Promoting a website and taking a part in the world of SEO and SEM can prove to be a rewarding and lucrative business. Online ventures have made millionaires out of countless individuals, and there are still many more aspiring entrepreneurs and webmasters seeking to tap into the exponentially growing supply of customers available online. Unfortunately SEO has never been an easy concept to understand and implement. SEO, even at its most basic and fundamental level, can be a difficult thing to master, and constant search engine updates only add to its complexity. Here we’re going to talk about one of the more complex facets of SEO and explain, in a no nonsense way that even novices can understand, everything you need to know about multilingual SEO.
What is Multilingual SEO and Why Bother?
In a nutshell, multilingual SEO is the search engine optimization for websites in multiple languages. The name is self-explanatory, but the concepts that it encompasses, and the strategies that are implemented, are far from simple. So if it’s so difficult to learn and implement, why bother?
- Unlimited growth potential
If you think about it, the entire objective of an online venture, at its core, is to bring in money by selling a product or service. This product can be phones sold directly to individuals, ad space on a general interest blog that generates a profit, or it could even be just a business website selling the ideas and boosting the sales for a business that has a physical location. Now, as of 2013, there were over seven billion individual internet users in the world and a staggering six thousand nine hundred languages in existence today. This means that when you limit yourself to just one language, just one location, just one type of user, you’re negating out billions of potential visitors.
Broadening the horizons of a business can dramatically increase its potential, boost its customer base, and result in staggering conversions and a great success. Today’s largest businesses and corporations serve customers on a worldwide basis, and when you begin setting the template up for your own business or website, you ensure that you have unlimited potential for growth!
- Target Low Competition Areas
Right now, a lot of the English speaking market is flooded with a horde of people with a wide range of skill levels. Clawing your way up the ranks in search engines can lead to extensive money wasted and time spent chasing those few and far between unsaturated niches. Fortunately, for those willing to step outside their comfort zone, the online world offers a much broader range of potential customers and many areas where competition is low simply because of the language or cultural barriers!
Common Multilingual SEO Mistakes
Taking the first steps into multilingual SEO can be an incredibly intimidating process especially since it is a notoriously tricky and difficult thing to master. Fortunately, there have been plenty of multinational companies and websites who have risked the waters of multilingual SEO previously and made many errors. Learning from their mistakes can help prevent huge setbacks for any business or company looking to expand to a global market. Common mistakes include:
Lumping multilingual and multiregional in the same pot
Many people unfortunately consider multilingual and multiregional SEO as one and the same, but this is definitely not the case. Before beginning any SEO on the selected website, you need to accurately understand the differences between multilingual and multiregional so that you can correctly implement the proper strategies. While some of the strategies are the same, there are key differences that can dramatically impact performance.
- Multilingual – a multilingual website is one that offers the content in more than just one language. Most Canadian businesses will feature their content in either English or French since several of the territories have French as their primary language. Additionally, a website about the Portugal national football team may feature its content in both English and Spanish since soccer/football fans of this team will be from different regions speaking different languages.
- Multiregional – a multiregional website will specifically target users in different countries. For example, a company selling cell phones will target the USA and, for example, the UK quite differently. The USA uses CDMA and GSM versions of cell phones, and their primary service providers (like Verizon) will only work on CDMA so a multiregional website will feature CDMA and GSM smartphones for those in the United States while another visitor from the United Kingdom will be directed to a different section featuring only GSM smartphones compatible with their service providers.
No indexing the translated pages
In normal search engine optimization, you learn from the start that duplicate content results in massive penalties from search engines and, in many cases, can even lead to being sandboxed. This is a common understanding that SEO practitioners carry with them for many years, and it is the root cause for why many unfortunately hinder their own progress when they advance into multilingual SEO.
When content on a website is available in multiple languages, Google itself confirmed that there was no reason to prevent the robots from crawling the translated page. If you end up noindexing the page, then any multilingual SEO you’ve done on the page is negated entirely. Simply make sure that you utilize rel alternate to correctly change the URL to an appropriately translated URL containing the translated content.
Optimizing only for the Big 3
In most English speaking countries, primarily United States, Australia, Canada, and United Kingdom, there are three main search engines used: Google, Bing, and Yahoo. These search engines all generally follow the same rules and most SEO savvy individuals understand how to properly optimize for them to ensure high search engine rankings. When you’re working on a global scale, however, it is absolutely critical that you realize that other countries and cultures use alternative search engines.
China’s primary search engine is called Baidu and with China being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, many businesses are beginning to expand and attempt to establish a presence to increase sales. Unfortunately, Baidu is vastly different than Google in how it ranks importance of certain aspects of a website. Features such as alt tags, heading tags, number of inbound links, and site speed are all crucial aspects that are analyzed when determining the search results. Google, on the other hand, places more importance on the quality of the links, the page title, and the anchor text in a page.
With the subtle differences between what search engines rank in order of importance on a site, it can be increasingly difficult for any business to make it to the top pages for selected keywords on other search engines. This is why researching what the primary search engines for your specified country or region can dramatically improve traffic and conversions.
Failure to understand local buyers
One of the key points of SEO and SEM is to know who your targeted audience is, where they are present online, and how to successfully market them. Unfortunately, most people who branch out into multilingual SEO seem to use the same type of perspective that they used in the United States on other countries. The inability to understand the mentality of the local culture results in crucial conversions lost.
Take Japan, for example. The Japanese culture is vastly different than that of the UK, US, or even Australia for that matter. Additionally, its heritage and distinctive cultural ways have also permeated into the business world, resulting in one of the hardest markets to get into. Because of this, many companies hire Japanese liaisons that work and reside in Japan, know the culture, and are able to connect with the people resulting in a much higher success rate with far more conversions.
Russia, on the other hand, prefers to pay for any deliveries in cash rather than use online payments with debit cards and PayPal. Knowing this small but key cultural fact when expanding into the Russian culture will allow businesses and websites to change their sales processes to accommodate the buyer.
Implementing Multilingual SEO
Begin With Your Domain and URL Structure
One of the biggest challenges you may face when implementing multilingual SEO is often the first one: do I have local domains or do I alter my URL structure for the different language? Before making the decision it is crucial to consider the primary differences discussed earlier between multilingual and multiregional. You can have a multilingual website but it cannot be in multiple regions; however, you can have a multiregional website available in multiple languages. Once you make the decision for local domains or changing your URL structure, it is going to be incredibly difficult to switch.
- Local Domain – this should be done if you are looking to target users in different regions. Having a local domain for each language helps ensure that the website is indexed by those local search engines and that it will begin to show up in the results. Let’s keep with our original two examples for multilingual and multiregional. If you’re going to target potential buyers for your cell phone in China and the United Kingdom for example, you should consider having phone.cn and phone.co.uk. These two local domains will help improve rapport with the local buyers and improve conversions as well.
- Structured URL – structuring your URL to accommodate translated pages should be done for those who do not wish to target separate regions, but only different languages. This is far easier to manage, costs significantly less, and can be easily done. For a Canadian business, they can have two pages promoting their specific products – one in French and one in English. For example: business.ca/en/product is for the website in English whereas business.ca/fr/product for the product page in French.
Reduce Your Bounce Rates with IP Detection
One of the biggest reasons why there are frequently high bounce rates in multilingual websites is that the visitor was served the information in the wrong language. Think of it this way, you simply want to know more about a particular type of cell phone. You go to your search engine, type it in, and click on the top result. Unfortunately you are immediately facing a website in a completely foreign language. Instead of hunting around for any indication of a translated page (something webmasters usually mark with country flags), you just leave and find a website that is more user friendly. How can you blame visitors? It falls onto the website developer to provide information in a user friendly way so that’s why user IP detection has become such an influential tool in multilingual SEO.
How to redirect users based on IP?
- HTTP – this is a faster alternative and is commonly used because of it. A user attempting to access the website will be redirected based on their HTTP request headers to the appropriate URLs for their language.
Speed is a priority
Ensuring that your users receive their information in a fast and efficient way will dramatically impact your site’s ranking on almost every search engine (not just the big three). Unfortunately many people run into massive problems with for a myriad of reasons.
- User redirection – as explained earlier, user redirection is crucial to reduce bounce rates and provide your visitors with the information they need in an effective and convenient way. Unfortunately, redirecting users slows down the loading process and this is something that is not missed by search engine crawlers. Ensuring that the redirection process is fast with HTTP redirection is key, but also make sure that the appropriate canonical URLs are utilized to distinguish from the original page and the translated version.
- Data location – to reduce loading times on your website, you need to ensure that your websites data is as close to your users as possible. This can be done one of two ways:
Server location – the proximity of the server to the user does play a massive role in site speed. The closer the server is to the user, the faster the data will arrive to their computer and the sooner they can get on with buying your products/services. Subsequently, the further away a server it is, the more time it wil take for the data to arrive and the higher chance you will have of the visitor leaving your site before it finishes its loading time. Having a high quality server in the country where your target audience is essential and will greatly increase site speed and performance.
CDN – for websites that have visitors from multiple countries, multiple servers may not be an option due to expenses. In this case, a CDN can be the perfect solution. A CDN, or content delivery network, takes cached elements of your website that generally never change and stores them in servers around the world. When a user then visits your website, the CDN will find the server closest to the user’s location based on their IP address and deliver them the cached files. This dramatically reduces the load on servers and also ensures visitors get their data much faster than normal.
Link Structure Improves Performance
A good link structure on a monolingual website is difficult enough to achieve, however when you’re using two languages, it becomes a critical aspect that needs to be done carefully. The link structure of a multilingual website will have two main
Internal link structure
Your internal link structure needs to be very meticulous because it can be incredibly easy to link to the wrong page (the one that’s not translated), or to provide a dead link by accident when you change how your canonical structure is done. You need to make sure that if you are referencing a product or page in a different language that you choose the right link to use.
Additionally, providing clear links to alter the language of the site, breadcrumbs so navigation is easy, and at least a link in each post to ensure continuity and flow will dramatically improve the internal linking structure. When you have a great internal linking structure your site’s SEO performance is greatly increased and you will also see visitors staying on your site much longer than they would without.
Inbound/Outbound Link structure
If you are looking to target users in specific languages and ensure that your translated page has a high ranking, it is important to realize that you need to ensure that your inbound and outbound links go to sources in that secondary language. This will make sure that the rankings for your site on other search engines, even the Google in other countries, will be significantly higher for your selected keywords.
To get high quality inbound links look at your usual key places and more:
- Press releases
- Guest blogs
- Social media (low quality, but effective in bulk)
SMM Boosts Awareness and Traffic
As you probably know social media for any website, whether it’s just launched, or it is simply expanding to a new market, will play a large role in its traffic, brand awareness, and interaction with potential customers. When website first appears into a new market it must immediately begin connecting with the locals, and interacting with them. These interactions and the sheer presence of the business or site on social media locations will help dramatically increase brand awareness and solidify its presence.
Additionally, being present on social media sites and posting regularly ensures that the amount of content available for liking, sharing, and tweeting is significantly increased. Each time something is shared on a social media site, it creates a direct backlink that not only allows the website to reach new social groups it was not previously able to, but each link also helps bolster the websites ranking on search engines!
There is no doubt that normal SEO strategies alone are often difficult to master; however the more advanced user will find that multilingual SEO will provide a challenging and rewarding option that allows for exponential growth and opportunities. Reaching out to website visitors and potential customers in their own language can remove previous barriers and greatly increase conversions, so understanding what multilingual SEO is and how to properly implement it is essential.
Many people dive headfirst into multilingual SEO and make common mistakes such as not indexing their translated pages or optimizing only for the main three search engines. Fortunately, now that you’ve read this comprehensive guide you’ll hopefully understand how to avoid most of the frequent mistakes that are easily made. It’s often hard to believe the amount of setbacks that you can avoid by simply taking the time to look through the mistakes of others and now you can begin properly implementing the correct multilingual SEO strategies discussed here such as using IP detection to reduce bounce rates, boosting site speed with a CDN, and also ensuring that your link structure for your multilingual site is set correctly!
Overall, multilingual SEO is difficult and time consuming, yet highly rewarding. It comes with time and patience. For those who are willing to put in the work that goes into developing a highly successful multilingual website, the rewards will definitely be worth it!
If this guide has helped you, or if you have any questions, please let us know! Additionally, for any advanced users who are already working on multilingual sites, feel free to share any information that may have been missed in this guide!
- Everything You Need To Know About Multilingual SEO - September 5, 2014