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The complete guide to international SEO (2020)

Elisabeth De Cannière

Author: Elisabeth De Cannière
Strategic Solution Consultant, LanguageWire

International SEO: Complete guide for 2020

This guide provides you with the secret to successful international SEO on your website.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) consists of various techniques to get websites ranked higher in search engines, such as Google, Bing and Baidu.

Good SEO is vital to any online business; the higher ranked you are, the more traffic you get. And if you accomplish good SEO in more than one language, you will gain even more traffic.

This guide shines a light on the importance of international SEO and the process of SEO translation.

First, I will take you through some general advice on how to create an SEO-optimised website. Then we will deep dive into how SEO translation comes into play, our speciality.

The golden rule of SEO: be relevant!

SEO techniques centre around one (and only one) Golden Rule: if your website is relevant to your website visitor, it will rank higher on the search engine page. It’s all about offering a quality experience to your visitor.

Relevance: Search engines scan your content for topics to see if the content matches search queries. The greater the relevance, the higher the content will appear in related search results.

Make your website easy to navigate

You don’t want your visitors leaving because they can’t cope with a blur of tabs, links, endless pages, images and content chatter. This lost traffic increases your bounce rate and makes your website appear less helpful to search engines as well.

Offer a clear path for your visitors as to where you would like them to go and how they can get there (e.g., your checkout or sign-up page).

Steve Krug’s simple advice on usability is relevant here: ‘Don’t make me think!’ If your website has a clear structure with low ambiguity, people will stay longer and, in turn, improve your SEO rankings.

And remember, many people search on their tiny mobile screens. Adapt your website and page structure accordingly. This is vitally important since Google announced mobile-first indexing in May, 2019.

Write with your reader in mind

Write for your visitor. Do some research about who they are and what words they typed in to get to your website, and utilise those keywords in your text.

Also, make sure to stick to one topic per page with a few, but clear and concise, titles.

Show your quality

Link and refer to other websites that have greater authority. For example, you could link to topics in Google’s analytics help section to add extra background information on technical terms when writing content about SEO.

Add snippets (e.g., directions on maps, images or company information) and ensure that the metadata (the actual info you find on the search engine’s search page about a website) – meta title, URL and description are to the point, informative and explain the focus of your content.

Make it human, make it fun

Encourage your visitor to stay and take an action, such as buying for an eCommerce site or registering for a demo on a SaaS site. Give them the information they need, refer to blogs, tweets or social media posts to keep their interest over time. Add relevant images, quotes or anything else that is relevant that can capture and keep their attention.

Remember it’s not all about Google

In countries like Russia and China, people do not necessarily use Google as their primary search engine. Many people use Yandex or Baidu. These search engines have different rules and work in a different way. Your website needs to be adapted to those search engines as well, if you would like to attract visitors from those countries. You can read some tips for non-Google search engines in this helpful blog post from Botify - International Search Engines: SEO For Baidu, Yandex, & Naver.

International SEO and SEO translation

For your website to be relevant for readers, it needs to be in their preferred language.

Localising your website for your target markets with an international SEO (ISEO) mindset dramatically improves search rankings and increases traffic. To achieve optimal ISEO results, a process called SEO translation is applied to website content.

SEO translation is the process by which website content, including keywords and meta tags, is generated in new languages while taking into account SEO best practice for each language.

Keep in mind that SEO translation isn't the same as standard translation. It takes into account SEO best practices, such as keyword research, coming up with locally appropriate examples, structuring your text differently and meta tag optimisation.

Here are the key elements to consider when localising a website using SEO translation.


Increasingly, the message from Google is that it’s essential to focus on natural language. Keyword stuffing is not what we should be doing on websites. 

Keywords are, however, still very relevant. For example, if you’ve written a blog about how Google Translate can negatively affect your search ranking, it makes sense to mention that phrase in your meta title, description and throughout your post. The emphasis is on doing so naturally.

Translating an existing website into new languages, defining keywords and incorporating them into natural multilingual content is a big part of what we do at LanguageWire. Here is a short overview of the keyword localisation process for new language versions:

  1. Keyword extraction and approval to create a source list
  2. Localisation of keywords by language experts
  3. Local target audience keyword research
  4. Editing of content in each language to include localised keywords
  5. Proofreading, in-house review and implementation of any final changes
  6. Publishing of international SEO optimised content

Meta title

The meta title tag appears as the title of your page in search engine results. 

Meta title example on Google

Meta title example on Search engine results.

Meta titles need to be as eye-catching and relevant as possible, whilst keeping within the character limit (approximately 60 characters for Google).

Meta description

The meta description text appears below the meta title in search engine results.

Meta description example on Google

Meta description example on Search engine results.

As with meta titles, the meta description needs to be as eye-catching and relevant as possible, whilst keeping within the character limit (usually 155-160 characters for Google).

Localised meta titles and descriptions

Meta titles and descriptions can be generated from localised keywords. The translator will be given a link, along with one or more keywords, and will be asked to create a description from scratch.

This is a highly creative job and not the same as standard translation. You should only work with specialised language experts who have access to SEO tools, such as Ahrefs, for SEO translation tasks.


A URL is the fundamental network identification for any resource connected to the web (e.g., hypertext pages, images and sound files).

URLs also help to describe a site or page to visitors and search engines. Keeping them relevant, compelling and accurate is the key to ranking well.

The URL of a webpage, in all languages, should be as descriptive and brief as possible. If, for example, a site’s structure has several levels of files and navigation, the URL should reflect this with folders and subfolders. 

Bear in mind:

  • It makes sense for your URLs to contain keywords and that their localisation is included in the translation process for other meta information
  • URLs should not contain any special characters (such as · ? ! + . : &) or accents (such as é, å, etc.). Different languages have different methods of working around this. For example, in German ‘ß’, also known as sharp ‘s’, is written as ‘ss’ in URLs
  • The optimal length of a URL is approximately 75 characters

Make international SEO part of your content strategy

International SEO works best if it is not an afterthought. You’ll get the best results by including SEO translation in your content creation workflows from the beginning.

Many professionals find the additional ISEO considerations daunting. But modern language platforms, such as LanguageWire, can incorporate SEO translation into standard localisation workflows, automating and thus doing away with much of the potential complexity.

Furthermore, integrating translation directly into your digital platform streamlines multilingual content creation even more. Eliminating manual tasks, such as manually sending content for localisation and copying and pasting in the new language versions, makes international SEO a massive opportunity for improving the ROI of your content, and not a cost or potential bottleneck.

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