Multilingual vs. multi-regional websites
The first thing to keep in mind is that there is a difference between a multilingual and a multi-regional website. According to Google:
- A multilingual website is any website that offers content in more than one language. For example, a Canadian business with English and French versions of its site. Google Search tries to find pages that match the language of the searcher.
- A multi-regional website is one that explicitly targets users in different countries. For example, a product manufacturer that ships to both Canada and the United States. Google Search tries to find the right locale page for the searcher.
Some sites are both multi-regional and multilingual: for example, a site might have different versions for the USA and for Canada, and both French and English versions of the Canadian content.
Do it right since the very beginning
There are many different aspects to consider. It’s important to make the right decisions early on, because for example, changing the URL structure at some point in the future without proper redirection can lead to a loss of trust. Also, it is nice, wherever it is possible, to fix the existing old backlinks to the new ones.
The amount of work (planning, QA, testing and execution) can increase to levels that are difficult to control if a change needs to be made to an entire section or the whole website.
Important to consider
- Making a keyword research for all additional languages and regions
- Making a Cultural Research may also be necessary
- The planning of the multi-regional and multilingual structure must be according to the Business objectives
- All QA and testing for the main website (region and language) must also be performed for the rest of the region and language combinations.
Technical SEO multilingual check list
- There must be a consistency in the multi-regional and multilingual structure no matter what is used: subdomain, folder (part of the navigation path), different domain names or domain extensions for the different regions. It is better to use different URLs rather than using cookies or browser settings to adjust the content language on the page.
- All existing Main language pages must have corresponding pages in the Secondary languages.
- The navigation must work properly when switching languages.
- Hreflang attributes must be added. We must have HTML link tags with hreflang attributes for all the languages on a page (there is an equivalent option you to specify this in the sitemap.xml). We must provide information about the language and region on an alternate URLs. We can have hreflang=”en”, hreflang=”en-ie” and etc. pages.
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-ie" hreflang="en-ie" /> <link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-ca" hreflang="en-ca" /> <link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-au" hreflang="en-au" /> <link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en" hreflang="en" />
- Now Google says: Don’t use lang attributes but use a single language for content and navigation on each page instead. Take into account that the lang attribute is a still a thing for Bing. Here you have two of the options that can be used for Bing:
Using “content-language” meta tag: <meta http-equiv="content-language" content="en-us"> Using “lang” attribute: <html lang="en-us">
- The canonical tag is generally pointing to the same language page except if we have multi-regional website with the same languages for the different regions. In case we have the same content, we should choose one URL as primary and to point the other pages to it in order to avoid duplicate content.
- Charset. Use UTF-8 unless your main content is targeting Asia, in which case it is better to use UTF-16.
- The date/time and currency objects to be encoded accordingly to the region/language
- We must pay attention for possible problems with specific for the other languages characters. For example the Cyrillic URLs after copy and paste will be encoded.
https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Заглавная_страница will be converted to https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%97%D0%B0%D0%B3%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B2%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D1%81%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%86%D0%B0
- Attention should be paid to the length of the text for all elements of the different languages: Meta Titles, Meta descriptions, Headings, etc.
- Considering use of CDN services for the different locations.
- If for multi-regional site there are specific requirements to show different information (offers, prices), this could be achieved in many ways but the most reliable is the IP address. The used IP data base must be up to date.