When you’re planning a multilingual SEO strategy, you must decide whether to optimise for a language or for a specific geographic region, usually a country. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.
Which one you choose will depend on a number of factors, such as budget, the type of content and the amount of time you have to devote to your SEO. Here we will examine some of the pros and cons of each approach, which will help you to decide how to formulate your multilingual SEO strategy.
One of the advantages of targeting your SEO to a specific language is that the same content can reach users in many regions.
For example, Spanish content could attract visitors from Spain, the USA and Latin America. This means that you needn’t worry about hosting your websites in many different countries. You could host your Spanish content on servers in your own country, but it will still be available to markets all over the world. This will make your hosting costs much cheaper and you will not have to re-engineer your site for multiple regions.
The main disadvantage of targeting by language is that it will be much harder to rank well on regional search engines. This is because most search algorithms factor in geographic location of the hosted website. Google, in particular, places a lot of emphasis on geographic search by ranking more highly the results that are close to the searcher. Through your own use of Google, you will have noticed that local results often come first.
Another disadvantage of language targeting is that languages have regional dialects, spellings and words can mean completely different things. Spanish in Spain isn’t massively different to the Spanish spoken in Latin America, but it’s different enough.
There are also cultural differences between Europe and Latin America which make it more difficult to write universal content that will have exactly the same meaning in both regions.
The main advantage of targeting by country is that you can have specific in-country TLDs (top-level domains). For example, you would have your website for Spain hosted on a .es domain on a server located in Spain, and your Mexico website would use a .mx domain on a Mexican server.
This will help improve your chances of ranking well in regional search engines. The keywords that you are targeting will be competing against fewer pages, because instead of going up against web pages from all over the world, your website will just be competing with web pages using the same in-country TLD.
Another advantage of targeting by country is that you will gain more trust from your website visitors. Being local, or at least appearing to be local, will make you seem more trustworthy and people will be more willing to do business with you. Many people are already wary about conducting transactions over the web, so having a local presence helps build trust between business and consumer.
The main disadvantages of targeting by country are the higher costs and increased complexity. You will need to hire language specialists in each country you are targeting. You will also need to conduct keyword research for each country.
Registering multiple top-level domains and hosting on servers in each country is expensive and also adds to the complexity of your website infrastructure. You will need to put more time into managing your domain names and servers. It increases the risk of downtime due to technical problems because you will be dealing with many web hosting providers across multiple time zones.
So which is the best approach for multilingual SEO? On balance, targeting by country has more benefits than targeting by language. Targeting by country produces true localisation, it reduces competition, and it instils trust amongst your website visitors. The extra short-term costs will probably be offset in the long-term by the equity gained from better local search engine rankings and the improved trustworthiness of your brand. However, many multilingual SEO campaigns will require a combination of the two approaches.