Level: Intermediate

As a website owner or SEO manager, expanding your reach to other languages and countries is always an appealing idea. And why not? There are many advantages in doing so: you’ll get more traffic, more business opportunities, a bigger market share, more revenue, etc.

This sounds fantastic! So how do you get started with International SEO? And most importantly, how do you do it correctly from the beginning so that any search engine in the world can serve your content to the right users?

I want to start by saying that your website will play a huge role since that will be the primary tool to use on your quest to conquer the online world. And if you check your analytics the chances are that some international or multilingual traffic is already visiting it.

After checking your website’s analytics and deciding that pursuing an international audience is a profitable idea, you’ll need to structure your site in a way that it sends a clear message to search engines on who you’re trying to target —That of course, will depend on your business model and company goals.

If you’d like to get some help deciding if your business has the potential to expand its reach to other countries or languages, I recommend you use this infographic by Aleyda Solis as a guide.

Only after you’ve defined your target audience and your business goals, you can decide how to structure your website to be internationally-friendly properly.

Multilingual vs. Multi-regional Websites

To decide which is the best way to structure your site, first, it is important to know the differences between a Multilingual site and a multi-regional site.

Simply put, a multilingual website offers content in various languages, while a multi-regional website targets a particular location.

Multilingual Website

You might want to use a multilingual version of your website, only if you are targeting different languages, not countries. For example, you might show the Spanish version of your site to all latin-American visitors and your English and French versions of your site to Canadian visitors.

  • – Spanish
  • – French
  • – English

This multilingual version of your website shows different language versions of the same content. Also, notice how we are using the gTLD .com, and the Subdirectories /or/, /en/, and /es/ to indicate the page’s language.

This is the best way to structure your multilingual site’s URL since keeping your whole content under one single root domain consolidates domain authority.

It is also a good idea to keep your language versions on different URLs and interlinking those pages, that way, someone who lands on the English version, might get to the Spanish version in just one click. Avoid using automatic redirects based on the visitor’s IP address.

Other ways to indicate search engines that your site has different language versions are:

Writing the page’s content in the target language

Search engines will determine the language of your page by its content. So make sure to use a single language for each page’s content and navigation.

Use Human Translation and Localization

Truth to be told, machine translations are not good enough. Using machine translations will have an adverse impact on your SEO.

A poorly translated version of your site will deliver horrible user experience and therefore, conversion rates will decline dramatically.

According to Google’s guidelines, a poor or artificial-sounding translation could be seen as spam.

Humans, on the other hand, have all the contextual and cultural knowledge to translate and localize your website accurately.

Hreflang Tags

You can let Google know which one is the most relevant language version of your site to show to the searcher by using Hreflang tags (rel=”alternate” Hreflang).

You can list halfling tags in 2 places: Your website’s site map and in the HTTP header. To expand more on how to add halfling tags to your website, check out this video.

Multi-Regional Website:

You’d want to use a multi-regional website when your prospect’s geographic location influences your company’s goals, for example, if you are a Canadian business that just opened a physical store in France.

  • – Website for France
  • – Website for Canada

While these two websites might be written in French, they are targeting locations with different currencies, time zones, and contact information.

For these two sites, we are using the ccTLDs .fr and .ca, since this is the clearest way to indicate search engines and users that the content on the site is relevant to a particular geographic location. Therefore, ranking the .fr site in France will be easier.

There are two things to keep in mind when you use a ccTLD; first, is that each domain will have its domain authority, and second, you’ll need to purchase several ccTLDs to execute your international expansion plans.

Other ways to signal search engines that you are targeting a particular country are:

  • Hosting your site locally. Getting a local IP address.
  • Getting a local phone number and address.
  • Building links from local websites.
  • Optimizing your website for local search engines like Yandex in Russia and Baidu in China


At this point, you might be able to figure out if your business needs a multilingual or a multi-regional site. That will depend if you are targeting a particular country, or if you are targeting a population that speaks a certain language.

Language targeting might be the easiest way to start doing International SEO since it doesn’t require a huge budget. But getting several multi-regional websites and buying their respective ccTLD is a good idea if you have a big company that is planning to sell its products overseas.

I want to close this article by reminding you that no matter who you are targeting, or if you use a ccTLD or a subdirectory, the golden rule of SEO remains the same all around the world and that rule is to create excellent content that empowers your users and solves their problems.

So, which one is better for your business right now? Multilingual, or multi-regional? Let me know in the comments.

Camilo Atkinson: Inbound Marketer at Day Translations. Self-proclaimed as a music lover above all. I’m passionate about continued learning and entrepreneurship; I try to learn as much as I can from every single person I meet or situation I find myself in.


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