Targeting audiences outside of your own country and/or in different languages is a challenge – one that can be easily overcome, if you follow the right strategy and have the right tools to support it. International SEO and multilingual SEO are the keys to this… but they’re not the same, and it’s important to know the difference.
Multilingual SEO versus international SEO
Their names might lead you to think that international SEO and multilingual SEO are the same thing, but that’s actually not the case. While they do share similarities, and they both fall under the SEM umbrella, you may not need to focus on both – so let’s dive in.
What is Multilingual SEO?
Multilingual SEO refers to the process of optimizing your website content in multiple languages, which is important for businesses based in a multilingual country (of which there are many), as well as global businesses. For example, in Belgium, where there are three national languages spoken, optimizing content in French, German and Dutch would most likely be crucial.
In order to reach the audience who speaks your target languages, marketers should use transcreation to increase your chances of ranking for a specific keyword or offering. Transcreation is the process in which content is created in your target language specifically for your desired audience, as opposed to translating existing content.
By defining your target markets, identifying relevant keywords, and ensuring proper translation and localization of your content, you’ll be well on your way to nailing your multilingual SEO. And if you don’t have all the expertise in-house, finding the right global content partner is a good idea. They will have the local knowledge combined with linguistic and digital marketing expertise to help bridge the gap between translated content and contextually accurate translated content.
What is International SEO?
On the flip side, there’s international SEO, which is always multinational, but not necessarily multilingual. Why? Some companies choose to do business globally, but only market themselves to speakers of one language. For example, a brand based in the U.K. may also wish to target potential customers in the U.S. for simplicity’s sake.
But even then, because of the nuanced differences between British English and American English, international SEO becomes necessary. For example, whereas two-legged clothing pieces are known as “pants” in the U.S., they are known as “trousers” in the U.K., so the targeted keywords would be different for a fashion brand marketing their products in both countries.
This is where translation and localization are key (and especially the latter). To fully tap into a foreign market, you need to cater to the subtle differences between the different dialects to ensure complete clarity for your audience.
International SEO also involves the process of optimizing websites for various search engines. In many countries, a heavy emphasis is placed on Google, but some regions either don’t have access to it, or they rely on something else entirely, such as Baidu in China. And don’t forget about the technical component of SEO, especially in this context, as it is one of the key pieces of success in your global endeavors.
If there was a Venn diagram of “companies who need international SEO” and “companies who need multilingual SEO” there would, of course, be overlap, which is why it’s important to know the ins and outs of not just digital marketing strategy, but translation and localization as well.
The bottom line:
International SEO is for companies who wish to market to customers around the world. It’s about creating localized content, yes, but it’s also about the technical aspect.
Multilingual SEO is just as it sounds: SEO in multiple languages. This is more about content and less about technical efforts.
Some brands may need one or the other; some brands need both. It all depends on your brand’s goals for growth.