SEO by country or by language, pros and cons for each approach

SEO Tutorials | October 4th, 2012 | Comments Off on SEO by country or by language, pros and cons for each approach

Search engine optimization is essential for increasing the visibility of a website, whatever the language. If you work in a single domestic market, SEO tactics such as keywords and link building can be used to get your site on the first page of a search. However, if your company competes in several markets around the world, SEO becomes more difficult. The obvious problem is that people will be searching for your product or services using different languages. While English is probably the most widely spoken second language in the world, users tend to search in their native language, even when looking internationally.

Translating and localizing your website is the best way to build your international customer base. This does leave a major decision: do you localize and target your SEO by individual country or by language?

Pros of targeting by individual country

You can target your SEO by a specific country. For example if you’re targeting Spain, you’d need to translate your site into Spanish and research and test the optimal keywords for the country. Make sure your translators use the correct variety of Spanish, as there are a number of differences with the language spoken in Latin America. For example, users in Spain would type in the word ‘ordenador’ when searching for a computer; whereas in Latin America they would type “computadora”.

One advantage of this approach is being able to use a top-level domain for that country. For Spain you would have as your domain, which would achieve better local results than To a lesser extent, this also applies to sub-domains, such as If you have the capability to host from Spain as well, then that will also boost your search rankings; this is because search engines usually give greater weight to locally based sites.

Cons of targeting by individual country

Targeting by an individual country is going to cost more in terms of time and money. You’re going to have to set up individual websites for each country you want to target and research the best keywords for each. Your Spanish site, carefully targeted for users in Spain, is likely to achieve poor results in the rest of the Spanish-speaking world and potentially turn off Mexican and Argentinian browsers. You might decide it’s not worth having a carefully targeted website for a country with a small number of potential customers.

Pros of targeting by a language

The other option is targeting by language. One of the main advantages of this approach is the fact that several countries share a common language, so it is possible to target them with one website. French is an official language in France, Ivory Coast, Switzerland, Gabon, Luxembourg and Canada, and more than 20 other countries worldwide. By having only one website you would save a lot of time researching, managing and setting up a site for each individual country, while still be able to connect with French speaking users from countries all over the world. This is a much cheaper option and will therefore appeal to a lot of companies.

Cons of targeting by a language

The problem with targeting by language is that a language varies from one country to another. The earlier example of “ordenador” and “computadora” is testament to this. In a specific SEO situation, if you are competing in the baby goods market and “baby stroller” is a keyword, this can directly translate into Latin American Spanish as “coche” without any initial problems. The same, however, cannot be said for Spanish in Spain, as ‘coche’ is a word for a car, rendered the keyword ineffective.

Ultimately, this means that the meaning of your keywords could change when targeting by a language. This is even apparent in English. The footwear called “flip-flops” in the US and UK are known as “thongs” in Australia, which is a word used for a type of underwear in US and UK.


If you are able to take the country approach, this tends to be the most SEO friendly. If you can’t afford that route, either for money or time reasons, then it would be best to find out where the majority of your customers, actual and potential, come from, e.g. Spain or Mexico, and tailor your language and SEO efforts towards that country.

You could go even further and tailor your SEO to a specific region in a country that has a different dialect from their country. This would add to your costs and would take a lot of research to get right, but it would suit a lot of businesses looking to appear truly local.

The optimal approach will ultimately vary from business to business, depending on what they can afford and what they want to achieve.

About the Author

This post was guest blogged by Christian Arno, the founder of Lingo24, a top translation service in the USA. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 150 employees spanning three continents and clients in over sixty countries. In the past twelve months, they have translated over forty million words for businesses in every industry sector, including the likes of MTV, World Bank and American Express. Follow Lingo24 on Twitter: @Lingo24.

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