , but in return provides a significant increase in traffic and conversion rates. There is a reason why almost every major portal has several language versions. Read this article and check what benefits can bring you adapting your website to users using different languages, and what you should be careful about. 

What is multilingual SEO?

Multilingual positioning is about optimizing the content on the website for different languages ​​or regions. Often within one country whose inhabitants speak more than one language. But the work doesn’t stop there. You also need to ensure that the right version of the page reaches the right visitors. For this reason, it is very important to build an SEO strategy and implement it for each language you intend to implement on your website. Thanks to this, the appropriate version will be found already at the stage of obtaining organic search results. This way you will better respond to the needs of potential customers. 

Multilingual SEO is not an easy task. Even with translated content, positioning can turn out to be quite a challenge. Targeting different languages ​​and regions requires you to conduct an in-depth analysis of your competition and local key phrases. Content duplication is also a significant risk when using multilingual SEO. For this reason, before taking any action, it is worth getting acquainted with the techniques directly related to this type of positioning, or starting cooperation with an agency. 

What is multilingual SEO?

Domains for multilingual SEO

Depending on whether you target users based on their location or language, you should provide your website with the appropriate domain. There are three options to choose from:

  • Top Level Domains (ccTLDs)
  • Subdomains
  • Subdirectories

All of these solutions have advantages and disadvantages, and may work differently depending on the application. As for national top-level domains, it is recommended to use them for large sites with a larger budget. 

This is because each domain will have to build its authority from scratch, and you will have to act on them analogous to those if you were starting a new website from scratch. Of course, a lot of work (such as graphics, content, etc.) will already be done or requiring only cosmetic changes, but the positioning of such a website will still require a lot of time and a large budget. This does not mean that it is not profitable. According to data from SEMRush, ccTLDs provide the greatest accuracy during searches because they give the most distinct geolocation signal. 

In many cases, however, a subdirectory structure will be a sufficient solution. Its undoubted advantage is that each of them shares popularity with the main page, so by setting them you do not start positioning from scratch. However, this requires special care for each subdirectory, because any deficiencies appearing on them will affect the  authority of the parent site. This is what many global brands use . It is much cheaper to implement and also provides a fairly strong localization signal for search engines.

What to base a multilingual SEO strategy on  ?

As in the case of national positioning, you should ensure that the pages are tailored to the tastes of customers, not your whim. For this reason, you need to know your users well and take the time to research their needs. When planning an expansion to other language groups, it is worth checking how your visitors are distributed in terms of nationality and location. You can find out about this by using Google Analytics or a related analytical tool with similar functions. Thanks to this, you will have access to geographic data on the traffic on the website. You can check it both in terms of language and localization and you will achieve the best results by following both of these categories in planning your strategy. 

How can you use this data for your own benefit? They can show you the best course of development to start with. If you already have a promising number of visitors from other countries with your main website, it is worth choosing them as the first target. When a foreign customer bothers to search for Polish phrases or products, it will be very easy for you to get them by meeting their expectations and creating content in their language. Unfortunately, due to the relatively insignificant share of Polish-language content on the Internet (according to Wikipedia data, for 2021 it is only 0.6%on a global scale) and little knowledge of our language, there is little chance that they will attract a significant foreign audience. It is possible that when checking the data from the native version of the website, you will not be able to determine the direction of development on their basis and you will have to rely on other factors, such as an analysis of the specificity of your industry. 

Properties of the hreflang attribute 

However, if you already have a version of the website prepared for a more popular language group, analytical data on the nationality of visitors can still be very useful for you. An example would be English and its varieties. A UK user (en-gb) theoretically speaks the same language as a US user (en-us) or Australia (en-au). In practice, however, their English versions differ in details that are easily distinguished by native speakers. If most of your foreign traffic comes from the US and the English spoken on the site is British (or vice versa), it negatively affects the user experience, limiting the site’s potential. How can I fix it? The answer is hreflang.

Tags called hreflang help the search engine understand better to whom the content is addressed. They contain information about the language of the site, but also about specific nationalities in a given language group. They can be used for many purposes. 

The above example shows that the content is written in “en”, that is English, but the second part of the “pl” attribute suggests a Polish audience to the search engine’s algorithms. This tag construction can be used, for example, in educational websites where Polish users want to learn English. Without proper tagging, bots would treat this page as English by default and it would be much more difficult to locate by searching in our home region. 

Another important task of hreflang attributes is to prevent content duplication. 

If you are creating versions of your site targeting users of the same language but in separate locations, you must use hreflang tags. As you can see in the example above, there are two different options for content for the US and UK markets. It is very possible that the vast majority of the content will be very similar or identical. Without the use of the attribute, the search engine would likely consider the content to be duplicate and penalize the page. Thanks to its use, it will treat them as two separate entities and index them separately. 

Interestingly, despite the fact that setting the hreflang attribute is an elementary foundation of multilingual SEO, it is often neglected. According to research carried out by the MOZ portal, the tags are set incorrectly in 25% of cases . It is a common mistake to use incorrect abbreviations for certain languages. Use this knowledge and check the correctness of the attribute on your website to gain an advantage over the competition. 

What is multilingual SEO?

Some useful tips

Adapting the website to function in the multilingual reality is not only about typically technical matters. You also need to take care of the issues related to User Experience, which complements SEO activities and has a real impact on the website’s ranking position in organic search results. Below, we present a handful of small tips on often neglected issues that, if implemented, may have a positive impact on the website’s results.

For e-commerce, adjust the transaction currency to the customer’s location

If you run an online store that aims to appear on foreign markets, you have to convert the prices from PLN to local currencies. Thanks to this, potential customers will have a much easier shopping path and increased comfort of using the website. Also, do not forget about the transparent and easily accessible information on shipping costs and conditions for each of the countries served. 

Adapt your content to local realities 

It is worth emphasizing once again what we said on the occasion of hreflangs. You should pay attention to the linguistic differences in individual national dialects. Despite the fact that both Germany and Austria use the same language, many phrases used in everyday speech are slightly different from each other. Neglecting this element may reject potential users from your website who notice that you have not personalized your content for them. This does not only apply to language issues, but also to product and information issues. You should analyze key phrases (including seasonal or event-related ones) and check whether the content relevant to one country will arouse any interest in the other. 

The picture above shows this principle perfectly. The global Nestle brand, depending on the location of a given website, includes articles tailored to the interests of local users. 

Don’t impose a language version, just ask the user

In many cases, adjusting the language version of the website automatically based on the user’s location or the language settings of their search engine works well. Nevertheless, a better solution is to ask them if the language suits them, rather than imposing it as the default option. This can be done with the help of an unobtrusive popup that appears when you enter the site or a clearly visible option to select the language version. Additionally, it is a solution recommended by Google’s guidelines . 

Don’t automate content translation 

Due to the aforementioned issues regarding language differences in individual nations, you should hire native speakers who will be able to identify and emphasize them. It is absolutely unacceptable solution to use automatic translators such as Google Translator. Despite the fact that it is a very advanced tool, it is still not perfect, and any linguistic errors will be easily picked up by both foreign users and search engine algorithms. In addition , it is explicitly mentioned in Google’s guidelines that such activities are subject to penalisation. 


Appropriate website structure, errors on the page, correct URL addresses – such issues significantly affect the effectiveness of positioning, therefore the skillful creation of redirects on the website should be one of the important elements of the positioning strategy. However, you should remember about moderation – the lack of redirects is a serious problem, but their excess can also weaken the website. Correctness and optimization of implementation are important in developing User Experience. The smoother, more convenient and easier a given user browses a website, the more time he or she will spend on it and the more likely to return to it. Redirects affect not only website traffic, but conversion as well. Consider online stores – each time a potential customer encounters a 404 error, the chances of it being that he will decide to continue browsing the assortment and the final transaction. It is worth regularly monitoring the operation of the website and checking if all redirects are functioning flawlessly, then we increase our chances of quickly detecting any errors and fixing them before it has a negative impact on the operation and effectiveness of the website.

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