This article is a collection of practical hints you can immediately apply to your multilingual site to better optimize it for search engines.

We prepared 8 infographics for you, each followed by an easy exercise. Just pick one for today, put your fingers on the keyboard and improve your page rank.

If you prefer some in-depth reading, please check the Multilingual SEO page.

Hint #1: see your page through Google’s eyes

Multilingual SEO - Hint #1
Multilingual SEO – Hint #1

When Google reads your page, it sees it a little differently than you would from a browser.

Google doesn’t care about fancy design, fonts, colours, animation and images. Well-structured content is the only thing that matters.

Warm-up task for you

Use the Web Developer add-on for Chrome (or its Firefox counterpart) to disable the CSS styles and images and only display alts instead. The picture will help.

Are you still satisfied with what you see?


Hint #2: check your headings structure

Multilingual SEO - Hint #2
Multilingual SEO – Hint #2

The heading structure of your pages is one of the very important aspects of on-page SEO (source: The heading structure for your blog by yoast.com)

Task for you

Install the “HeadingsMap” add-on for Chrome, pick a page and check its page headings hierarchy. Check translated pages as well.


Hint #3: Make sure the page language is obvious

Multilingual SEO - Hint #3
Multilingual SEO – Hint #3

Google will try to determine the main language of each of your pages. All code-level language info, such as lang attributes, will be ignored by Google.

You can help Google determine the language correctly by using only one language per page and by avoiding side-by-side translations.

Task for you
Check your site and make sure you don’t have any side-by-side translations, e.g. Contact us/Contáctenos/Kontaktieren Sie uns on the same page, and stuff like that.


Hint #4: Make sure each language version is easily discoverable

Multilingual SEO - Hint #4
Multilingual SEO – Hint #4

Avoid automatic redirection based on the user’s language.
These redirections could prevent users (and search engines) from viewing all the versions of your site.

Use a language switcher instead. Make sure it stands out.

Task for you

If you use the ‘Browser language redirect’ option, check if Google already knows about your site by performing a “site:” search like this: site:wpml.org . Make sure links to all of your language versions show up.

Ask a friend to locate the language switcher on your site. If it takes her/him more than a few seconds, you might reconsider its location.


Hint #5: Add alt attributes and captions to your images. Don’t forget to translate them!

Multilingual SEO - Hint #5
Multilingual SEO – Hint #5

Accurate information in your alt attributes can make your images more discoverable on the web.

The caption of the image is the text that accompanies the image and is visible to people reading your page.
Captions get read more often than body copy. While people tend to scan an article, they will stop at images to read the accompanying captions. Translating captions engages your readers more effectively..

Task for you
Pick a page that has images. Ask a friend to quickly scan the article. Watch her to see where she pauses. Take a note at which images she stops. If they don’t have captions, add them.

Check if your images have alts. The Web Developer add-on (which we introduced in Hint #1) can help. Check if your alt attributes have been translated


Hint #6: Use hreflang for language and regional URLs – the right way

Multilingual SEO - Hint #6
Multilingual SEO – Hint #6

The hreflang attributes tell Google about available translations. Google uses the hreflang attributes to serve the correct language or regional URL in Search results.
When used correctly, hreflang attributes can dramatically improve search engine positioning.

When you use WPML to build multilingual WordPress sites, the hreflang attributes are created and added automatically to your source pages.

Task for you
Use Google Search Console to check if you don’t have any hreflang tags with Errors


Hint #7: For multi-regional websites go ahead and duplicate your content if it makes sense to do so.

Multilingual SEO - Hint #7
Multilingual SEO – Hint #7

Websites that provide content for different regions sometimes feature the same content at different URLs:

  • yourdomain.com/fr/nous-contacter (French content, independent of region)
  • yourdomain.com/fr-ca/nous-contacter (French for Canada)

Task for you

If your page content happens to be the same for both URLs, feel free to use the duplicate option provided by WPML.

Many WPML users hesitate to use the duplicate option to avoid being punished by Google. However, Google approves of this use:

“This is generally not a problem as long as the content is for different users in different countries. While we strongly recommend that you provide unique content for each different group of users, we understand that this might not always be possible. There is generally no need to “hide” the duplicates by disallowing crawling in a robots.txt file or by using a “noindex” robots meta tag. ”

Source: Duplicate content and international sites at support.google.com/webmasters/


Hint #8: Add breadcrumbs to pages

Multilingual SEO - Hint #8
Multilingual SEO – Hint #8

If you use breadcrumbs, both Google and your visitors will immediately understand where each page belongs.

Task for you
Add breadcrumbs to your WordPress site.

The easiest way to add breadcrumbs to your website is to use the breadcrumbs rendered by the breadcrumbs function of the Yoast SEO plugin.
Once breadcrumbs are enabled in advanced settings, then the page titles added to breadcrumbs will automatically appear in the appropriate language. The only exception is the anchor text for the homepage. You need to translate it in the WPML String Translation panel.

Read more on How to use the Yoast SEO plugin with WPML.

Your tactics to improve SEO ranking of your website

What else helps you to optimize your multilingual site for search engines? Share your hint in comments.

24 Responses to “Multilingual SEO – 8 hints and tasks for you”

  1. Localize forms and the form notifications too, I see this a lot where folks forget to translate gravity forms and CF7 error warnings/conversion pages and other smaller things. I would check Misc here and things like sidebar widgets.

    Also make sure the correct lang feed is coming form social media, twitter feeds, etc.

    Also Google is kind in a few places, but everywhere, Checkout Yandex, Naver & Baidu. SEO friendly URLs, etc not the same in Chinese and Cyrillic.

    Great post though and WPML is beast mode for all the tricky things out there especially HFREF LANG.

    • All very good points! You gave me an idea of the topic for the next series: “Common mistakes web developers make when building multilingual sites” where we can expand on the issues you mentioned. Thanks!

  2. These are amazing tips to optimize my clients websites. Some things I knew, some I did not. And the tools you present to check things I did not know google had them.
    Thank you so much for these amazing Tips.

    Cheers,
    Margarida, from Portugal.

    • Hi, @Severin,

      Amit here – I am the WPML compatibility team leader.

      Well, the idea here was to generally help with Multilingual SEO and not promoting one specific solution, for this we have our GoGlobal Program, where we are working together with authors and also creating and sharing documentation happily – talking of which 😉 – We have tested a few months ago your pro version, found some issues and reached out to you guys, it’ll be very nice if you can reply – if you want some more details you are welcome to reach me – amit.k@onthegosystems.com. Cheers!

  3. They are some great hints, thanks.

    However the first one I think is not accurate and potentially confusing. Google does render your site’s CSS and execute JavaScript as well. Simply disabling CSS doesn’t really show you how Google views your site. S better tool to do that is the “Fetch and Render” feature under in Google Search Console under Crawl => Fetch as Google.

    Also, I think it’s worth investigating what search engines site users use. Previous commenter mentioned Yandex, etc… So, if you have a site that has Russian pages it’s worth investigating and optimizing accordingly. When we’re targeting other search engines the rules for optimization may vary slightly.

    • Yes, you are right, it’s not accurate but I believe it can still be helpful for some of our customers. Thomas, please visit our WPML showcase, take the first site and try to apply hint #1 and you will know immediately what I mean. I assume you are an expert in your field and most likely you don’t need any of these hints since building well-structured websites and pages is a natural thing for you. But believe me, there are many site owners for whom SEO is nothing but black magic. Doing that simple trick with disabling styles and seeing your own site from a different angle proves to work better than spending hours explaing what SEO is. This is how I helped to improve SEO for some of my blogging friends who couldn’t understand how using h2, h3 tags is different from bolding or even coloring(!) pieces of information.

      “A better tool to do that is the “Fetch and Render” feature under in Google Search Console under Crawl => Fetch as Google.” Thanks for your great hint!

      “When we’re targeting other search engines the rules for optimization may vary slightly.” No doubt. If you have more in-depth observations to share, these would be more than welcome. When working on these hints I focused mostly on the Google recommendations.

      Thank you very much once again for your valuable feedback Thomas.

      • Thanks for the reply, Agnes. I did get a lot of the post. I do agree about speaking to your audience and it can be balance when writing content for the web for sure.

    • The forum thread that you pointed to is a year and a half old. Right now, WPML outputs the language links in the site’s header. The documentation page for it is here:
      https://wpml.org/documentation/support/adding-hreflang-wordpress/

      If you look at the header of our sites, you’ll see these hreflang links, as they should be.

      In case you’re not seeing it, check that documentation page and make sure that you haven’t disabled anything. Then, see if there’s another plugin that’s maybe overriding that functionality in WPML. If you try a clean installation, you’ll definitely see these links in the header.

        • This we don’t have. WPML only outputs the hreflang tags in the site’s header. BTW, I’m using Google Search Console for our sites and it allows to check that Google knows the connections between languages. These links that WPML outputs give us 100% coverage in Google’s report. I respect the fact that there are other ways to communicate this information, but what WPML does now completely satisfies Google.

          • I’m surprise by this response. In the year and a half old thread Dan seemed to understand the issue and agreed with scheduling it for a next release.

            Anyway, Google posted this about x-default:
            https://wpml.org/forums/topic/head-or-sitemap-both-seem-to-have-an-issue/

            The sitemap is not in order yet, see “3. An XML sitemap hreflang implementation” in:
            https://yoast.com/hreflang-ultimate-guide/

            Note I do not receive any notification of replies to this post so I’ve added it to my task list to check every now and then. Would be nice if I could receive a notification.

            • Hi Patrick,
              sorry for our late reply. Could you please elaborate here

              “The sitemap is not in order yet, see “3. An XML sitemap hreflang implementation” in:
              https://yoast.com/hreflang-ultimate-guide/

              What do you mean that the sitemap is not in order? Did you notice any issues? If so, please try to be as specific as possible. I will pass your comment to our WPML lead developer and if something is not working as it should and the problem is critical enough, we will open a task to fix it.

  4. About Hint #4, “Avoid automatic redirection based on the user’s language”. I can’t emphasize this enough. I used to use that feature in WPML, and realized that Google’s Search engine (via Google Search Console) was not parsing my Japanese pages at all. That was 1/2 my site. Apparently the Googlebot assumes English as default. So be careful.

    This might be kind of a feature request, but it would be nice if WPML could just redirect the Home Page only, based on browser language, but not redirect any sub pages. That might help the 1st time visitor find he right language, but help the Googlebot parse in the correct language on all other pages.

  5. Hi
    The article is very interesting.
    My website has three languages and I use WPML to manage them. I have a question about that.
    One of the languages is French. Do I have to do something in my website (or outside) to be able that my website can be seen in Quebec, Canada, where francophone people live?

    thanks

      • If your site has a language switcher, Google can see all translations. WPML adds both the hreflang tags in the header and language switchers that you set. Both allow Google to understand what’s translation of what.