How to Win at Multilingual SEO in 2020

How to win at multilingual SEO
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What if you threw a party and nobody came? That’s what it’s like to launch a new website when your customers can’t find you. And just because the Google gods have showered your English-language site with lots of organic traffic, that doesn’t mean that the foreign language versions will be equally blessed. Without a sound multilingual SEO strategy, translating your website is a waste of time.

Like SEO in general, multilingual SEO is a fast-moving discipline. Tactics that worked last year may not work this year. These 5 tips will show you how to win at multilingual SEO in 2020.

To find out more about multilingual SEO and all that goes into website localisation check out our Ultimate Guide to Website Localisation.

Multilingual SEO in 2020: Begin with in-depth keyword and market research

No matter what the language, in-depth keyword and market research is the foundation of a successful SEO strategy. You have to know what words people are actually using when they search in order to successfully target them.

That sounds straightforward enough, but here’s the bad news: you can’t just translate and reuse the keyword research you did when you set up your original site.  Each country is different, even if the people there technically speak the same language.

Consider the UK, the US and Australia.  All three countries speak English – but they won’t all search for the same products in the same way.

For example, an apartment in America is a flat in the UK and a unit in Australia.

Cater to all the relevant search engines

Google may have cornered the market on search in most of the world, but there are some exceptions. Research the different search engines available in the country you’re targeting, and find out how much market share each has.  For example, Yandex is slightly ahead of Google in Russia, and China is all about Baidu.

Since different search engines have different algorithms, it pays to get advice from someone who is familiar with ALL of the relevant search engines.

Cater to the user experience in each market you target.

For Google (as well as for most of the other SERPS), user experience is king.  For example, Erika Varangouli, International Digital Marketing Manager, told 

“Almost every single Google algorithm update over the last five years has indicated that creating a solid user experience is at the top of Google’s agenda. Brands wanting to rank well (and stay there) will need to align their SEO and UX strategies together, ensuring that everything from landing pages to creative campaigns are designed to offer a five-star experience to users. ­”

To ensure great user experience, your local language websites must be truly customised for each market. Everything from the visuals to the layout to currency and date displays must be localised. For example, you might recall that Hebrew and Arabic are read from right to left. Meanwhile, Japanese script is vertical. If you’re targeting these languages, you absolutely must adjust your layout and design accordingly.

Quality content keeps searchers on the page.

Do users take one look at your website and hit the “Back” button? If so, your rankings will suffer. Keep them on the page with quality content. Poor-quality, error-ridden translations don’t promote the sort of user behaviour that Google expects. Quality translation (as well as transcreation when necessary) creates a quality user experience, and Google will take notice.

In fact, according to,

Google algorithm updates in 2018 revealed that Google is intensifying its focus on evaluating content quality and at the depth and breadth of a website’s content, said Eric Enge, general manager of Perficient Digital.“We tracked the SEO performance of a number of different sites,” Enge said. “The sites that provided exceptional depth in quality content coverage literally soared in rankings throughout the year. Sites that were weaker in their content depth suffered in comparison.”

This focus on quality continued in October 2019 with the release of Google’s latest algorithm, BERT.  Google designed BERT to more effectively answer longer search queries. BERT uses Natural Language Processing to better understand the meaning behind search queries. BERT can tell if your content is all keywords and no substance – and your rankings will suffer for it.

As of December 2019, BERT has rolled out in over 70 different languages around the world.  There’s no question that BERT is affecting multilingual SEO in 2020, and more updates are sure to come.

Be cautious with automatic translation, as it can degrade the user experience along with your site’s rankings!

Multilingual SEO in 2020: Ignore voice search and mobile search at your peril

Voice search is on the rise around the world, driven by convenience and the ubiquity of smartphones.  That means you need to begin optimising your websites for it now, in all languages.  Research to understand and target any voice-specific search terms, and optimise for featured snippets, too. As Erika Varangouli advised on

For the markets where Google is the dominant player, the number of search results returning featured snippets will also increase, as Google seeks to give users the best experience. Brands can take advantage of this trend by optimising their content for voice search but will need to start now as the landscape is about to get more competitive throughout 2019.

Meanwhile, it’s 2020, so if you don’t have a mobile SEO strategy, you need to get up to speed (especially if you target emerging markets where most internet users are mobile). For example, Jamie Alberico, SEO product owner at Arrow Electronics, told

“If you want to be international, you’d better be mobile first and mobile fast. In the United States, 41% of total web traffic comes from mobile devices. For Asian markets, that share jumps to over 65%. 4G isn’t worldwide and for many international users, there’s a real monetary value attached to every MB. Can you imagine having to pay $5 every time a site decided you really needed to see their hero image? These users need lightweight experiences that adapt.”

Don’t let your multilingual SEO strategy lose on a technicality

As important as content optimisation is, it can’t replace careful attention to the more technical aspects of SEO. For example, consider how best to signal to Google that you have multilingual versions of the same site. According to Google, it’s best to use different URLs for different language versions instead of relying on geolocation. Also, make sure everything is marked appropriately and use hreflang tags correctly. Use structured data markup whenever you can, too, since it’s more AI-friendly and Google is expected to begin relying on AI more and more.

As mentioned above, Google does not like automatically translated content. If you’re relying on machine translation without human oversight, you should use robots.txt to keep the Google bots from crawling those pages.

With a task as complex as SEO, it’s always best to get professional advice. At K International, our team is available to answer all of your questions and to get your website optimised for all of the languages you do business in. Contact us for your next website translation project – we can’t wait to hear from you!