Multilingual Meta Descriptions: To Translate or Not for SEO?

May 14, 2018 | 11 comments

Recently, I worked on an SEO project whereby a global tech site’s Page Titles and Meta Descriptions were written in English and within Google’s current character limits—60 and 320, respectively and including spaces.

Yet, near the end of the project, we learned that the site needed to be translated into 15 different languages for users across the globe.

Instead of rewriting the unique Page Titles and Meta Descriptions in each of the 15 languages, it was decided by the client that we’d pare down the English versions to allow for increased characters counts once Google automatically translated them.

Anyone else see the multiple layers of problems here?

The deadline-driven decision meant that instead of taking full advantage of the allowable character limits in the SERPs, we needed to essentially cut those in half to account for languages that inherently display a higher number of characters, such as German.

So, we sliced our valuable SERP real estate in half for the main, English version. And all other non-English speaking audiences received a terrible, bot-translated user experience.

Multilingual SEO Best Practices – What Would Google Do?

Google recommends that we create websites with users in mind. If you’re targeting users that speak a language other than English, you should translate your site. That means all parts of your site, including the metadata that help users find content.

According to Google, a multilingual website offers content in more than one language. A multi-regional website explicitly targets users in different countries. Achieving a multilingual, multi-regional website means creating multiple versions of your site. That can get you into trouble if you consider that any errors or issues will also be multiplied!

When Do You Need to Translate Your Website?

If you’re not actively targeting non-English-speakers, the first thing to do is consider whether you really need to do a translation at all.

Check your site for traffic from other countries and languages. Use Google Analytics to see the keywords used to reach your site and identify the pages people land on. Pay attention to the visits and conversions per country. And Use Google Webmaster Tools, SEMRush, or SearchMetrics to identify your site’s search visibility from other countries.

Your research here will suggest how important it is for you to do a translation, and the keywords you identify will be useful when focusing your new pages.

Aside from translating the content itself, you should also translate all SEO meta data.

How to Approach a Multilingual Site Translation

Google Translate is helpful in some circumstances, but it’s just not good enough for the efficacy and marketing of your website.

Aside from confusing your readers, automatically translated content may be marked as spam. You really do need to invest in manual translation from a qualified translator.

There are two ways to do an SEO translation. One way is to translate your site, then optimize the new version by making sure it includes the right keywords and correcting the length of meta data. This seems like a low-fidelity approach. It’s understandable for businesses that have many pages to translate and/or a limited budget, but it’s not the most effective approach.

I recommend a more thorough approach, however, which would mean identification of native target keywords and incorporation into content as the translation is performed. Here’s a breakdown of this methodology:

1. Assign 1-2 target phrases for each landing page.

2. Find other related keywords in that language.

3. Use keyword research tools to find out the search volume and difficulty of keywords in other languages. You might start with Ahrefs.

4. Make sure that you include these keywords in the following locations:

• Page Title
• Meta Description
• H1 Title
• URLs – Translating your URLs will help your SEO. It’s best to use clean URLs, so you’ll want to avoid accents. If you don’t use a content management system that converts translated URLs into clean URLs (WordPress and Drupal have plugins that do this), this tool will help you remove accents from letters.

5. Incorporate these keywords within natural sentence flow within the content, but don’t overdo it.

6. When you plan a campaign based on data, you increase your chances of success – and client retention. Linkio makes it easy to know what anchor text to build next by analyzing all your existing backlink data. It takes just seconds to go from analysis to having an anchor text profile plan that you can feel confident with.

Ironically, Google’s AI and bots are working harder and harder to make search more human. With your translation, you should pay more attention to spelling and grammar than using keywords. You certainly shouldn’t force keywords into a page where they don’t seem to belong. The days of keyword stuffing are long over, and if you’re site’s CMS still has a Keywords field in the meta data, remove it.

If you’re targeting non-English-speaking users, translate every part of your site, including the meta data. Pay attention to the quality of your translation. Consider localization, so that you’re talking about the right currencies, for example. Measurements might need to be changed from inches to centimeters. And slang or ambiguous phrases should be weeded out for clarity. The details matter, no matter which language your audience speaks and reads.

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Kelly L. Campbell

Kelly (they/she) is a Trauma-Informed Leadership Coach to emerging and established leaders who know they are meant for more. She is a keynote speaker on the intersection of trauma, leadership, and consciousness—the new TLC—and founder of Consciousness Leaders, the world’s most diverse speaker’s agency. They are the author of HEAL to LEAD: Revolutionizing Leadership through Trauma Healing (Wiley).


  1. Zoe Farnham

    Search engines browse the Internet in search of information to index and should be able to easily interpret the content of your website. Google tries to determine the language for each page of your site. With a well-designed website from a technical point of view, you can improve your ranking in local search results and reach your potential customers in foreign markets.

  2. Faizroy

    Kelly, how about using 2 different languages in meta tag description?
    Lets say 1st line for English and 2nd line for Spanish?
    Do you thinks its good for Local SERP for Spanish at the same time for people who knows English ?

    • Kelly Campbell

      Hi Faizroy, it’s a very interesting approach that I hadn’t considered before, however I don’t think the character limit / pixel width would allow for the same meta description to be duplicated in two languages, nor do I think Google would look favorably upon it. Best to stick with a translated version of the site and associated on-page SEO.

  3. Ralph

    This post is super helpful

    Meta titles are critical to giving users a quick insight into the content of a result and why it’s relevant to their query. It’s often the primary piece of information used to decide which result to click on, so it’s important to use high-quality titles on your web pages. Google explains it best:

    A majority of the meta titles and meta descriptions that SEOs write get truncated due to the lack of understanding about how Google SERP works. Even the SEO experts tend to make this mistake, which stemmed from an age-old belief that Google considers 70 and 160 as the character limit for the title and description, respectively.

    If you want to see precisely how your blog post will look in Google’s search engine results, the free tool SERP simulator or the WordPress Yoast – is one you’ll want to bookmark.

    Keep up the great work!

  4. Haider

    Your article is very interesting.
    However, I have some questions regarding the multi-regional website.
    Q. I have a website and need to do SEO on it, targeting different countries with the same language (English) as per requirement. Can I use the same meta tags and page content targetting different countries?

    Example 1. Meta title (Buy Best Clothing Online in Iraq)
    Example 2. Meta title (Buy Best Clothing Online in USA)

  5. Ahmad Sultan

    Nice to read your blog regarding meta description

  6. Matt

    Hi, very informative. I just want to confirm, can i define different meta title and description based on country specific keywords for my multilingual pages.
    For example: for home page
    En version has : Title: Online forex trading platform
    PT version page: forex trading platform in brazil
    kindly suggest!

    • Kelly Campbell

      Hi Matt, Yes, you can specify different Page Titles and Met Descriptions for each of your multilingual pages.

  7. Aneeta


    What should be title and meta description character limit for Spanish language websites?

    • Kelly Campbell

      Hi Aneeta, The character count for Page Title and Meta Description would remain the same for each website, regardless of language, as it’s based more on the pixel width of mobile devices and the browser used by the global majority (Google Chrome). The worst case scenario is that your title or description might be truncated in the SERPs, or not pulled in at all. On that latter point, no site owner has control over that, as Google’s algorithm sometimes bypasses the specified Page Title and Meta Description in favor of other page content they feel os a better fit for the majority of users’ queries. I hope that helps to clarify!

  8. Sherley

    Hi, thanks for the information. Can we use the same meta title and description for two pages targeting two countries but with an audience speaking the same language? For eg., having two pages for Germany and Austria, where the content is in German language only but the target audience belongs to different countries. In this case, can I use the same metadata for both Germany and Austria pages?



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