Breaking Down Multilingual and Multi-Regional SEO

You probably are some kind of SEO expert or developer if you are already reading this post. Why? It’s probably because you are already dealing with large and complex sites. These sites demand some expertise having taken the next step and this post will give you a guide to Multilingual and Multi regional SEO. However, before you can call yourself an expert, make sure you verify your strategies with the latest materials before making any drastic changes. That’s because these SEO (Multilingual and Multi-regional) practices are always changing and developing.


So, what IS Multilingual SEO? To put it simply, it is the practice of offering website content in varied languages or serving content in the same language across multiple regions. And not only is it just web content, it is optimised web content. A multilingual website is one that offers its pages available in more than one language. An example of this is a blog on South American soccer that’s offered in Spanish and Portuguese.

On the other hand, Multi regional SEO is the practice of making website content that is custom-made specifically for different geographic regions. Again, we are dealing with optimised web content. A multi regional SEO’d website is one that specifically targets users in various regions/different countries. Some websites are both multi regional and multilingual.

First you must ask yourself: Where is your business targeting? What region do you want to emphasise? Where do you think you can do more impact? The next thing to decide on is what languages you’d want to make available to these regions. This is the first step to laying out your strategy for the entire project.

Executing effective search engine optimisation for a website in one country can be both challenging and intimidating in itself. Therefore, a successful international travel SEO campaign requires attention to an army of additional considerations and specifications. Remember, multiple countries and/or multiple languages will result in multiple versions of your site bringing in multiple issues which require multiple tests.

Let’s breakdown a few guidelines to start our Multilingual and Multi regional SEO:

1. How to Manage Multilingual Versions of Your Site

When one goes to a website, upon looking, you can easily tell the page language. This should be the first thing to consider. The language should be quite obvious because Google uses just what is visible on your page to see what language it is. You can help Google know the correct language by using just one language for both content and navigation. If you translate only the boilerplate texts of your pages, this may create a bad user experience especially if the same translated content shows up many times in search results.

Separate URLs should be used for content of each language. We don’t advise the use of cookies to show the translated versions of the pages. One consideration should be to cross-link each language version. For example, an Italian searcher who ends up on the German version of your website can easily go to the correct language version with just one click.

We now know that Google uses the website’s content to know its language, but just by looking at the URL, gives the user clues already about the page’s language. For example, if a .ca URL uses fr as subdomains or subdirectories to indicate French content, then it will look something like these:ème-brûlée.html


2. How to Target Website Content to a Specific Country

If Google knows a website’s targeted country, this information can be useful to improve the quality of search results in different countries. What Google uses are these elements to know the targeted country:

  •  ccTLDs (country-code top-level domain names)

These names are attached to one specific country (Example .uk for the United Kingdom, .fr for France, .au for Australia, etc.). These are signals for both the user and the search engines that your site is intended for one specific country.

  • Geotargeting settings

Webmaster Tools is extremely useful with and provides you with geo-targeting tool to tell Google that your site is targeted to one specific country. But if your site is targeting more than one country, this tool is not going to be useful.


  • Server Location (IP address of server)

The location of your server is usually near your users and can give a signal to Google about your site’s targeted audience. Phone Number and Local Addresses, etc. The other pointers that can be seen on your site are the phone numbers, local addresses, local languages or dialects and currency.

3.  How to Deal With Duplicate Content and International Sites

This one is going to be tricky because there will be websites that will provide content for different regions/countries and will be written in different languages. These can sometimes create website content that is the similar or almost the same but are on different URLs. But if the SEO content is targeted for different users in different countries, this is not going to be a problem. We always emphasise to use or create content that is unique for different users but that may be quite difficult. There is also no need to mask or hide the duplicate sites by disallowing crawling in a robot.txt file or even to use a “noindex” robots meta tag. All the same, if you are showing the same website content to the same users, it would be wise to opt for a preferred version and redirect accordingly. For example, both “” and “” show French content for a user in France.

Are you stumped with your website because you want to target multiple regions or countries? Are you planning to do a multilingual version of your website but don’t know where to start? Contact us and we’ll make sure your website will be multilingual and multi-regional. In short, it will go global!


Last June of 2014, Google secretly started beta testing what is now known as a Webmaster Tools hreflang debug tool. Google has just announced this feature and is now live! You can find it under the Google Webmaster Tools International Targeting section of “Search Traffic”.

What does it do and how does it affect us?

Basically, if you’re doing business internationally, you need to make sure that your content is translated to another language properly for the obvious reasons. By marketing in the proper and preferred languages, you improve the way your content interacts with potential international SEO clients and customers.

But that’s easily said than done. Translating is a tricky business. This is where this new Webmaster Tools hreflang debug tool comes in.

Basically, this tool helps debug 2 things:

1.  Missing Return Links:

There should be annotations from pages they are pointing to. For instance, if Page A links to Page B, Page B must link back to Page A or else the annotations might be interpreted incorrectly. Google reports this error where and when it occurred as well as where the return link is supposed to be placed.


2.  Incorrect hreflang values:

For this hreflang attribute to behave properly, it should conform to one of these formats:

Language Code: ISO 639-1 format such as “es”


Language and Country Code: ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 format such as “es-AR”

The good news is, if Google’s indexing system detects language or country codes that are not in the format given, Google will give examples to websites and ultimately give you the insight on potential required fixes.

This reporting can be really helpful for those large-scale websites that implement hreflang across many of their website’s pages. It’s always a good thing when we are able to quickly identify problems that can lead us to do quick fixes. Contact us if you need help in this area – we know what we’re doing :)

Joe Ryan is the Founder & CEO of UK online marketing agency, Digital Search Group, which specialises in smart internet marketing. He is a specialist in online marketing strategy and brand building. When he’s not considering the next best online marketing strategy with his team, he enjoys travel and spending time with his family.