International SEO vs. Multilingual SEO: Find the Difference

Multilingual vs International SEO graphics

When it comes to global SEO, there are two main strategies: international SEO and multilingual SEO. Despite the similarities in their names, these two strategies differ in their approach to targeting the global market. International SEO focuses on optimizing a website for specific countries or regions, while multilingual SEO focuses on optimizing a website for multiple languages.

This article will provide an overview of the differences between these two strategies and help you determine which is best suited for your business.

What is Global SEO?

Global SEO is the process of optimizing a website to rank well in international search engine results pages. It can involve creating separate versions of a website tailored to different languages and countries or optimizing the existing website for global search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other major search engine providers. Regarding strategies, there are two main approaches to global SEO: international SEO and multilingual SEO. International SEO targets specific countries or regions, whereas multilingual SEO optimizes a website for multiple languages. Both strategies can be employed to reach a global audience effectively, but their approaches and objectives are slightly different.

What is International SEO?

International SEO means optimizing a website for a specific country, region, or global audience. It primarily addresses technicalities and is less focused on the language and cultural side of things. It is a multiregional strategy, but not necessarily multilingual. International SEO exists independently of multilingual SEO. International SEO and multilingual SEO are separate strategies that can be used independently or together.

For example, a US-based company wants to sell its product to the UK and other English-speaking markets. To do this, they would create local versions of their main website and implement technical solutions to avoid issues with duplicate content or targeting the wrong audience. The goal is to help search engines understand the intended country or region and ensure users from that area access the correct version of the website. Once the website is launched in this market, no further language adjustments are necessary as the website is already in English.

International SEO can also take care of multiple languages without a multilingual strategy using technical elements such as hreflang tags, canonical tags, etc., to gain visibility in the target market.

It’s important to note that while this approach allows a website to target multiple languages and regions without creating separate pages or content for each language, it is not a substitute for a multilingual strategy. A multilingual strategy can help to improve the user experience by providing content in the user’s native language, which can increase engagement and conversion rates.

What is Multilingual SEO?

Conversely, multilingual SEO means optimizing a website for multiple languages. This can involve creating separate versions of the website for each language or, more commonly, localizing the existing website into multiple languages. Multilingual SEO is a more extensive strategy than International SEO and involves different skills, considerations, strategies, and tactics. It is essential for businesses that sell their services or products in multiple countries or a multilingual country.

For example, a Swiss-based business selling services or products all over the country needs to optimize its website for French, German, Italian, and (in an ideal world) Romansh, prioritizing the most prominent language group, French. In this case, the company needs to localize the existing content or create new content for each region, to reach the target audience.

To reach a target audience that speaks different languages, a company must localize its existing content or create new content tailored to each target region. This process can be approached in two ways: through a “blind” translation of source content to the target language without considering cultural context or by deeply localizing keywords to ensure they are linguistically accurate and culturally relevant. While the latter approach is preferable for multilingual SEO, it is not always the first choice due to skills, budget, lack of awareness, or biases limitations.

A good Multilingual SEO strategy should always include identifying relevant keywords, local competitors, cultural nuances, and idioms and work in partnership with the localization team, the editorial team, and CRO and UX teams to ensure that cultural relevance is preserved and that all users, regardless of their language, feel welcomed and engaged with the business.

It is crucial to understand that keywords with the highest search volumes don’t always work within the context of your content. Personalized and local keywords are more appropriate and the quintessential element of good multilingual SEO. Even if those keywords have a lower search volume, they attract local people. This is also valid for brand keywords, keyword concepts, or keywords that the business has chosen and should be used over and over in every property without considering regional variants, language-specific issues, etc.

What’s the Difference Between Multilingual and International SEO?

In a nutshell:

International SEO targets countries that speak the same language, such as the UK and Australia, or different countries that speak different variations of the same language, such as Latin American Spanish, without considering their differences (e.g., using neutral Mexican to include the whole Latin America). It can also be language agnostic.

On the other hand, Multilingual SEO targets countries where multiple languages are spoken, such as Spanish and English in the US, or countries that speak different languages, such as France and Russia, and countries that speak different variations of the same language (e.g., Mexico and Spain) and takes into account the differences, giving them the value they need to deserve. It is focused on the power of language and its connection to society.

Many companies opt for pure International SEO because technical SEO is language-agnostic and can be easily scaled. For example, if a company wants to expand into Latin America, it can use neutral Spanish and establish a presence in those markets, though conversion may be difficult.

On the other hand, Multilingual SEO requires much more resources, time, skills, and a different set of KPIs as it is based on linguistic differences. To break into Latin America with a multilingual SEO approach, a company must optimize and create content for all the different regions and countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Do Multilingual And International SEO Overlap?

In companies that are at an advanced stage, multilingual and international SEO often overlap. To effectively enter a market, a company must speak the language and dialect of that market and have a good understanding of the culture, expectations, and specific needs. For example, a company that wants to break into Spain cannot use the same website and content they use for Mexico.

In early-stage companies, international SEO tends to be more prevalent because it’s an easy way to engage with a market at a high level and establish a foundation for a more comprehensive and crucial Multilingual strategy. For example, a Canadian start-up that sees potential in France might start duplicating its French-Canadian website and making technical adjustments. Still, it may not immediately implement a complete multilingual strategy.

Multilingual SEO occurs when a company wants to penetrate the market more deeply and addresses local needs and demands. At the same time, international SEO can happen from the beginning by taking care of the technical aspects of things and basic translation. Multilingual SEO considers not only volume but also the social and cultural implications of a keyword.

When the two strategies overlap, SEO becomes not just International but Multilingual and becomes part of a larger ecosystem that includes, but is not limited to, localization, CRO, UX, and demand management to ensure that users coming to the website are served with the best locally relevant content.

Multilingual vs. International SEO: How to Choose?

Deciding between multilingual and international SEO can be difficult.

When deciding between multilingual and international SEO, it is essential to consider your business’s specific needs and goals. Multilingual SEO is best for businesses that target multiple languages and countries, as it involves creating and optimizing content in multiple languages for different regions. On the other hand, international SEO is more suited for businesses that want to target multiple countries but do not need to adjust for local variations in language.

To determine which approach is best for your business, you should consider factors such as your target audience, location, and the languages spoken in those regions. For example, if your primary audience is based in the United States, but you also have significant traffic and revenue from Germany, a multilingual website would be necessary to target both audiences. Conversely, an international SEO strategy would be appropriate if your audience primarily speaks English and you have visitors and revenue from countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia.

In addition to language and tech considerations, you should also consider other factors such as user experience, conversion rate optimization, and the user interface, as these may need to be adjusted for different languages and countries.

It’s also important to remember that a website is just one aspect of a successful global marketing strategy. Businesses must also consider other factors, such as cultural differences, local competition, and legal regulations in different countries, to create a comprehensive global marketing strategy that will connect with international audiences and succeed in the global marketplace.

Are you looking to expand your business in one or more foreign markets? I specialize in multilingual SEO and Localization and can help with all your needs. Please look at my services to see how I can help you succeed in the glocalization phase. Contact me for any questions, and I look forward to hearing from you!

International SEO vs. Multilingual SEO: Find the Difference

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