Expanding your web presence to other regions can be a great commercial strategy but it is easier said than done. Much like the McDonald’s menu, SEO doesn’t work the same way in every country.  

To reach non-English speaking customers, you will need to build and optimize your website so that your visitors view content written in the right language. However, there is much more to SEO than simply translating your site. It can be a complex process, and it’s important to anticipate and avoid common pitfalls.

Multilingual SEO Mistakes

Here are nine mistakes you must avoid:

1. Using auto redirect based on IP address

Google advises that relying on a visitor’s IP address to direct them to a particular version of your website is a bad idea. IP analysis is not a reliable method. Search engines may not be able to adequately crawl all versions of your site, and thus they will fail to direct your visitor appropriately.

2. Optimizing your website only for Google

Don’t assume that your target audience uses Google. Do your research, find out which search engines they use, and then optimize your website accordingly. For example, the most popular search engine in China is Baidu, and Yandex is the most commonly used search engine in Russia. Each search engine warrants a slightly different approach. For instance, in Baidu’s case, you will need to pay more attention to meta descriptions than you would when implementing SEO practices for Google.

3. Neglecting to research suitable keywords

When reaching out to speakers of another language, you’ll need to set aside a few hours for keyword research. Don’t assume that your new target market uses the same words and phrases to search for products and services in your niche; you need to understand your market’s mindset, along with their language preferences. Direct keyword translation is seldom an adequate solution. Instead, work with a professional translator who is well-versed in the kind of colloquialisms used by native speakers. If you are comfortable with keyword research but your translator lacks SEO experience, train them in the basics so they can integrate optimization along with their translation services.

4. Using poorly translated content, or trying to translate all your existing content

Professional translation entails producing content that isn’t just written in a new language, but also fits with the cultural norms and values of your target market. Hiring a reputable service such as The Word Point will ensure perfect results every time. Do not use plugins; this will result in unnatural translation. You cannot afford to aim for “good enough;” it must resonate with native speakers. You don’t necessarily need to translate all your existing content. Think strategically; which pages attract the most traffic and convert most often? Make a list of your best content, and direct your resources accordingly. Pay particular attention to pages that correspond with high-performing keywords in the new language.

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5. Failing to adhere to the “one URL, one language” rule

A golden rule of multilingual SEO is to use a different URL for each version of a webpage. For instance, you will require a unique URL for a French version of your page, an English version, and so on. Do not rely on your visitor’s browser settings or cookies to do the work for you. Don’t use side-by-side translation on a webpage.

6. Failing to properly indicate alternate versions of your web pages

When you use a different URL for every version of your page, you must tell Google by adding tags or annotations to your site. These assist Google in matching a user’s search results to the most appropriate version.

By adding <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”lang_code”… > elements to your page header, you can tell Google that your site is available in several different languages. Every version of a web page should contain a set of <link> elements inside the <head> element. Specifically, the <head> element should contain one link for each version of the page, including the link for the current page.   

Alternatively, you can use sitemaps or HTTP headers. Google has published helpful guidance here.

7. Using robots.txt in an attempt to hide duplicate content

“Duplicate content” refers to any content that appears in more than one place online. Duplicate content has a negative effect on your page ranking because it forces a search engine to decide which copy to display. In brief, if you host duplicate content on your site, you can expect to see a drop in your traffic and rankings.

In theory, you can use robots.txt files in a page’s HTML code to conceal translated duplicate content. However, provided you have used the proper tags as outlined above, this is unnecessary. The only exception to this rule is pages that have been translated automatically – and you shouldn’t be using automated translation anyway.

8. Overlooking the importance of link authority in the local market

To optimize your rankings, aim to build links from both local and global websites. Reach out to bloggers, social media personalities, and business owners who speak your target audience’s language.In some cases, you might benefit from a listing in a local web directory.

If you maintain a blog or social media profiles, localize your content. For instance, posting about local news or issues will encourage prospective customers to engage with – and share – your content and pages. Taking the time to interact with your audience will also cement your reputation as a brand that understands your target demographic.

9. Failing to track results

If you don’t know how your SEO strategy is performing, you cannot hope to improve your results. This is an important rule for SEO practices in general, but it takes on a new significance when you are hoping to succeed in a new market. Regular monitoring can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

Use Monitor Backlinks, or another similar tool, to track how your site is ranking for keywords in multiple languages. You can also use SEO tools to keep an eye on your competition. In just a few searches, you can discover which keywords are responsible for bringing in the most traffic to their website. You can then experiment with these keywords for yourself.


Multilingual SEO is a major undertaking that stretches far beyond translating written content into a new language. You need to take into account your target market’s language preferences, the search engine they are most likely to use, and their preferred search terms. It’s essential that you devise a sound localization strategy, choose your URLs with care, monitor your competitors’ performance, and publish only perfectly translated content. Only then will you inspire trust and confidence in your customers.

Text: Pauline speaks Portuguese, English, Spanish and Italian. She travelled the world to immerse herself in the new cultures and learn languages. Today she is proud to be a voting member of the American Translators Association and an active participant of the Leadership Council of its Portuguese Language Division.

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