Multilingual SEO: Establishing Online Visibility in Foreign Markets


With Google being one of the most credible sources of information in the world and its number of searches reaching more than 6.8 billion per month, investing in search engine optimization (SEO) has become a necessity. Research has shown that users rarely go beyond the top 30 results on search engine pages; thus higher rankings are essential to increase online visibility and traffic.

As a result of globalization, thousands of businesses are deciding to concentrate on international markets rather than just on domestic markets. Expanding into foreign markets has become a very effective way of increasing ROI and today, companies are spending thousands of dollars on developing and maintaining localized websites targeted at multilingual and multicultural audiences.

When expanding into international markets, it is critical to understand that English is not used by the majority of Internet users but by only 28.7% of the entire Web population. Chinese is the Internet's second largest language, spoken by 321 million online users whose number has grown by 894% in the last eight years. Spanish, as the third most popular language on the Web, represents 131 million online users who are located not just in Spain but also in Mexico, most of Central and South America and a significant portion of the United States. Japanese, French, Portuguese and German are currently among the top 10 languages spoken by millions of Internet users around the world.

In order to speak to foreign audiences, translating content is a necessity, but this is not enough. Localization into chosen languages is the first step of a multilingual marketing strategy which can substantially increase the number of potential clients. Every language has its own nuances which have to be taken into consideration when targeting users from different cultures. What people refer to as a "cell phone" in American English is called a "handy" in German, a "mobile" in UK English and a "GSM" in Belgium. These language distinctions influence Internet searches carried out by users of different nationalities and cultures who use a variety of key phrases to look for the same service or product.

Thanks to multilingual search engine optimization (MSEO), businesses can make sure that their website is found by locals. As research has shown, Internet users not only prefer to buy in their own language but also search the Internet using native keywords and phrases typing them into local search engines such as the Chinese search engine Baidu.

Defining an MSEO strategy is a complex and time-consuming process. Most importantly, localization and MSEO should not be perceived as separate efforts. There are hundreds of companies which are dedicated to translation and localization in multiple languages, but which do not take into consideration SEO and its impact on localized content. It is crucial to understand however, that SEO is one of the keys to making a multilingual site successful and goes hand in hand with the website translation and localization process. Which is why companies with MSEO experience combine these two essential disciplines which form a complete multilingual marketing strategy.

Every SEO strategy begins with thorough keyword research. In MSEO however, this process is more advanced and challenging as keywords must correspond to a specific country, culture and audience. While an American-speaking Internet user may utilize one main search phrase to find the required information, a German user might use several synonyms. Therefore, SEO experts first analyze key industry terms and conduct linguistic research. Once they have the first list of keywords, they conduct a search engine search based on competition and popularity to then execute a full competitor analysis in the target language.

Multilingual keyword research should be an ongoing effort as it is essential to regularly consult with product teams to determine new keywords and industry terms. Localizing content without proper keyword research will not give businesses the desired results. Understandable and culturally sensitive content is a must, but if key terms are not defined as well, a multilingual site will not be found by potential clients. To ensure high rankings, businesses should always think of incorporating MSEO before launching their multilingual website on international markets. Otherwise, conducting a full linguistic analysis of the website and re-translating it using the correct terminology and key phrases become essential and incur additional cost.

Using the right keywords in a foreign language offers many advantages. Not only do 93% of people search the Internet in their native language, but there is also a significant difference in competition between English keywords and multilingual keywords. Whilst a popular phrase in English may get millions of search results, the same keyword in German or Spanish might yield fewer results and thus be much less competitive. Consequently, using well-selected key phrases can help businesses rank much higher in respective local search engines and reach a highly targeted audience.

The next step of any MSEO strategy involves website modifications and adjusting a website's multilingual text to fit the search engines’ ever-changing algorithms. In addition, MSEO providers often need to add significant amounts of high-quality multilingual content to the existing website. Finally, suggested changes should be tested by a separate team who can provide an objective review of each change.

Translation and localization are essential parts of the MSEO strategy and require a team of experienced linguists to perform these tasks following SEO-guidelines. Final content localized exclusively by native speakers should be accurate, appropriate and clearly understandable to a target audience.

Once a website is successfully localized and optimized, businesses should also focus on offsite MSEO which involves obtaining links from high ranking multilingual websites, directories, and news channels. Press releases are one of the most effective SEO marketing tools which help establish online visibility by increasing rankings for chosen keywords. Numerous MSEO providers specialize in writing SEO-oriented press releases and distributing them through various local multilingual PR channels.

MSEO involves several steps and elements but, if implemented correctly, can provide a relatively fast technique for branding and expanding any business on international markets. MSEO should be seen as a long-term strategy which will allow companies to create business opportunities that were previously beyond reach.