How Google ranks your site in different languages

How Google ranks multilingual websites

Google ranks websites based on different indexing factors, well-known as algorithms. This results in website ranking which is the order in which websites appear on Google’s results page. The better your website ranks, the higher it will appear in the results. And therefore, the more opportunities you will have to reach potential customers.

In addition, Google ranks websites based on language and location, two main algorithms of Google’s Ranking System. This can affect the positioning of your website in another language. To find out how to improve your multilingual website ranking, you must first understand how Google’s algorithms work.

How does Google rank multilingual websites?

Google’s Ranking System is based on algorithms. In general terms, Google ranks websites based on relevance, quality, usability, language, location and other search engine settings. Google indexes the content taking into account these factors and then organizes them on the results page according to the “score” obtained. That is, the more algorithms are met, the better the score and therefore the better positioned your website will be. Google indexes the language of multilingual websites as follows.

Language and location settings

Google indexes content according to the user’s preferences. That is, Google displays results in the user’s native language, which is the language configured in the search settings.

snapshot of Google language settings

Let’s say your prospect speaks Spanish and has Google set to Spanish. This means that Google considers websites in Spanish to be more relevant than content in any other language. Now let’s say the user performs a search in Spanish, for example “descargar libros gratis”. By default, the most recent, most visited results in Spanish will be at the top of the list.  So if your website is in English, you can be sure that it will not be among the first results.


Another element used by Google to index the language of websites is the HREFLANG tags. HREFLANG tags are an attribute that tells Google which language is used on a specific page. In this way, Google knows which pages to show to the user based on the language set. HREFLANG attributes show language codes such as “es” for Spanish and “en” for English. It also shows the region such as “US” for the United States and “UK” for the United Kingdom. Therefore, Google ranks multilingual pages using these language codes.

In the following example, Google uses the HREFLANG tag from to rank the web site within the English results for the United States (en-US).

multiola HREFLANG tag

To improve your local ranking in Google, make sure to offer a localized multilingual website for target customers.

How Google ranks translated websites?

Google ranks translated websites using the same language and location settings, and HREFLANG attributes. However, Google’s quality guidelines penalize machine translation. This is because machine translation presents problems such as:

  • spelling errors.
  • failure to recognize proper names, trademarks, idiomatic expressions.
  • too literal translation
  • lack of naturalness makes reading difficult
  • if there are no significant changes, Google considers it as duplicate content.

In addition, errors in machine translation can affect the reputation and credibility of your website. This is why it is recommended to use professional translators, localization and website translation plugins.

Website translation plugins offer an advantage, as they create a localized “copy of the website”. That is, it includes the same HTML structure but with the appropriate language code or HREFLANG tag. In addition, you can provide access to an SEO translator to avoid pitfalls of machine translation.

Another recommendation is to make sure that all content is translated. This includes localizing hyperlinks, meta tags, meta descriptions, keywords, URL, slug, among others. Basically, this indicates that the page offers a better user experience. Which makes Google rank your website better.

Final thoughts

If you really want to reach your customers, do it in their own language. Offer relevant and interesting content but with a competitive advantage: multilingual content. Try to fully translate your website to improve your Google ranking. Also, be sure to localize the translation to reach the right users. Website translation plugins and hreflang tags testing tool can be a good way to start. But don’t forget that Google penalizes machine translation. A professional SEO translator can be your best ally. 

If you need more information about how Google ranks your site in different languages, please visit Google’s Search Algorithm and Ranking System.

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