If you have a multi-lingual website, you have to take special measures to ensure all its versions are properly indexed by search engines. Unless you make some key specifications, you’ll leave it up to chance to determine whether with each version is filtered to its respective geographic location.
Optimizing a multi-language website for International audiences involves three key considerations that will be discussed in the following sections: localizing international content, choosing the most appropriate website structure, and optimizing the hreflang attribute.
Localize your content
Before you can decide what will be the best strategy to optimize your website internationally, you should do a little preliminary research. While doing so, you will be able to make informed strategic decisions that shape up your international SEO strategy.
One of the key decisions you have to make involves establishing your international target: will you optimize for different languages or different countries? To choose the best option, you must investigate whether the traffic potential and local market dynamics justify creating separate website versions for each country.
As you investigate the international audience, you will dig deeper into local online buying preferences and cultural factors that will help you make decisions best suited for the actual demographic characteristics. You can make a very educated guess simply by looking at the choices already made by your direct competitors or even other international websites operating in the same markets.
By looking into what other comparable international websites are doing and doing a little keyword research for each separate language and/or country, you will know how to best structure your website for international SEO – and you’ll have the relevant information to carry out the optimization.
But before you can start optimizing your international versions, you have to first make an important structural decision.
Website structure for International SEO
No matter if you decide to split your website by language or country, you will regardless have to make a fundamental technical decision that sets the stage for International SEO: how to best structure your website URL to filter down the separate versions you’ll then be optimizing for each geographic location or language.
To achieve this, you have three main options available – CCTLDs (country code top-level domains), subdomains, and directories. Let’s briefly overview each of these options:
Choosing CCTLDs involves registering a separate domain for each international version of your website, each domain sporting the appropriate local country code (yourwebsite.us, yourwebsite.co.uk, yourwebsite.it, and so forth). At first sight, this may seem like a good idea… but it can involve hefty expenses as you keep piling up domain registrations, which in some countries can be particularly expensive and require additional bureaucracies. In modern SEO, this option is really only viable and useful for big budget companies looking to focus on individual countries separately.
Using a subdomain to filter international versions of your websites is a more common option that is technically less demanding and less costly. This involves creating separate subdomains of your website, each targeted at a different country or language (us.yourwebsite.com, uk.yourwebsite.com, it.yourwebsite.com, etc). Each subdomain will host a different version of your website that is fully optimized for that language, allowing for more precise and manageable international optimization.
The simplest available option involves using sub-directories in your domain to serve different versions (such as www.yourwebsite.com/uk/, www.yourwebsite.com/uk, www.yourwebsite.com/it and so forth). This option is the simplest to implement out of the three, but it can be unwieldy if your website has many versions that involve on-going content creation and optimization.
Any of these options will require you to optimize each website version separately with relevant local keywords, meta tags, and translated content.
If you choose to keep all your international website versions running from the same TLD (either through a subdomain or directory), you must use the hreflang attribute to clearly separate each country-specific website. Here’s how it’s done:
In case you’re not familiar with hreflang, it’s simply an HTML attribute used to specify international content by specifying meta tags for each country and language in the actual webpage code. This is done on individual pages by adding the attribute HTML lang=”??”, where you replace ?? with the specific country/language meta tag (such as en-US, en-UK, it).
By using this attribute to declare the language associated to each HTML section, you can help search engines understand how your website is split in different languages, each one optimized locally with the appropriate keywords and meta tag information.
As you can see, International SEO is not really that complex – its’ actually all about using the same SEO practices you know, except you have to articulate them across different website markets and website versions.