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Understanding the Differences Between Multinational and Multilingual SEO

5 min read

Explore the distinct nuances between multinational and multilingual SEO and discover strategies to enhance your website’s international reach. Often, multinational SEO and multilingual SEO are used interchangeably when discussing SEO for global websites.

Despite their similarities, multinational and multilingual SEO have fundamental differences.

Understanding these differences allows you to create compelling website design and SEO strategies.

This article delves into the nuances of each type of SEO project and answers some of the commonly asked questions about multinational and multilingual SEO.

 

Multinational and Multilingual Websites

 

Multinational or global websites are created to target audiences in multiple countries.

While multinational websites can be multilingual, depending on the target countries, your multinational website may only sometimes be multilingual.

For example, you may target English-language audiences in the U.S., UK, Australia, and Ireland with a single English-language website or multiple English local market websites with merchandising and price offers specific to each market.

Conversely, a multilingual or multi-language website has multiple languages but may only target a single country.

For example, if your website is designed to target customers only in Canada, you may have one website in English and another in French.

Similarly, many websites target U.S. audiences in both English and Spanish, with a site in both languages.

A Swiss company only targeting Switzerland may have localized versions in English, French, German, and Italian, or it can also target border countries with its language websites.

 

Multinational SEO vs. Multilingual SEO

 

Using “multi” in the description indicates that any SEO activity will involve multiple websites or language versions.

An analogy for these two concepts might be identical twins with unique personalities and interests. They seem the same at face value, but many unique attributes must be considered when engaging in multinational and multilingual SEO efforts. We need to look past the commonalities and the multiplicity challenge; it’s essential to factor in the unique challenges between the two and even different search engines.

Multinational SEO

Multinational or international SEO optimizes websites for multiple countries to rank well and drive traffic from each location.

One of the biggest challenges for multinational sites is ensuring that they are indexed and ranked well and that the correct country site appears in the search results for the target country.

If you have multiple websites in the same language (i.e., Spanish), you must let the search engines know which site is designed for which country.

If your websites are not optimized and localized for each country, all sites in the same language may seem like duplicates, resulting in one or more being excluded.

Sometimes, each country has its domain, so you need to optimize multiple separate websites while considering the entirety of the infrastructure.

Things to consider in multinational SEO:

  • Geo-targeting
  • Domains (ccTLDs vs. gTLDs, separate domains, subdomains/directories)
  • Schema markup with local product availability, currency, and price
  • Hreflang attributes indicate the language and region of each version
  • Content (translation/localization, local info, local interests) with local solid signals
  • IP detection to ensure language does not override the users’ location

Multilingual SEO

Multilingual SEO focuses on websites and content in different languages. Due to the other languages, duplicate content is typically less of a concern.

The critical consideration is that the content is correctly translated, culturally relevant, and aligns with the local searcher’s intent.

Language-only sites often use the same domain and are designated by a language folder, minimizing the multiple site challenges. However, language-specific sites are not problem-free, especially when targeting people in various countries, since the search engines may need to pick up geo-targeting solid signals.

Unfortunately, as content is localized, key elements may not be maintained. Content may be linguistically correct but not contain a more popular phrase or a well-optimized entity cluster, negatively impacting performance.

Things to consider in multilingual SEO:

  • Localization elements
  • Schema markup must be localized
  • Hreflang attributes, especially with language and market targeting
  • Content (translation/localization, spelling, local info, local interests)
  • Concepts, entities, and keyword phrase inclusion
  • IP detection to ensure location does not override the user’s language preference

 

SEO Action Items for Multinational and Multilingual Websites

 

In addition to standard SEO practices, optimizing multinational and multilingual websites requires specific action items tailored to their unique challenges.

 

Geo-targeting

Search engines use various signals to determine the target audience for a page’s language and market:

  • gTLDs (Generic Top-Level Domains) like .com, .org, .edu, and .gov are not geo-specific and are used globally.
  • Some gTLDs once associated with specific regions (e.g., .eu, .apac, .asia) are now considered generic.
  • Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs) are assigned to each country (e.g., .es for Spain, .jp for Japan) and help search engines identify the target country.

 

Server Location

Search engines consider the geographical location of the web server’s IP address. Hosting websites separately in each targeted country can be costly, so many businesses use CDNs for geolocation management.

 

Business and Location Information via Schema Markup

Schema markup is a cost-effective way to signal business information, including address and phone number, which reinforces target location signals without the expense of multiple domains.

 

Hreflang Attributes

Hreflang tags or XML sitemaps specify the target language (and optionally, the country) for each website version:

  • For multilingual websites, map each language version’s URLs.
  • For multinational websites targeting different countries, map each language and country version’s URLs.

 

Content Optimization

Beyond technical SEO, content is crucial in reaching language-specific users and audiences in targeted countries.

 

Translation/Localization

Quality translation and localization of content are critical for both SEO and overall website performance:

  • Ensure all textual content, including metadata and alt text, is translated or localized appropriately.
  • Adapt content to reflect local spelling, colloquialisms, and writing styles specific to each target country.

By implementing these SEO action items, multinational and multilingual websites can optimize their online presence to attract and engage global audiences.

 

Duplicate Content Challenges

 

Whether your website deployment is multinational or multilingual, the multifaceted nature can create significant challenges if you don’t mitigate the potential for duplicate content by clearly indicating the purpose of each page.

Localization attributes such as currency, geographical references, and hreflang tags help signal the content’s target audience.

Duplicate content result in search engines indexing only one version of a site in a given language, ignoring others. Even if all sites are indexed, the wrong country site might appear in search results.

For example, users in Australia might see a company’s U.S. site pages in search results instead of the Australian site pages.

When a user comes and clicks on a link to visit the U.S. site, they might return to the search results instead of using a country switcher on the site to navigate to the Australian site.

 

To address these challenges, it’s essential to:

  • Implement hreflang tags correctly to specify the language and region for each page.
  • Ensure localized content includes appropriate regional signals such as currency, geographical references, and local terminology.
  • Use ccTLDs or subdirectories/subdomains with clear geo-targeting signals to differentiate between country-specific sites.

By taking these steps, you can minimize duplicate content issues and ensure users find the most relevant version of your site in search results.

 

Multinational and Multilingual: Similar Yet Different

 

Multinational and multilingual sites are essentially similar but have subtle nuances.

Multinational SEO involves targeting multiple countries and requires a deep understanding of local SEO practices.

Multilingual SEO focuses on multiple languages within the same or different countries, ensuring that content is accessible and relevant to local audiences.

These distinctions can lead to significant issues if not identified and integrated into your global strategy.

With clear guidelines and structure, consistency in domain or URL structure can emerge, complicating site maintenance and undermining global SEO efforts.

 

If you need more clarification, explore our monthly SEO packages and let our experts assist you.

Shilpi Mathur
[email protected]