Koozai > Blog > How To Do International SEO When You Don’t Speak The Language

How To Do International SEO When You Don’t Speak The Language

| 6 minutes to read

International SEOAleyda Solis literally talks the talk when it comes to SEO in different languages, having given SEO talks in both English and Spanish. Today she explores the challenges of optimising websites when you don’t know the language, with six ways to bridge the language barrier.

I’ve had the opportunity to be involved as an SEO specialist as well as an SEO manager in international search engine optimisation processes where I didn’t speak some of the languages we were optimising for.

This is actually a much more straightforward process when the unknown language is similar to your native one; for example, since I’m a native Spanish speaker, for me it has been much easier to optimise for Italian and Portuguese than for very different languages like German, Polish, and now, even for Russian which has an entirely different alphabet.

Nonetheless, it’s possible to do it with a little bit of language support, good organisation and by keeping focused on the final purpose of the SEO process.

Here I share some tips that can save you time in this type of situation:

1. Fully understand the product and business

This is something you need to do in any SEO process of course, but here is even more fundamental since you won’t be able to deduce many things easily by taking a look at your clients’ site or web presence because you don’t speak the language.

So make sure to effectively identify your clients’ goals, requirements, business model, target market, product or services characteristics and unique selling proposition.

Someone from the client side (a plus if it’s the product or marketing manager along with the developer in charge) needs to explain to you the current site structure and organisation, the criteria and purpose behind everything, so you can develop your own “translated” site map.

2. Have native language support

You will need continuous language support during the process: From the validation of keyword research, to help with on-page analysis and optimising content.

I have received language support before from native interns and freelancers when I was working from the agency side and also writers / editors or Web managers of the site I was optimising for when I was working as an in-house SEO.

As you can imagine, this is much easier when the person who supports you from a language perspective is also a web marketer who understands the process you’re following and will save you the training time you may need to invest with interns – if they are just starting to work with you – or a freelancer.

3. Use translation tools carefully

It’s also fundamental to use an effective translator to help you work with foreign languages you don’t understand; but always keep in mind that this is not a substitute of native language support. A good translator is great to give you some work independence and help you to advance quicker, with more confidence; nonetheless, the real meaning of a phrase or paragraph can easily get lost, so be careful.

Google Keyword Tool

To consume and analyse Web information I would recommend Chrome’s built-in translation bar, which is the most useful option I’ve found.

To translate specific information, I’ve also used free online solutions such as the Google Translator or Promt Translator and the paid standard version of Promt that integrates within the Office suite and lets you directly translate the documents there.

If you speak many languages you’re likely to also have an advantage, even if the languages you speak are not among the ones you’re doing the SEO process for.

You’ll likely get better results translating between languages that belong to the same family, for example, Germanic languages. So in my case, when working for a German site, instead of translating from German to Spanish I translate from German to English.

4. Identify keywords usage patterns and behaviour

In your site

Dive into your Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools data to identify present user behaviour with keywords and pages of the site.

In search engines

Besides using the own search engine’s keyword tools such as, Google AdWords, Google Insights for Search or Yandex Keyword stats to identify the relevant, competitive keywords to target, I would also recommend:

  • KeywordSpy
    Gives you the keyword search volume, related or similar keywords, along with competitors’ information and additional CPC data for Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Italy, France, Poland, The Netherlands, India, Japan, besides the US, Canada, UK and also other countries.
Keyword Spy
  • SEMRush
    Provides keywords usage volume and trends – along with CPC metrics – for the US, UK, Canada, Russia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Brazil and Australia.
SEM Rush

5. Have a cheat sheet with translation support

Create a translated visual “cheat sheet” site map. Once I have identified the site’s most relevant and popular keywords, content and product types I always do a “cheat sheet” with them, by mapping each keyword to a topic or product type and its relevant site area and URL, along with a translation of each one of them. I’m a visual person so I try to do this as visual as possible with graphics and have it with me at all times.

This facilitates my everyday work a lot –especially at the beginning-, when I do the on-page analysis, analyze the site’s rankings and traffic, report the activities or even speak with the client.

6. Don’t assume anything, always verify everything

If misunderstandings can happen speaking the same language imagine when you give recommendations to be implemented in a language you don’t understand. To avoid them you need on-going communication and validation.

When providing any content, technical or promotion recommendations you need to always verify that:

They have been correctly understood

  • Provide a couple of examples in English, if this is the language both – you and the specialist in charge of implementing the recommendations – share.
  • Ask for a sample of the first implementation, so you can verify from the beginning that your recommendations have been correctly understood and they have started to be effectively implemented from the start, instead of waiting until the end to verify and maybe see that they’re all wrong.

They have been correctly implemented

  • Verify at the beginning the first sample – as described before – and also all of the work done at the end.
  • In order to effectively validate the work you need to do it from: An SEO perspective: The implementation is achieving what you looked for in order to enhance the site rankings in search engines. A language perspective: The implementation is not only grammatically correct but also attractive and transmitting the right information in the desired way. In order to do this you will need the language support that has been mentioned before. A product perspective: Verify with the product owner (marketing manager, brand manager, product manager, etc.) that the content or the functionality you’re optimising is aligned with the product goals.

I hope that these tips help you to not get lost in translation! Also, if you have developed an SEO process in a language you didn’t understand… feel free to share and leave your own tips :)

The views expressed in this post are those of the author so may not represent those of the Koozai team.


  1. Виктор avatar

    I’m currently working for an International Campaign to optimise my client website in Russia, Germany, Italy, France and more.. Anyway this has helped me ;) so thank you very much. I decided to start my work very organised and with clear points..

    1. Stacey Cavagnetto avatar
      Stacey Cavagnetto

      Hi! You’re very welcome, I’m glad it was useful for you! Good luck with your international campaign.

  2. […] you with this activity. Don’t worry, it shouldn’t be that complicated if you keep some good practices I shared in this article into […]

  3. […] you with this activity. Don’t worry, it shouldn’t be that complicated if you keep some good practices I shared in this article into […]

  4. […] A: No. A translation tool will never do the job of creating useful, attractive and very well optimized, without errors and compelling content connecting and answering your audience necessities. Despite the fact that a translation tool can help you for some of the tasks is definitely not a substitute to have a native translation and localization for your content. Remember that’s not about only translating exact terms from one language to another but identify and take into consideration the terms that the local audience use, that might not be the exact translations of the ones you have in English. To help with this take at a look at a post I wrote some time ago about how to do international SEO when you don’t speak the language. […]

  5. Pete Clark avatar

    It’s so difficult to get linguistics correct.
    When I’m dealing with Americans, I’m sometimes unsure if to spell my English the American way or the English way.
    If I call localization, localisation, will they think that I can’t spell? If I am sometimes unclear in my own language then getting another correct is easily prone to error or mis-understanding.
    Thanks for the article.

  6. Discover your International Online Potential « MindCorp | Newsfeed

    […] You can use the keywords that you have identified in the previous analysis that are already giving visibility and traffic from these countries and languages. If you didn't identify any keyword information in the previous analysis and the country you need to research is non-English speaking (or in other language than yours), then the best option at this level is to take the keywords in your current language, use Google Translate to quickly translate them to the desired one and use them for this initial and quick validation and overview (It's important to note that this is ok just for this initial, quick analysis, since these keywords will likely have errors and missing opportunities. You can do a complete international SEO research and process without speaking the language but with the right process and local language support, as I've described in this post). […]

  7. seo service avatar
    seo service

    Excellent way of telling, and nice article to obtain data concerning my presentation subject,
    which i am going to deliver in university.

  8. Kate avatar

    I found the post really useful, it was the first to show up for my search about international SEO. However, it would be great if you could also provide some link building and outreach tips and advice. It’s clear that you can use Google Translate to build relationships and Chrome translator to submit your website to resources, but maybe there are other options which can help you save time and money when doing SEO in a foreign segment?

  9. Carla avatar

    Hi Aleyda,

    I’m currently working for an International Campaign to optimise my client website in Russia, Germany, Italy, France and more.. Anyway this has helped me ;) so thank you very much. I decided to start my work very organised and with clear points..

    Thanks again!!

  10. Sumit Chhikara avatar

    There were many people who were using google translator to translate content in other language to get backlinks. But as you said using such type of tools is dangerous and I think some new updates like google penguin updates will be in action soon to find out such rubbish backlinks from irrelevant content.

  11. Confused multi language blogger avatar
    Confused multi language blogger

    Thanks for this article. I have a question. I have two websites a spanish version and an english version website and the english version has a higher page and domain rank and was thinking of writing a lot more blog article posts in spanish on the english domain because of the domain authority, etc. if I do this will google think my website is different language and be confused as to the kind of website I have and penalize my english keywords or SEO? So the questions is does have two language on a website hurt each other’s SEO?

  12. Ben Francis avatar
    Ben Francis

    The points you make ring true, having worked on campaigns where I did not speak the language with fresh native interns – in russian, german and hebrew on a limited budget.

    You really need good native speakers who are quick learners that you can trust.

  13. Aleyda avatar

    Hello Alessio, thanks for your comment and sharing your own experience!

    I’ve had also the luck to manage SEO Processes in Polish for example and the fact that I had the support not only from a Polish native but a Polish native who was also an online marketer who understood SEO was a total advantage for me in that case…

    Even like that, I would stress also the importance of a good validation process, since at the end of the day things tend to be easily misunderstood in these type of processes so it’s very important to coordinate and communicate well.

    Cheers :)

  14. Alessio Madeyski avatar

    I TOTALLY understand your point here Aleyda. I am Italian managing SEO strategies for Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.

    the success? having mother tongue people. and your job is almost done. People you can trust 100%. They of course know english so we can speak easily :)

    thanks for sharing this Aleyda! International SEO is really good, because even in the same company, you have different challenges that help you to open your mind.

  15. Aleyda avatar

    Hello Nick, Thank you very much for your comment and sharing your own experience!

    I totally agree… something similar happens to me with Russian :) the fact that the language structure and user behaviour can be so different makes native language support -who understands the purpose of the content / changes in development- and having a good process workflow -with proper validation steps- something fundamental.


  16. Nick Eubanks avatar

    Hey Aleyda – Great post on a very interesting and emerging topic!

    I have been working in the trenches on a large publisher sit in Japan for about a year now and I have to say points #2 and #6 are so crucial. Nothing will ever replace native language support, especially within geographies where contextual relevance is the deciding factor for the meaning of a word OR where language patterns do not match in any way those of the SEO’s native language; i.e. Japanese conjugation and definite articles are vastly different from English or even one of the romance languages.

    Furthermore I have found from experience that even after native translation has been completed and implemented, have a native speaker go back over the translations within the context of the page, as translations created in a vacuum (think of a product description or new product feature) may stand on their own but may lose their meaning or significance when place as a part of a whole.

    Thanks again, Cheers!

  17. Aleyda avatar

    Hello Fernando! Thanks for your comment although I sense a misinterpretation from it.

    I understand that the “ideal” situation would be to have an SEO specialist that is also a native speaker for every language that is being optimized, but sometimes this is not possible (with a site in many different languages for example) and limited resources. Given this scenario these are the best practices I’ve found developing successful SEO processes.

    Please note how I emphasize the fundamental importance of having native speaking / local support and not relying in tools to do it but really get to understand the site / clients product, service, business model, so instead of taking risky shortcuts that won’t deliver a good long-term results you can overcome effectively the challenge to not speaking the language by following best practices and having the right support :)


  18. Fernando Veloso avatar

    Sad to see this promoted as “good advice”, when in fact, it’s an awful one. I mean, if you need to pay a proper local team to do it, just pay them.

    Using tools/short cuts to bring a (international) SEO campaign live is really a bumpy road – and I am sure your international customers would be angry if they knew this is how you (or anyone else in this industry) works in 2012… Just my 2 cents.

  19. Becaglia avatar

    Interesting… I specialises in Multilingual SEO and I had opportunities to SEO sites in Hebrew, Russian and Arabic (French, Italian and English as well for far too easy!)…not an easy task when dealing with languages not using latin letters… Forget any translators tools and thesaurus if you don t have a small knowledge of the language..You will have to work with your clients, with the products definition… as well as working with all the variations of dialect and misspellings… Not such an easy job!

    1. Aleyda avatar

      Thanks for your comment, indeed! That’s why native language support is so important :) not an easy task. Cheers

    1. Aleyda avatar

      Thanks Miguelo :D

  20. mike litson avatar

    I have to say that most of this is good practice, I’d say that you also get reasonable results with romance languages and english on the translator (never use this for copy mind)!!!. As translators are still really poor.

    I’d say if the client is big enough and is likely to be with you for a long time it’s worth taking a language class. It would help you to no end. (Of course it helps if you have a grounding anyway). Best advice is to give these sort of clients to a consultant who at least has some experience in the language group or is a specialist in the market place. Otherwise they will struggle regardless of the language support which they will need either way.

    For example if I was doing some work in the Spanish market I’d need a native speaker, despite probably being able to muddle through based on knowledge of other romance languages and tending to specialise in the iGaming sector.

    And I think understanding what people search for is essential, but if you’re not native you probably can’t get this from a keyword tool without help.

    For example Book of Ra recieves 110,000 exact search (it’s a brand of slot machine). But the direct translation for a slot machine spielautomaten only 9,900 exact. (and the English equivilants were even lower although I am aware that in some countries people seem to just search in English half of the time). This is something I probably wouldn’t have known without a native or the fact that I know the market a little too well. So essentially you could end up needing a cultural consultant.

    I guess my overall point is that multilingual SEO isn’t for everybody and some people just shouldn’t be doing it if they don’t have the right skill set, background in languages and specialist knowledge.

    But overall some good points in the article.

    1. Aleyda avatar

      Hello Mike, excellent comments, thank you!

      I totally agree about how is very hard -and not necessarily for anybody- to manage an international SEO process, especially if it’s the first one, the best is to have been involved before in previous processes as a supporting specialist.

      As you commented, is a lot of best practices and also, not relying only in translation tools since it’s not the same, native support is fundamental. Of course, if it’s an important client with an ambitious project a little bit of language classes wouldn’t hurt :)


  21. Chris Simmance avatar

    Really interesting post! As a speaker of a foreign language I can understand quite a few of the points you have made. Especially about the meanings of words being different when you translate them with tools and making sure that you have been understood.


    1. Aleyda avatar

      Thank you Chris! Yes, we need to be very careful and we cannot rely only in tools to do SEO, native language support, a good communication and continuous validation is fundamental.

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