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Website Translation: How to Do Multilingual SEO in 8 Steps

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Website Translation: How to Do Multilingual SEO in 8 Steps

Martin Woods
Website Translation: How to Do Multilingual SEO in 8 Steps

Whether deliberately or unintentionally, companies find that their websites attract visitors and clients from around the globe. The internet makes it easy to order products or services internationally and an online shop in the UK will be competing with websites in the USA and Canada from customers comparing price and quality, making international SEO more important than local SEO for online businesses, compared to bricks and mortar businesses.

The most successful websites all offer something unique that makes them stand out. Companies focusing on a niche statistically perform better than companies who try and do everything (even Amazon started off just selling books) and establishing yourself as a leader in a niche is a smart goal for a new business.

Website TranslationImage by Allison Carmichael

Once you’re established in one language, an obvious next step is to branch out and translate your website into a second or third language. Let's consider what the eight essential steps are to achieving successful multilingual SEO, starting with:

1.When is it best to translate your website?

Creating a successful multi-language website requires time and resources.To succeed you will need to:

  • Choose the right CMS and website structure
  • Complete relevant keyword research in the new language to target keywords that have high search volume and low organic competition.
  • Create a translated version of your site that includes at least a few pages of your blog, if you have one, or other content that people will want to share spontaneously.
  • Promote your site via a multilingual link building campaign.

Some companies immediately launch in multiple languages and if you have sufficient budget, that’s great, however, when you put a budget together make sure you include the last two items in the above list. Even if you have a website that appears top in the search results in English, there’s no guarantee that if you translate it into French or German (for example) that the foreign versions will perform as well.

The best time to launch your multilingual site is therefore often once you already have a successful site in English and have a model that works. You may also be smart to launch one new language at a time, as this gives you time to get the new site ranking well before launching the next language.

2.Do you keep your existing CMS or use a new one?

If you’re translating your website and going multilingual, then now may be a good time to consider a redesign of your existing site. There are several modern CMS (Content Management Systems) that let you create multiple websites in different languages with a shared database and this has several advantages:

  • If you develop or redesign one site, all your sites will be updated at the same time.
  • It makes stock control possible across multiple websites.
  • It reduces hosting space, which might make hosting cheaper (on this note, Google doesn’t use the country where your site is hosted to determine who your target audience is, so where your host is located isn’t important for SEO).

Some of the most popular CMS systems that make creating multilingual websites relatively easy include:

  • Drupal
  • WordPress
  • Joomla
  • Magento

If your site is in one of these (or another multi-language friendly CMS), then you’re best keeping the same CMS and translating it.If you’re not happy with your current web developer, then find another one who specializes in the same CMS rather than reinventing the wheel. 

If your site is in a CMS that only works in one language, you might be able to copy it, then translate it (meaning you’ll have 2 separate databases, but less design and development work), alternatively you could either convert your existing site to a new CMS, or create a completely separate site for the second language.The choice is yours.

3.How to structure your website

There are 5 possible ways to structure your site:

  1. Country-coded top-level domains
  2. Sub-domains on a single global top-level domain
  3. Sub-folders on a single global top-level domain
  4. URL parameters
  5. Using cookies to control the language

The SEMrush article on the best international SEO site structure reviews the pros and cons of the first 4 of these and the most popular open source CMS systems allow you to configure your site using any of these.

While there are examples of successful sites using 1-4 in the above list, my personal preferred method for multilingual projects is to use country-coded top-level domains ( for France, for Germany, etc.).These have several advantages:

  • They are internationally targeted (previously called geotargeting) to the country, meaning, for example that .fr websites receive a ranking boost from France and .de websites receive a ranking boost from Germany.
  • They are great for branding, as they tell visitors immediately that you’re focused on a specific country.
  • If you have a keyword rich domain name, you can translate the domain name for each country.(This is an option if you provide a single core product or service, however for sites selling multiple ranges focusing on a single keyword in the domain name isn’t recommended).

A word of warning, if you use cookies to control the language, it’s essential that you also use one of the other methods.Google can only index a URL once in its index and if you have the same URL for each language, it means that only a single language version of that page will appear in Google’s results.

4.Hreflang Tags

Hreflang tags tell Google which language (rather than which country) a specific page is written in.It’s best to have each page in its own language and the major CMS systems configure these for you, but it’s well worth checking that they’re configured correctly. You can read an article about Hreflang tags for more information.

5.Completing multilingual keyword research

There may be obvious factors in deciding which language to prioritize, for instance, if half your team speak French fluently, it will make more sense to start your French marketing campaign first! If you’re considering more than one country, then it’s worth doing some keyword research to see what the search volume and competition is like in different countries. It’s also essential to do keyword research so you can include relevant keywords both in your on-page SEO and in your backlinks.

SEMrush lets you complete Google keyword research for 28 countries currently, as shown below (for multi-language websites targeting more than one country, add the numbers from different countries together).

Multilingual keyword research

To find keywords using SEMrush, you can use one of 4 methods:

  • Phrase Match Keywords (enter a keyword in the search bar to view this)
  • Related Keywords (enter a keyword in the search bar)
  • SEO Keyword Magic (press the link to this tool in the left-hand menu)
  • Viewing lists of keywords that competitors rank well for (enter your competitor’s web address in the search bar)

Once you have your list of potential keywords, click ‘Keyword Difficulty’, paste your list of keywords in, and then press ‘Show Difficulty.’ Next press ‘Volume’ to sort the results by the monthly search volume, as this makes it easier to identify target keywords.

The SEMrush reports below show keyword volumes and difficulty for France and the UK for similar keywords and illustrate the importance of doing language specific keyword research as part of the translation.

French SEO website translation

Imagine that you already have a French website that is well optimized for ‘location vacances’, a search term with 135,000 monthly searches in France and you decide to expand to the UK. ‘Location vacances’ translates into English as ‘vacation rental’ (according to Google translate), however only 90 people a month search for this term in the UK.

If you focus all your SEO efforts on ‘vacation rental’ you will therefore never receive substantial traffic, but choosing ‘holidays’ as your primary keyword means you’re targeting the 368,000 people a month who search for this (plus all the long-tail keywords, of course!) 

If you’re setting up a site targeting the USA, then the keywords change again, therefore it's important to research search volumes for different countries when doing global SEO.

6.SEO Website Translation

When you’ve identified your target keywords, how do you incorporate them in your translated website?

There are two ways you can manage this process:

  1. Complete an SEO website translation where you ensure the new content is well optimized as you translate it.
  2. Do a standard website translation, then optimize the new content after you’ve translated it.

Personally, I prefer the first of the two options as search engines don’t just look at Metatags, but all the on-page content – URLs, text, links between pages, ALT tags, etc. and optimizing the content as you translate it ensures that the final version will be fully optimized.

To manage this process, create a spreadsheet showing the English keywords you’re targeting and the optimized translation of each keyword – i.e. the translation of the word or phrase that has a healthy search volume.When you do the translation, ensure that you use the optimized translation (conjugating or adapting it as necessary for the surrounding content).

7.Translating keywords that aren’t grammatically correct

Often when you do keyword research the SEMrush reports will show keywords with high search volumes that aren’t grammatically correct, don’t include accents on letters, etc.This is because searchers often take shortcuts when entering a search term in Google.

In English, it used to be that you regularly saw exact keywords included with bad grammar or strange phrasing in order to target those keywords, e.g. “If you’re searching for hotel Paris, then …”

Google has now cracked down on this and in English SEO it’s best to use the correct grammar for everything, which is a relief to English teachers the world over.

In other languages it’s harder to say what the best strategy is, for example in French “Location vacances” is wrong and should be “Location de vacances”, but if you search for either keyword on, you’ll see plenty of “location vacances” popping up.

Delve a bit deeper and you’ll notice that the sites that rank well might use keywords with poor grammar in the following places:

They use the correct grammar everywhere else, particularly in full paragraphs of text, so this is a good model to follow.Where there’s a similar keyword volume for keywords with good and bad grammar, always use the one with the correct grammar.

8.Multilingual Link Building Strategies

Once your website is translated and live, the next step is to build links to it.Start by searching for your main language specific keywords in Google and submit an article, company description, etc. to any blogs, directories, forums or ad sites that you find on the first few pages.Use unique text for each submission.

Once you’ve submitted your website to any obvious sites that appear in the search results, review the backlinks going to your competitors. 

To do this in SEMrush, enter a competitor’s web address, then click ‘backlinks’.Scroll down and on the bottom right you can filter the links by country.Select the country you’re targeting to view the backlinks and ask yourself if you could gain a link from the same website.

It’s important that the majority of links are from pages written in the same language as the page you’re linking to. It’s also essential that you don’t try and manipulate the anchor text (e.g. never write English articles and use German anchor text), as Google regularly penalize sites for manipulative anchor texts.


An accurate website translation that incorporate SEO keyword research and link building will generate far better results than a standard translation that ignores these crucial elements. By approaching the translation in the right order you will save yourself considerable time and generate the best return on investment.

Go global!

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Martin Woods is the International SEO Director at Martin is a highly accomplished online marketing expert and manages a team of graphic designers, web designers, translators, copywriters and multilingual link builders.

Indigoextra’s clients experience a rapid growth in traffic as a result of Indigoextra’s professional website analysis, content writing and link building services.

As a result of Google's ongoing updates, particularly RankBrain, SEO shortcuts simply no longer work, which is why we focus on quality, by creating engaging and original content and links from high authority sites.


Martin Woods est le directeur SEO international de Martin est un expert en marketing online hautement qualifié qui gère une équipe de graphistes, de concepteurs web, de traducteurs, de rédacteurs de contenu et de créateurs de liens multilingues.

Les clients d'Indigoextra connaissent une croissance rapide de leur trafic grâce à une perspicacité dans le choix des mots-clés, une analyse de site professionnelle menée par Indigoextra, des services efficaces de rédaction de contenu et de construction de liens.

L'équipe d'Indigoextra pense qu'en raison des mises à jour continues de Google, en particulier RankBrain, qu'il est essentiel de se concentrer sur la qualité en créant un contenu original et engageant mais aussi créer des liens provenant de sites dont le niveau d'autorité est élevé.
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Hi Martin! My name is Nicoleta Dimitrova and I meet some difficulties with SEO of our site. It is in Bulgarian with version in English for the moment. When we try to optimize the bulgarian version for example, the english one also optimizes, but in bulgarian - I mean SEO titles, meta tags, key words, meta descriptions and so on are all in bulgarian in the english version. The same happens when we try to optimize the english pages - all their bulgarian versions are optimised in english. We do not know how to solve this problem. Thank you for your response.
Martin Woods
Nicoleta Dimitrova
Hi Nicoleta,
Thanks for your enquiry. It depends on which CMS system (e.g. WordPress, Drupal, etc.) you are using and which modules / addons you are using.
I would start by looking up the problem for the specific CMS, but it might be that there's a synchronisation setting somewhere which specifies that when you change one, the other automatically changes.
If you're using the Metatag module in Drupal, then I know an old version had this problem, so make sure you update to the latest version of the module.
I hope that helps!
Indigoextra Ltd.
Martin Woods
Thank you very much, Martin. I hope your advice will help. We'll check for synchronisation settings and we hope we'll solve the problem. We use the latest version of Word Press, but the situation was the same with the previous version, too. Thank you once again!😊
Hi Sir,
This is Shivek and I run my own health blog fat to fit farm [link removed by moderator] and I'm facing a problem with my website that most of the users are from India and they're not able to read English. Do I need to take this step now? If yes, which is the best plugin for it and will it harm the speed of my website?

Thanks and Regards
Nice article sir, I have a website [link removed by moderator] it's a programming website, and I'm thinking to translate it to Russian and Hindi. But sir is it a good idea to translate this website to these languages? coz most of the People learning Programming Already know English, and When I check Google analytic there are People from other languages but they are very less.
What do You think sir? should I translate or not?
Martin Woods
Ashish Yadav
Hi Ashish,
I would recommend starting by doing some keyword research for Russia and India and finding out how many people search for relevant keywords in those languages compared to the English versions of those keywords. This will tell you how large your potential target audience. I would imagine it will be quite large, as while someone might know sufficient English to understand html or php, it doesn't mean that they wouldn't prefer a translated version of their site. It's also not surprising that Russian/Hindi speakers won't visit your site much at the moment if it's not yet translated.
Martin Woods
Thank You, sir, for your reply and it was very helpful.
Sir, I also wanted to ask you is converting site with the help of Google Translate or Manually (Manually works very good for SEO ) what is preferable? but what if I use Google translate to translate site(and make the Posts) is it going to make any difference in SEO because the user already can translate I have translated using Google Translate.
so will translating my Post with Google Translate have any effect on my SEO of that Language?
Martin Woods
Ashish Yadav
Google normally doesn't consider Google Translated content as valid content and will either not index it, or rank it far lower than other content. It will also be full of mistakes and not read well, so visitors will spend less time on the page. Here's some funny Google translate fails if you're still in doubt -
Martin Woods
Thank You sir :)
We run a translation agency called [link removed by moderator] and have struggled with the SEO of translated websites a lot. Sometimes the key word which was 100% correct grammatically, was simply not the right one for SEO, just as you mentioned. It took us a lot of time to persuade some translators that sometimes they need to compromise on grammar in order to make the translations effective :) Thanks for the article!
Martin Woods
Katka Lali
I actually recommend using the correct grammar for everything, as per the above article! "In English, it used to be that you regularly saw exact keywords included with bad grammar or strange phrasing in order to target those keywords, e.g. “If you’re searching for hotel Paris, then …”

Google has now cracked down on this and in English SEO it’s best to use the correct grammar for everything..."
Hi, all. I am an experienced translator (EN /PT > SP). I translate website and keywords for SEO. Contact me for details. (Sorry for the plug).
Nice article, Martin. I came across this one while looking for ways to do multilingual SEO. The tips on multilingual keyword research were especially appealing to me. Very interesting indeed. The part I found a bit hard was the back end one. What I do to get all that covered without much effort is by using SITE123 ( Their multilingual website option does that automatically, which helps me a lot.
Peter Mead
Nice 8 step guide. I like step 8 about link building. I noticed your main approach for getting these links is by submitting an article. You got any advice now that Penguin is updated in the core algo, will this affect your approach?
Martin Woods
Peter Mead
Hi Peter, no, the Penguin algorithm is aimed at spam and the kinds of guest posts that we create are authentic and not paid for. If you're doing guest posts it's important to check the quality of the site first. Personally we check that the Domain Authority is 25 or higher, that if you look at the keywords in SEMRush there's a healthy number of related keywords for that domain and that there's a reasonable Alexa rank, indicating traffic to the site. This tells you that the site's not penalised and on the contrary, is high enough authority that the links will be beneficial.

Next, we write a guest post with original content, not just unique content in terms of the text doesn't appear elsewhere, but where possible an original and interesting approach on a topic and we include at least one relevant image with the text. This means that webmasters will accept the article as it contributes to their site, which was the original idea of guest posts.

As Google Penguin gets more refined, the above points will only become more and more important. One question I encourage our team of multilingual link builders to ask is "If search engines didn't exist, would this link still make sense". That's always a good guide!
Peter Mead
Martin Woods
Hello @Martin, thanks so much for your detailed reply to my question.

The process you have described here does sound like its a high quality approach.

Google is always about quality, so I am really impressed with your process.

Thanks again for sharing
Akash Srivastava
Great article Martin on how to do multilingual seo. I liked your tips. Thanks for sharing !
Martin Woods
Akash Srivastava
Thanks Akash, glad you liked it!
Akash Srivastava
Martin Woods
You are welcome !
Martin Woods
Hi Manuel,

Thanks for your post. Let me go through your points.

1. I see that your main site is in WordPress (I've not checked all your others). WordPress lets you use a plugin called multisite which means that you can have a single installation for multiple different websites. See for some of the plugins available. I know this might be a bit late for you, but if you expand into other languages, it's good to know!

2. I recommend going through your sites that aren't performing as well as you'd like and matching up the keywords with their English version, then seeing what the monthly search volume is for them (as per Step 6 above). If keywords don't have sufficient search volume, replace as many as possible with keywords that have higher search volume / lower SEO competition, ensuring that spelling and grammar remains accurate.

3. Multilingual link building is probably the hardest part of SEO, I agree, particularly if you don't have fluent speakers in-house. We've written a guide to it here - Personally I don't find press releases to be particularly effective as Google doesn't like duplicate content and press release sites are full of them. If you'd like help building links from guest posts and other high quality links in the first 4 languages you mention (English, Spanish, French and German), we'd be happy to help!

All the best,

Manuel Herranz
We run two sites that rank pretty well in different languages. One is [site].com as a translation company and language technology, the second one is in Spanish [site].es, which has translated content and unique content targeted to Spanish speakers. We have gathered a number of relevant links as a result of our work -most links are organic. I agree with you that if you have speakers of a language in the office, it makes things pretty easy. However, people can link from any site and language so we got links from a variety of languages and countries.

We launched our French website and a German website within a multilingual campaign that also included Russian (, Japanese ( and Chinese ( sites. This is when things began to get complicated for several reasons.

1. A multisite strategy requires several installations.

2. Keywords began to differ and translators were more or less skilled and took more or less liberties (as they were more or less familiar with SEO).

3. Multilingual link building is a challenge as one does not necessarily understand the language.

We got juice from the 'mother' site ( and some from the Spanish site, but the other language versions are trailing. Some links can be gained with press releases, registration, business directories but natural link-building takes time and it can only be achieved via shareable content.

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