How to take your global web presence to the next level: MULTILINGUAL SEO (MSEO)

Back How to take your global web presence to the next level: MULTILINGUAL SEO (MSEO)

If you’re in business, you’ve heard about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Put most simply, it’s the identification and placement of relevant search terms to allow search engines (and so, your customers) to find you.

SEO is a crucial part of any marketing strategy. But remember: it’s the world wide web, and not everyone on the planet speaks the same language. For businesses operating in multiple regions or for those who want to extend their reach, implementing Multilingual Search Engine Optimization (MSEO) is a great step—but it’s not as simple as running your existing site through a translation program. Read on to find out more about the challenges and best practices associated with MSEO.


Search engines use algorithms to determine the relevance of a web page. An algorithm is a formula or set of rules. Search engine algorithms are always changing, and always getting smarter. Staying up-to-date about how your site is being indexed is a crucial part of any marketing strategy. After all, if your customers can’t find you, they can’t buy from you.

Different search engines have different algorithms, so one of the first tasks is to identify which engines you will be targeting. Google is the search engine of choice in the United States, but businesses shouldn’t ignore the runner-up, Bing. And for those looking to expand their reach in China, they’ll need to target Baidu. In all cases, selected search terms should appear in the code as well as the content.

Enter the hreflang tag

When it comes to SEO, optimized code is as important as user-facing content. We’re dealing with algorithms, remember, so we need a way to tell the engines what language they should be looking at.

Imagine you have a site with similar pages optimized to users in English and French. You will need a way to indicate to search engines which of these pages it should be serving. The hreflang tag does just that. By including this marker in the code, the search engine can understand the language of the page and determine whether it is appropriate for the searcher by looking at their physical location and default language options. The code snippet will look something like that

<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="en-us" />

Properly implemented, this is going to vastly improve the user experience by serving up relevant content in their own language, and improve search engine ranking. With this tag, the engine can understand that similar content is not duplicate content—that it’s targeted by language and isn’t spam. 

Living language

So how do we select the best search terms across languages? We’ve all seen websites with built-in translators. Sometimes the copy they produce is pretty good, and sometimes it’s…dismal. Like the algorithms, online translators are constantly improving but the fact is, language is living. It is the product of human interaction and as such requires human translation.

Consider a site translation from English to Spanish. It sounds pretty easy, right? These are two very popular global languages, spoken by millions around the world. Right off the bat, though, there’s an issue. Some of your target Spanish speakers will be in Spain, where the word zapato means shoe. For site visitors in Argentina, though, it means ugly. Imagine the gaffe for a footwear company operating on both continents!

The best way around this is to work with a marketing expert who is a native speaker, preferably from the region you’re targeting. In concert with your marketing experts, this person will be able to identify what your customers are looking for, and the search terms they’ll use to look. Importantly, a native speaking consultant will also be able to encode your marketing, voice, and brand—all essential components to your marketing strategy.

Implementing across language

In the same way that outstanding SEO requires cooperation between professionals, your MSEO efforts should be implemented in a holistic way.
Your in-house subject matter experts should work with your local consultants to identify what your customer is searching for—and the terms they will use. Engage your designers and writers to work together from the beginning of the project with a multilingual site in mind.

Although English is ubiquitous in business, it is not the only language in the world. A company looking to truly extend its reach will want to not only acknowledge other languages by providing multilingual content but also optimize for multiple search engines. By thinking globally from the start of your project, you’ll be more likely to convince your potential customers that you’re speaking their language.

What steps do you take to maximize your old and new content for SEO? Most consultants typically start a campaign with a thorough audit of the website and Backbone offers you a free SEO audit.

Start transforming your business now with an award-winning strategy!