Understanding The Unique Challenges Of Multilingual And Multinational Websites

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Overseeing SEO tasks for a website involves more than just fine-tuning content or repairing broken links.

When it comes to handling SEO for multilingual and multinational websites, the workload not only increases due to the sheer number of sites but also expands to coordinate effective strategies and complete various optimization tasks across multiple platforms.

Whether you’re managing it solo or with a team, internally or through an external agency, each setup presents its own set of challenges.

In today’s landscape of rapidly evolving algorithms and intensifying competition, a smoothly functioning and deeply collaborative management framework is crucial for achieving SEO objectives.

In this article, my focus will be on the SEO aspects specific to multilingual and multinational websites. I’ll discuss recommended and effective methods for managing SEO to enhance overall performance.

When dealing with anything prefixed with “multi,” there are numerous moving parts that may not always synchronize perfectly.

In a subsequent article, I’ll delve deeper into implementing a successful SEO management structure through incremental changes, aiming to streamline adoption and ensure program success.

SEO Elements Unique To Multilingual And Multinational Sites

While at its core, multilingual and multinational SEO shares similarities with SEO for a single language and market website, additional challenges and complexities arise, especially as the number of sites and languages expands.

The following outlines specific challenges unique to multinational SEO:

Duplicate Content

Duplicate content poses a significant challenge for multinational websites, presenting several types of challenges.

One type involves obvious duplications for product pages across different language markets such as English, Spanish, and Arabic. These duplications are intentional and may feature unique attributes like price, size, and contact information, which differentiate them from each other.

A more intricate issue arises when CMS systems automatically replicate pages for each market. For instance, if a new page is created in the US, the CMS will automatically generate an English version for every other market, regardless of whether the product is available or if the team lacks resources for localization.

Unfortunately, teams often discover this “feature” only when these pages appear in Google error reports or rank higher than the desired local page.

The Different National Site Appears In The Search Results

Search engines prioritize presenting the most relevant results, sometimes selecting pages from different markets to display to searchers.

In Australia, a frequent issue is the higher ranking of US or UK webpages in the search engine results pages (SERPs) compared to the local version, particularly for brand or product names.

To address this issue, Hreflang elements were introduced, allowing site owners to specify the language and market for each website.

However, implementing Hreflang poses its own challenges, requiring collaboration across all markets, including those benefiting from cannibalized traffic.

Different SEO Processes, Skills, And Focus Areas

Diverse markets and regions often come with varying priorities, strategies, and expertise, potentially leading to conflicts in the absence of centralized website governance and SEO management.

Managing multiple agencies tasked with specific market responsibilities can exacerbate this challenge.

Agencies may differ in their skill sets and areas of focus, with some emphasizing technical SEO, while others prioritize content creation or link building.

What Makes It Difficult To Manage?

As previously mentioned, the prefix “multi” hints at the complexities involved. Beyond the presence of multiple languages and markets, there typically exist various management teams, development teams, SEO teams, and even agency teams – often lacking alignment. Each team tends to prioritize its own market objectives and SEO methodologies.

Centralized Vs. Decentralized Management

The most significant hurdle to address arises when companies opt for decentralized management of their websites.

Decentralization typically precludes the establishment of a comprehensive global SEO program. With decision-making power vested in local teams, headquarters may find themselves with limited influence over content decisions and the prioritization of SEO initiatives.

Multiple Contact Points And Teams

In decentralized setups with market-based teams, you may find yourself liaising with multiple points of contact.

During a recent conference, the Global Head of SEO for a major consumer products company revealed that nearly every decision had to gain approval from 70 stakeholders. This extensive approval process made it exceedingly challenging to enact truly global changes and streamline processes.

Similarly, another company of comparable size shared that it took nearly three years to secure buy-in, Google Search Console access, and consensus on the approach for implementing Hreflang tags.

Communication Barriers (Languages/Time Zone)

In global SEO, someone inevitably sacrifices sleep and free time to attend meetings due to time zone disparities.

While this is unavoidable, fostering camaraderie is possible by rotating early-morning or late-night meetings, ensuring everyone can experience a convenient time zone occasionally.

It’s crucial to record meetings and share the video along with action items, granting everyone access to vital information.

Moreover, this practice benefits those with limited English proficiency, as they can review sections they don’t understand or even translate meeting transcripts when necessary.

Different SEO Skills And Knowledge

Differences in SEO expertise among team members are quite common.

While some may possess a deep understanding of SEO best practices, others might have limited exposure or knowledge, especially if SEO is just one aspect of their multifaceted roles.

Maintaining consistent quality across all SEO activities, particularly in fundamental areas, presents a significant challenge.

In light of this, recommending the use of standardized best practice guides as a reference for all team members is crucial.

These guides not only outline how to execute specific tasks but also emphasize their importance and highlight any unique requirements specific to your organization.

By standardizing key tasks and reporting through these guides, organizations can effectively educate local development teams and agencies about their processes and practices.

Different Budget Allocations

Budget allocations can pose challenges across different markets, particularly when funds for tools and resources are limited, prompting teams to explore creative solutions.

In numerous second and third-tier markets, there is often a lack of budget allocated specifically for search activities.

Different SEO Structures (In-house vs. Agency)

The organization is likely to have multiple independent in-house SEO teams or multiple agencies overseeing SEO projects in specific markets. These teams may operate with processes that clash with those of other markets.

Decentralized teams often lack collaboration between them and, in many instances, harbor conflicting processes and priorities.

Local Only Content And Market Specific Website

Larger companies, particularly those expanded through acquisition, often operate with multiple content management systems (CMS) or utilize a single system with distinct templates tailored for each market. This fragmentation reduces opportunities for the SEO team to implement fixes universally.

Such diversity necessitates the involvement of different development teams and varied methods for implementing SEO, hindering the achievement of true standardization.

Furthermore, there may be instances of “local only” content, such as market-specific blogs, product sets, or other materials, which demand additional resources for optimization and management, potentially diverting attention from core content.

Websites may employ language or location detection features to present users with content tailored to their market or preferred language based on browser settings. While this enhances user experience, it poses several challenges for SEO.

First and foremost, it’s crucial to scrutinize the logic and precision of the implementation regarding how users are routed. Numerous issues can arise when users are directed to markets that are incongruent with their location. For instance, users from Botswana might be redirected to the UK website instead of the South African site, or individuals in Malaysia might find themselves routed to Australia instead of the Singaporean website.

Furthermore, teams must comprehend how the functionality manages search engine crawlers that originate from specific markets. It’s imperative to consider how the system responds to a request from Google’s crawler in California when it seeks access to various market websites.

Moreover, it’s essential to address scenarios where visitors haven’t set a language preference. Does the system default to English? Ensuring the accuracy of the logic governing this functionality is paramount for appropriately handling visitors.


The presence of “multi” in multinational SEO undoubtedly presents distinctive challenges for search marketers. However, the more they understand these challenges and their implications for local, regional, and global search performance, the better equipped they’ll be to mitigate and alleviate them.

Regrettably, there’s no universal solution for multinational SEO. Nonetheless, regardless of the complexities involved, a program can become more manageable through effective communication and collaboration among stakeholders.

Original news from SearchEngineJournal