Put simply, if your content communicates the same meaning with audiences of different countries, yours is a multilingual website. That also means you must have a multilingual SEO strategy in place.
Please do not fool yourself into thinking that having a real-time translator on your website makes it into a multilingual one. There is more to it than meets the eye. Localizing the content of your website for each country makes your site truly multilingual.
A tool like Google Translate cannot do that. Such AI-driven translators are notorious for messing up with sayings, homographs, and colloquialisms. They cannot understand things contextually and lack the human touch.
They do not work with inflected languages like Russian. They often take words in literal meaning and make culturally insensitive translations. A genuinely multilingual website will make the audience think that the content is written.
7 SEO tips for a multilingual website
Managing more than one language on your website will certainly add new challenges, especially, if you are not well-versed. Translating all the web pages can double your multilingual SEO work and invariably make you feel stressed and frustrated. Fret not — here is how you can optimize your multilingual website for search:
1. Translate the metadata
Metadata are invisible words read by search engines. When you want to make your website multilingual, you are not just doing the task for the sake of your target audience. You also do it for search engines by optimizing your metadata.
Translating the metadata is crucial for your site to rank well in the new country. However, the process is not as straightforward as content translation. It will demand your time and resources.
Since the metadata must be concise, translating it with relevance to the content is of utmost priority. You can use a metadata translation tool or plugin such as TranslatePress or Polylang and optimize the translations with region-specific keywords.
2. Add hreflang and alternate tags
Hreflang tags ensure that people from different regions view the localized content. These tags also help you not get flagged for duplicate content. Everybody knows that Google penalizes duplicate content.
So, when you localize your content for multiple regions, the order of the images and the links embedded into the content will remain the same. If hreflang tags are not used, Google may mistake the content for a duplicate one.
These tags, when installed, will tell search engines that what they are viewing is not a duplicate but a localized version.
3. Go for popular keywords in other languages
A keyword that works well in one country will not necessarily perform in the same way in another, especially if the other country's people speak a different language.
Due to the linguistic differences, users from two countries tend to use different keywords for the same query. Let us say you have a piece of content titled "How to make cookies." Your site may rank higher for that particular keyword in the United States.
Assume that you want to optimize the content for a country like England. In that case, you need to localize it by replacing the word cookies with biscuits. This is just to give you an idea for localizing the content. Localization often goes deep.
4. Customize URLs
You need to create language subdirectories or subdomains for each language you target. The process is essential for Google to index your site for different countries. Dedicated URLs also protect you from getting penalized as Google believes it is best to have dedicated URLs.
Take Amazon, for example. For its international customers, it has the www.amazon.com site. But for Spain, its URL is different; it is www.amazon.es. This is a geo-targeting strategy. The eCommerce giant uses a ccTLD or a Country-code top-level domain to target a specific country.
5. Be culturally sensitive
Translation is no joke. Brands have faced backlash from communities for making culturally insensitive translations. A slang or a colloquial phrase that skyrockets your brand awareness in one country may offend the people of a different country.
Due to taboos and spiritual values linked to specific words and phrases, it is best to be mindful about how you use them.
The classic example is American Dairy Association's "Got Milk?" campaign in Spanish. The campaign was so successful in the US that the association decided to replicate it in Spain.
Unfortunately ADA did not know that "Got Milk?" when translated word for word into Spanish became "tienes leche?" which refers to lactating mothers.
The campaign brutally backfired! The Latino mothers thought the campaign mocked them and interpreted that they were not feeding the babies enough milk. Partnering with local language experts will help you avoid this pitfall.
6. Ask visitors for redirection
International sites always ask visitors whether they want to visit the site of their region. While sites like Amazon display 'Language Settings' on their homepage, some use pop-ups to ask users whether they want to be redirected.
You may think that redirecting users to the site of their language is a smart move. But what if the user does not want to consume the content in their language? Another problem associated with automatic redirection is that visitors may view your site as spam. Hence, asking them beforehand is a good idea.
7. Adhere to one language per page strategy
Many multilingual sites mistake translating one section of a page and leaving the rest. This phenomenon is common among sites that have user-generated content (UGC). The first drawback of having multiple languages on a single page is the chance of being viewed as spam.
Secondly, having more than one language on a page creates a bad user experience. Google does not use a code-level language to determine a page's language. It just uses the visible content to identify the language.
If you use an automated translator to deal with your site's content, the translations may not make sense at times. This, in turn, will make Google think that the content is spam. Therefore, using robots.txt will stop search engines from crawling the automatically translated pages.
Over to you
A multilingual SEO strategy helps optimize the content on your site for different languages, so that you become more searchable in new markets, and people in different countries easily find your site via organic search. If you are currently struggling with multilingual SEO, follow the above-mentioned tips and make progress.
About the author
Joseph Schneider is a growth marketer and SEO consultant at Haitna, a leading SEO agency based in Austin, TX. He has helped companies increase their organic SEO traffic by 10X and cut their lead acquisition rate in half.