SEO Best Practices II: Multilingual Sites 6

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I always recommend doing good Keyword research before kicking off any SEO strategy. I’m going to change that premise and rephrase it to: Before deploying any SEO strategy for any given market you should do proper keyword research (here is how to do it).

But what do we need to do when we plan to target different markets with different languages? At Expedia

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23 different languages – this opens a whole range of opportunities for our partners to approach markets outside their comfort zone, but before releasing a site in so many languages there are a few factors to take into consideration.

Geographic Intent of the Searcher

Every search engine algorithm update is about trying to show the most relevant content to a searcher and a big part of that is finding out what’s the geographic intent of the searcher, whether it’s an American person in Mexico trying to find a hotel in London or a Spanish person trying to order pizza on-line.

These two examples show us how granular a search engine can be, as a person in Barcelona will get different results than a person in Madrid when they both are trying to order a pizza.

For instance a searcher will get different results in the following cases:

  • A searcher using in the US
  • A searcher using in Spain
  • A searcher using and choosing “Spanish Pages”
  • A searcher using and choosing “Pages from Spain”

We could even add more cases if the searcher uses any geographic term in the query such as “Pizza delivery in Madrid”

So in order to find out the “Geographic Intent” of a searcher, search engines use:

  • Location of the searcher
  • Language of the query
  • Search engine domain accessed ( vs
  • Language option (Spanish pages)
  • Country restricted query (Only Spanish pages)
  • Searcher’s recorded location (if they are logged in Google)

Even more, if a user generally clicks on pages of a certain language, his personalized search results will most likely include pages of that language (that is if the user is logged in their Google, Yahoo or MSN account).

How to Architect a Geographically Targeted Site

Chances are that your site has been up and running for quite some time now, so changing your site structure may be out of the question,but for those of you who are currently developing your site, it’s recommendable to opt for the local TLDs (Top Level Domains) when possible, meaning that if you are targeting the Spanish market you should register the .es domain, or the .mx if you are trying to target the Mexican market. Using this method you will be making it very easy for Search Engines to determine which of your pages to show for searches in different countries/languages.

But if segregating your content in different local TLDs is out of the question you should group each content on a subdomain or a subfolder and concentrate on a regional link building campaign for each of these, especially having a strong PR campaign that targets local media.

If you choose to use the local domain or the subdomain options then hosting each localized site in the target country should reinforce your ranking efforts in that particular market.

What are the factors that search engines use to determine the local relevance of a page?

  • Local TLD: this will help you for content targeting a particular country and not language
  • Incoming links location: This is especially useful for generic domains such as the ever-popular .com
  • Language of Pages: including local terms in the content and meta tags will hit search engines what market you are targeting.
  • Server Location: If your domain is a .com or a non-regional one, search engines will use your server location to determine your target market.
  • Google Webmaster Tools Setting: You can specify your target market in the configuration of your Google Webmaster Tools account

Duplicated content issues

What about content duplication? If we are targeting both the US and the UK with different sites and similar content, wouldn’t our sites get penalized?

The answer is that in general you shouldn’t worry about that as search engines filter rather than penalize for duplicated content which means that your US site will be probably left alone in the US while the UK one will be pushed down the results in the US and vice-versa when searching from the UK.

With search engines getting more and more sophisticated your own content should be localized rather than just translated. Searcher behaviour will be different from country to country, they will use different terms and the way the build sentences will be different, a site that takes this into account will always be ahead in the search results.

About Jose Truchado

SEO Expert Jose Truchado has been working on Search Engine Optimization since 1996, he is a marketing coach, social media advisor, and entreprenuer founder of several successful start-ups within the travel industry. Jose has been providing SEO and SEM support to EAN partners since July 2009. Google+ profile: Jose Truchado on Google +

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6 thoughts on “SEO Best Practices II: Multilingual Sites

  • hegu

    Great post.! What does it mean from the SEO point if i buy the domain in let’s say es but i put all of my spanish content in subdirctories on my .com site. – And the I use redirect from to ?

    • Jose Truchado Post author


      There are many ways you can do that, and the one you describe is perfectly valid although I would personally choose the other way around and redirect your subdirectory to the spanish domain and host the content under the

      If you choose to do it the way you describe it hosting the contents under then you would have to change the Geographic target settings in webmaster tools to your local country.

  • hegu

    thanks for your answer!I completely agree with you about hosting the way you said. But my boss is more keen to use the redirection to subdomains, he sais that for him is more important to help the domain (gain some link relavancy). If i link like you said, from to site, do i still help the main domain a little? Or even more?
    be well!

  • Katarzyna Jasik

    I went through some pages about multilingual sites, and doing subdirectory for mine seems the best way. My question is this though – since I’m completle inexperienced in this matter – from technical point of view, what technology to use to achieve multilingual site? Do i translate everything, put it in let’s say XML structure and read it using PHP, or….what? I absolutely have no idea…any lead would be really helpull…..

    Thanks :)