Search Engine Optimization

SEO for multilingual sites

Our world is becoming more and more international — that’s a fact. And businesses need to adapt to these realities. For example, create multilingual websites.

You and I use multilingual web resources regularly — when we look up information on Wikipedia, when we order goods on Amazon, and even when we watch videos on YouTube.

And then the question arises: how to promote such a site?

Now we will tell you in more detail how multilingualism is implemented, how SEO optimization of a multilingual site is carried out and how to avoid common mistakes when implementing multilingualism.

What is a multilingual site and its advantages

A multilingual site is a web resource adapted for users who speak different languages. Do not confuse multilingual and multiregional sites. The latter may have one language, but with reference to a given region.

Promotion of a multilingual web resource allows you to enter the international market, reach a larger audience and effectively scale your business. But this does not mean that a site operating in one country cannot be multilingual. For example, resources that work only in Spain often have three language versions: Spanish, English and Portuguese.

How to implement multilingualism on the site?

There are several options for implementing multitasking. Each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look at these options and their features.

Miscellaneous domains

The most obvious way to make a site multilingual is to use different domain names. For example, for Spain — .es, for Poland — .pl, for the Czech Republic — .cz. And so on.

The key advantages of this method are the rather high efficiency of promotion and the ability to link each domain to a specific region. However, the disadvantage here is obvious — you will have to spend a lot of time and money on translating, filling and promoting each such site separately.


A subdomain is a domain that is part of a higher level domain. In this case, the language of the site is first written in the URL, and after it, the domain name. Thus, multilingualism is often organized for large portals, online stores, aggregators, etc.

A striking example of the use of subdomains is the Wikipedia website.

The search engine determines the user’s IP address and directs him to the desired page. In this case, the weight is partially transferred between subdomains, which is a plus. The downside is the need to create a copy of the site in all languages, as well as to purchase external links for each such subdomain.

Using categories and folders

In this case, a multilingual module is installed on the site, categories and folders are created where the content is copied. In a similar way, the site structure is implemented within one subdomain, which means that the weight is also preserved.

Many consider this method the most acceptable, and there are indeed reasons for this. You can only copy and translate individual pages. It is easier and cheaper to promote such a site in the future. The method has no serious drawbacks, but it is important to avoid mistakes, write different URLs for different languages and set hreflang attributes for alternative pages.


This method is considered controversial, and even Google does not recommend it. The principle is that data about the language and regional affiliation of the web resource is transmitted through a parameter in the URL. The implementation of multilingualism is carried out within a single domain, but promoting pages with parameters is essentially meaningless.

Requirements for a multilingual site

A multilingual website has its own development and optimization specifics. And the requirements for it are also quite specific. Let’s consider the most important of them.

hreflang attribute

For each page of the site, the <head> block must contain a link to a similar version in another language. For example, for the Spanish version, the view will be as follows:


<link rel=»alternate» hreflang=»es-ES»» href=»https:…» />


And so for all versions. This is necessary for the search engine to correctly rank the site both within one country and in other countries.

Sitemap File

The sitemap is also created separately for language versions. For example:



<xhtml:link rel=»alternate» href=»» hreflang=»es-ES»>


For more information on this topic, see Google Help.

Meta tags

It is very important that the Title and Description meta tags are also translated into the correct language. The use of monolingual meta tags will negatively affect on-page optimization. Plus, you need to remember about the translation of alt and title for pictures.

Language switcher

This switch makes using the site more convenient for the user. He can literally select the desired language version in one click. And thanks to cookies, the browser will remember the choice and the next time it opens the page in the desired language.


The language selection button is located in a prominent place. It must be as visible as possible. When switching, the user gets to a similar page, but in a different language. When you change the language, the URL will automatically change accordingly.

Usually, these recommendations should be followed to organize relinking of domains and subdomains, but only if the page structure does not differ or the difference is minimal.

SEO-optimization of a multilingual site

At a basic level, the optimization and promotion of a multilingual site largely uses the same principles as the optimization of a “mono-lingual” site. Therefore, we will concentrate only on the distinctive features.

Technical optimization

If you use different domains for different languages, then the search engine determines this and “understands” in which region the site should rank. That is, no specific settings are needed.

But the situation becomes more complicated when we need to promote several versions of the site in the same language for different regions. For example, website promotion in English for the USA and Britain. In this case, the hreflang attribute mentioned above is used. It is he who helps search algorithms determine where and what language version is located. The tags use the ISO 639-1 format to specify the language.

You can also make a regional link through GSC using targeting settings.

On-page optimization

We have already mentioned above that all Title, Description, as well as alt and title for images on the site must correspond to the current language version. Technically, Google does not require this, but such omissions worsen the promotion of multilingual sites — the bounce rate increases, which in turn affects the positions.

Off-page optimization

There is one key difficulty in promoting a multilingual site through link building. It consists in the fact that you need to increase the reference mass through links of different types: forum, article, and so on. But the main thing is that they should be affixed on sites with the same language. That is, if you are promoting the English version of the site, then English-language resources should also link to it.

Of course, you can build up a link mass to multilingual resources and from inappropriate language versions of external sites, but the effectiveness of such external optimization will be significantly lower.

Errors when setting up multilanguage

If the language versions of the site are correctly configured and optimized, then the search engine immediately finds the relationship between the necessary pages. But only if common mistakes were not made:

  • You didn’t write different URLs for different language versions.
  • You have not set the hreflang attributes for the alternate pages.
  • You didn’t make a note about page variations in the Sitemap.
  • You mistranslated or didn’t translate Title, Description and other meta tags.
  • You have conflicted hreflang attributes in the page code, or the page has no hreflang attributes at all.

Such errors are usually easy to correct, but it is better not to make them in principle.


A properly configured multilingual website is a powerful tool for reaching a large audience of potential customers and the ability to significantly scale your business. However, setting up multilingualism is a complex process in its own way and has many features and subtleties.

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