Multilingual SEO Tips – Part 1 – Geo-Targeting

Chinese Newspaper

By Tracy Mu Sung – Director at MooMu Media


If you are managing a site for audiences who use different languages, and/or  who are in different countries, it is important to ensure your geo-targeting is as clear as possible to Google. Why? Because if Google knows who your target audience is, it is more likely to increase your rankings and visibility for that particular audience.


For example – if your site, or part of your site, is targeting French speakers in France, correct geo-targeting will give the relevant section of your site a boost in the search results of people in France.


So how do you signal to Google where and for whom your content is most relevant?  One obvious way is the language you are using in your content, but seeing as keyword selection and content optimisation is so important, we will have them as the subject of a whole other post.


This post will focus on some non-content ways to optimise your site for Google, more from a coding and administrative perspective. These are things you can do right now, or as soon as you start developing your language pages.


  1. The first is the most simple and obvious – make sure that Google can crawl all your language pages. Don’t use them in isolation, and don’t confuse Google with cookies or redirects (if possible)
  2. Make sure the language of a page is obvious. You should use only one language on a page (if possible) so as not to confuse search engines and/or users.
    • Sometimes menu structures or user generated content can be different to other content on a page. Try to minimise this.
    • If you have multiple languages in a rich media file like Flash (which are usually indexed as single pages), it would be helpful to separate the content into separate language files.
  3. Automatic translations can be bad for the user, and can also be considered automatically generated content by Google, which will label it as spam. If you do want to use automatic translation for your users, use Robots.txt to block Google from indexing it
  4. Cross link between your languages – e.g. have links or language drop downs sitewide and visible
  5. There is no preferred way to ‘name’ or structure your URLs, but for user friendliness and management, it is best to be consistent with your naming. E.g. all in a subdomain or subfolder.
  6. Internationalised domain names are ok, IF you use them correctly and remember to escape them when linking to them.
  7. If you are targeting a single country with your whole domain – consider a country code top level domain (e.g., .cn, .ca). If you are targeting multiple countries with one domain, consider a generic top level domain. (e.g. com, .eu, .asia).
  8. Use the Geo-targeting tool in Webmaster Tools to indicate to Google that your site is targeted to a specific country (unnecessary if you are using a ccTLD)
    • Do not use WMT Geo-targeting if you are targeting multiple countries
  9. Note that Google may use addresses, phone numbers, currencies and Google Places pages to determine appropriate geo-targeting for a site.
  10. Note that Google does not use meta or html tags in determining the appropriate geo-targeting for a site – so using them is not an indicator, but they won’t do you any harm.


Notice that nowhere in this list did I mention rel hreflang markup, why is that? That’s because the hreflang element is used as a connection between URLs, allowing Google to ‘swap’ the page currently shown in the search results with ones which are more relevant to the user. It doesn’t affect ranking, but it is important, so we have covered it in our second article on SEO for Multilingual Websites Part 2.


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