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5 common multilingual SEO pitfalls to avoid

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 18 Sep, 2014
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Take control of your localized website for SEO

For digital marketers managing many localized websites, multilingual SEO can be a whole different ballgame compared to traditional SEO strategies. Sure, some practices are similar, such as placing appropriate keywords in headers and metadata. However, there are many new considerations to factor into the plan when optimizing your website for various cultures around the world.

After all, there is a lot more to multilingual SEO than translating a few keywords.

5 Tips to avoid with your website localization

Here are five common setbacks to avoid even before you head down the website localization path. Along the way, I’ll share some valuable tips to help guide you on the right path to search engine (and customer experience) glory.

  • Tip 1: Thin, low-quality content on your localized websites

As you may know, SEO is not about stuffing your website full of keywords. In fact, doing so can land you right on Google’s naughty list.

Google’s recent Panda 4.0 update was meant to help rid the Internet of this type of thin or low quality content. For multilingual SEO, this means that each localized version of your website needs to have high-quality, localized content.

Grammar and translation quality are important parts of having valuable content and Google can recognize this. Jumbled, poorly translated copy that doesn’t sound like it was written by native speakers can put your website at risk for penalty.

Other ways to add value include:

  • Incorporate localized videos into each version of your website
  • Embrace user-generated content such as reviews and social media feeds to give your website even more of a local feel

It’s all about creating a valuable experience for your customers. One important way to do that is to offer a unique experience on each of your localized websites.

  • Tip 2: Lack of unique content throughout your website

You don’t want to have duplicated content all over your many website versions. That’s why it’s critical that you have in-country linguists translating your website. Only native speakers know how to translate your content best so that it strikes a chord with locals. They understand how Web users in your target region refer to your products and services, and can align the tone and positioning correctly.

For e-commerce sites, it’s a good idea to switch up your product descriptions. Build out unique and thoughtful descriptions—avoiding non-specific ones like 'small, blue, 4 x 4,' etc. If you do this, you’re likely to find these words duplicated across your products, which may result in a penalty.

  • Tip 3. Translating  Keywords, word for word

It won’t be effective to do keyword research in English and then translate those keywords word for word. Without localization, you will likely miss the proper context of your phrases, which means you risk damaging your brand in how locals perceive it.

At the core, keywords and phrases are all about how your audience thinks about things. Given that, you want to ensure that you’re truly speaking their language when choosing keywords for multilingual SEO.

Web surfers across locales search on and refer to your products and services differently. For example, in the U.S. people call a bridge over the highway an overpass. In the U.K. it’s called a flyover.

That’s why your keywords will need to be completely re-created and positioned to meet these needs. If you’re having trouble identifying keywords, you can work with a professional language service provider to help you.

  • Tip 4: Not making it easy to direct traffic to the correct website version

The entire purpose of multilingual SEO is to make it easy for potential customers to find your website—and the appropriate version of your site at that. One of the simplest ways to do that is to use a country code top level domain (ccTLD).

A ccTLD is simply the domain suffix that associates a website with a geographical area—such as .fr or .uk. See the photo below of the Chinese version of McDonald’s website as an example.


An international company should purchase country-specific domains for every country they operate in, before or during the website localization process. This is perhaps the most effective way of optimizing a website for an international audience to make sure it gets found by the right people.

You see, this domain structure clearly indicates that these websites are meant for various countries (and audiences understand these country-specific suffixes). Because of that, search engines rank these sites better for audiences in those countries.

Another way to tell Google that your website is intended for a given locale is to use Google’s Webmaster tools. You’re able to go into the dashboard and select a target location for your website. This tells search engines that your website is intended for a certain region, which then helps Google prioritize the site for that country.

  • Tip 5. Not continously monitoring and measuring your efforts

Just like everything in marketing, you need to continually track your efforts to ensure your tactics are working. Search algorithms are constantly changing, which can mean that you may need to change up your approach.

Monitor your site traffic in Google Analytics, check your organic search rates and see which keywords referred visitors to your website.

If you find your keywords aren’t resonating, you may need to conduct some market research to find out why or seek help from an experienced language service provider that specializes in multilingual SEO.

Have you localized your website and implemented multilingual SEO strategies? What other tips do you have to add?

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