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Navigating SEO Services for Multilingual Websites

by Natalia
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Creation of a multilingual web content is a good strategy to reach a broader market. A multilingual internet site can indeed attract extra traffic. This is the standard belief of an enterprise that has just finished constructing a multilingual website. Because the development, design, and translation of a multilingual web content could be quite expensive, they’re often reluctant to spend extra money to optimize the web content in search engines. They have an inclination to consider that the optimization has been completed since the site is already can be found in language ‘X’, only not understanding that this was just the primary step. It is rather apparent thinking considering the budget constraints. However, the truth is to optimize a multilingual website is more complicated than the traditional website optimization only in a single language. This is because the search behavior of an internet user in search engines in their own language environment. In this article, I’m not going to clarify about multilingual search engine marketing techniques in detail because it could be too much, but I’ll clarify concerning the importance of using SEO services for a multilingual website and an outline of a case study of our client in Singapore, a digital marketing agency.

Importance of SEO services for multilingual websites

SEO services are crucial for businesses with an online presence. Without search engine optimization, the website would not be ranked highly and essentially be ineffective. The objective of SEO is to make the website more visible and nimble for search engines, meaning that with the right SEO, your website will be higher up on search results and attract more traffic. For a monolingual website, the benefits of SEO are simple enough to understand. But for a multilingual website, it’s an entirely different story and often it presents a host of different challenges. You need to ensure a high level of continuity and quality throughout each different language platform. Using correct and consistent keywords with tagging is a must and this requires either a multilingual SEO provider or an expert internal marketing team in each language. This is rare and probably unrealistic for most businesses so the next best thing is using a language plug-in from a company specializing in multilingual websites. An example would be using GlobalSight from SDL. This open source software provides a flexible and low-cost solution for managing global and local content to ensure that it is visually and culturally correct. GlobalSight used in conjunction with a multilingual SEO provider can be an efficient way of offering SEO services for a multinational website, especially when compared to building internal resources in each language. A final important consideration is the language-specific trends and search behaviors that exist in different countries. This opens up an entirely new level of keyword analysis and a good multilingual SEO provider would conduct a comprehensive search behavior analysis on your primary and secondary keywords using tools such as Google Insights and Google Keyword Tool to determine the most effective keywords in each language. This creates a daunting task for multinational companies attempting to do this in-house.

Overview of Sotavento Medios, a digital marketing agency in Singapore

Sotavento Medios, a marketing agency headquartered in Singapore, specializes only in multilingual SEO. Although this can be seen as a niche subject, it has a range of cross-application to different industries. For the corporate industry, SM implements tactics by creating online content that reflects the company’s image. For the consumer industry, the SMEs apply SEO to generate traffic for products, be it for information or actual online sale. Lastly, for the lifestyle industry, SEO can be used to sway public opinions on certain issues and Sotavento Medios is able to implement that by localizing content for maximum empathy with the local population. With a team of people from different nationalities and vast experiences and in-depth knowledge of the various SEO algorithms, SM has a competitive advantage over probably the best in the industry. This is also seen in its ability to consult and work with other SEO companies and giving them industry-specific advice on how to maximize results for their clients.

Understanding Multilingual SEO

Using different countries with separate languages as sub-directories (i.e. [Link], this option, while allowing for organizational simplicity compared to separate country-specific sites, greatly limits the potential for ranking in foreign search engines or accessing foreign language user-based searching those specific languages. A sub-domain for a different language version of the site (i.e. fr.example.com) is also an easier route but leads to some similar pitfalls. The most effective method is the use of separate country code top-level domains (pt, pt, uk, etc.). This allows a site to be specifically optimized for individual language versions in the same way as with a single-language site and maximizes the potential for organic search results in the specific domain. This, however, is a bigger investment and may be harder to manage, but the reasons to stay away from the previous methods will be evident in the coming sections.

As mentioned previously, language is a pivotal factor in global search engine optimization. Understanding the differences between how multilingual SEO and SEO for a single-language site overlap is a key to success. A single-language site merely needs to be findable in or translated into the desired language to be SEO-friendly. Global search engine optimization offers a bilingual or a multilingual version of a website. This can be done in a few ways, each of which has an impact on the strategy used. It is important to evaluate the pros and cons of the choices.

Key differences between monolingual and multilingual SEO

When thinking about the differences between standard and international SEO, there are a large number of various considerations to be made. One of the most important considerations is the keywords and optimization of the content. While it may seem simple, the context of keywords can vary greatly between different languages. Not all words directly translate to the same meaning, and often people will search for different things relating to the topic. This means that keyword research must be more exhaustive and precise in international SEO to ensure that the best words are being targeted. This also contributes to competition, as more popular monolingual keywords will be harder to compete for in comparison to more niche international keywords. Another key difference is the need for employing native speakers of the language. While it is entirely possible to use a translator or translation program to convert your content into another language, this will almost never produce the same quality of content. Native speakers will have far superior knowledge of the language and be able to better optimize your content, as well as convert any wordplay or puns into an equivalent form. Not only does this produce better quality content, it can avoid embarrassment or misinterpretation of the content.

Importance of language and cultural nuances in multilingual SEO

In terms of SEO, this means that a single landing page is unlikely to suffice in capturing traffic for all relevant keywords in the target language. In an ideal scenario, separate pages would be created to target different meanings or contextual usage of the translation. It is also worth noting that the choice of which keyword to target can have implications on the URL structure and Information Architecture of the site.

Different languages are obviously the most distinguishing factor between monolingual SEO and multilingual SEO. It is not simply a case of translating keywords into the target language, as the following example shows.

Effective keyword research for multilingual websites

Think like a customer: Keywords are often influenced by local and cultural factors. For example, “cell phone” is more commonly used in the US, while in many European countries the term “mobile phone” is more prevalent. Developing a deep understanding of the culture in the target market is the best way to ensure that your keywords will be effective. This process often needs input from natives of the target language.

Translations are not keywords: Often, companies just do a direct translation of their keywords. This is not effective. The best keyword for a translation is often not the same as the best keyword for the English version. For example, the best keyword for the English term “TV” might be “television”, but in Spanish the best keyword might well be “televisor”. Accents can also make a huge difference – some searchers will use an accent in their keyword, while others will not. Failure to research keywords in the target language can result in targeting the wrong keywords and therefore poor quality traffic.

Keywords are as important for multilingual websites as for single language sites. Key considerations for effective keyword research on multilingual websites include:

Choosing the Right SEO Services for Multilingual Websites

A more recent and less time consuming and reliable method to connect with SEO service providers is through trial and error through short term projects with several vendors. However, for companies that have never applied SEO to their multilingual site and are unfamiliar with the practices and required tasks, this involves risk of financial loss or wasted effort and it can be difficult to determine when the trial should end if there were no initial plans to measure results.

Traditionally, the most common way to do this would be to engage in some time of email questionnaire, or the company would simply explain briefly about what they want to achieve with their multilingual site and leave the service provider to take the initiative to determine how they feel it would be best to implement SEO practices. However, the vagueness and ambiguity of this method often results in the service provider producing general global SEO and applying it to all versions of the site, as they feel that is the best way to achieve results, due to there being insufficient or no guidance on the fact that different SEO needs to be applied to different versions of the site.

There are various types of SEO service providers of various shapes and sizes to process. Their SEO can have very different effects. This creates a great challenge for companies wishing to seek professional help to apply SEO practices to their multilingual or multi-regional websites in ensuring that they engage the right service provider to fulfill their needs.

Factors to consider when selecting an SEO service provider

The severe lack of a comprehensive understanding in this often overlooked scenario is a large part of the reason there are currently entire industries in some countries which simply do not use the internet for purchasing or have specific misconceptions about foreign businesses. Due to the above-mentioned reasons, it is often beneficial to contact local SEOs in the target country. This can be difficult given the specifics of an agency that’s a good fit may not have native employees of one’s own language, and the right agency from a different language often will not have an easily accessible English native. It is worth the effort to check with non-native agencies that have demonstrated comprehensive language understanding and target market knowledge. This is often evident in considering their immigrant education and their current linguistic and meta language CSS on any one web page.

Without exception, the employees working with any one language within a multinational SEO agency must be native speakers of that language. Any agency which is brushing aside the issue of English natives working on their Spanish, Russian, Chinese, etc. has already made a critical error. Chances are they are looking to cut costs by hiring multilingual non-natives for copywriting and link building services. This is not to say these people are not fluent and qualified in their second language, but as with the SEO agencies themselves, nuances and the small details can only truly be understood in one’s first language. The non-native SEO employee working in English while targeting an audience in his second language is effectively doing the same. This is a huge opportunity cost, and the same employee could be driving vastly improved results for an English website.

Before deciding on SEO services for a multilingual website, it is important to consider whether the best results are going to come from a single provider with knowledge of all languages or separate providers for each language. Generally, the latter is the best choice. The single provider option will have all language capabilities under one roof and can seem to be the cheaper and easier option. However, search engine marketing is a field filled with nuances and potential pitfalls in the ever-important aim to properly understand a user’s intent in their own language.

Evaluating the expertise and experience of SEO agencies

Are they as multilingual as they claim? Once you have a list of potential agencies compiled, you will need to evaluate how experienced they are with multilingual websites. One mistake many people make is assuming that an agency with a high profile client such as Disney or McDonald’s is a multilingual optimization expert. Just because an agency attracts big clients, this does not mean they have the experience to successfully optimize a website with a dozen languages. You need to dig deeper, there are several ways to evaluate an agency’s competency with multilingual SEO, however the most effective method will involve speaking to the clients of the agency. Find out if the agency has a high satisfaction rate amongst their clients who are engaged in multilingual SEO. You should also ask the agency for evidence of results for the work they have done on multilingual campaigns. If the agency is unable to provide any substantial evidence, then it’s likely they are not experienced with SEO for foreign languages. Another important factor is to determine whether the agency has the internal resources to cope with your campaign. Many smaller agencies often outsource work to third world countries, which usually results in a drop in quality and an increase in costs. Now would also be a good time to discuss the budget of your campaign, remember that article 2 for choosing the right services warned against being too tight with money if SEO is essential for your website!

Tailoring SEO strategies for different target languages

The aim of conducting SEO for a multilingual site is to achieve high search engine ranking positions in various countries along with specifically targeting those users. Most of the times what this means is create separate content for every language or country a site is trying to target. This can be through using only a sub-domain or sub-directory for every language/country, in an attempt to provide local content to the search engines. The alternative or doing this is creating totally unique “country code specific” sites for instance .au, .jp, .cn, .kr, .fr etc. Keep in mind however creating country code top-level domain (ccTLD) sites is not generally considered an effective form SEO for those individual countries, and it is rarely worth the time and money to try and create and maintain all those sites and the content they come with.

In a globalized economy, companies are focusing on customers who belong to various linguistic groups, and in an attempt to market services and products to these groups, they require search engine optimization. English might be considered the world’s language, but only 1/3 of web users communicate in it. The remaining two-thirds (as of year 2007) do not, and this is why it may be essential to create a multilingual website that’s going to target not just foreign markets, but in addition, the demographic in those foreign markets which speaks English as a second language.

Localizing content and optimizing for local search engines

This goes past direct interpretation and obliges information of the nation and the intended interest group. An interpretation done by an outsider will most likely be gravely inadequate in this regard. At last, interpretation requires the local speaker to have information of the item so they can deliver precise substance that is socially significant. Unfortunately, this regularly isn’t the situation with an interpreter’s information of a substance being conflicting, best case scenario. The prior techniques of watching out for the right to an interpretation and not overhauling a page line sentence by sentence are legitimate here. Likewise, web index inquiries can be a crucial device in guaranteeing the legitimate utilization of phrasing.

Best Practices for Multilingual SEO Services

This will make it easier to manage conflicting targeting/redirects between language and country, as well as identifying individual language versions of a page within the HTML improvements tool. This is particularly useful for international companies who may have many country-specific language/region pairs and identical looking pages across different regions.

With a clear plan in place for the homepage, the next step is to implement language/region tags on all other pages where content is available in more than one language. This is a pretty straightforward process similar to that of the x-default tag. For example, a user in Canada who speaks French may use this syntax to access an English page which targets US users. Due to thorough implementation of hreflang tags, any content in foreign languages will be indicated in the search results and the crawl errors report will show any targeting errors.

Failure to use the x-default tag can lead to either indexing issues, particularly if there are pages with no known language target, or to users from untargeted language/regions being incorrectly served a foreign language page. This can cause embarrassment to the user and potential for them to navigate away from the site. In the worst case scenario, international search engine traffic may never reach the correct page due to language/region confusion.

This tag is placed in the <head> of the homepage. The previous examples of the French and Spanish language versions of the homepage should also be included in the hreflang tag. This indicates to the search engine that the language/region targeting for the French and Spanish homepage is, in the first instance, specific to France and Spain. But more importantly, if a user in a French speaking country outside of France accesses the domain.com site, they will be served the generic French language page, due to Google attributing them as a French speaking user. This is because the x-default page is written as the default page for the language/region. Users who do not fit into the main language/region targets of the index page or no known language tag will see the x-default page. This is further indication of the level hreflang attribute clarity in allowing the search engines to understand targeted pages.

The single most important element in implementing multilingual SEO is the use of the x-default tag to handle the homepage. This tag allows webmasters to indicate to the search engine that a page is targeted at a particular language or language/region pair. The syntax for the x-default tag is similar to the hreflang tag.

Implementation of multilingual SEO is complex and time-consuming compared to monolingual SEO. However, if done correctly, it can deliver a high return on investment. There are a number of best practices which are common to multilingual SEO and pertain to website infrastructure, implementation and on-going management. The following sections highlight these best practices and provide guidance on how to complete the various tasks. This section assumes that the reader is familiar with general SEO best practices.

Implementing hreflang tags to signal language and regional targeting

It is important to note that the value of the hreflang attribute must match the language and optional region subtag identifiers in the locales of the target URL. Incorrect use of this element can result in the page not being properly indexed and served or the server serving the wrong version of a page to the user. Since the use of hreflang can be complex, it is important to therefore test implementation to check its correctness and efficiency. Google Webmaster Tools can be used to check for errors and provides useful debugging information. This method records the language and optional region subtag identifier of the querying URL that was used to select the regional URL. An example below shows the use of hreflang regarding other language and region versions of a page.

HTTP header – another way of doing this is by using HTTP headers to serve the right version of a page mainly based on the user or browser language preference. This is an advanced technique and can be difficult to implement for users who have no server-side scripting knowledge.

Sitemap – this is done by listing the URL of the different language and region versions of a page within a sitemap tailored for the site. XHTML linking is used to connect the different language/region URLs together.

On-site link element – it is added within the <head> of the page, within the <head> of the. It is added as <link> element where rel is given a value of alternate and hreflang equals to the language and optional region identifier. For example, hreflang=es would refer to the language of Spanish as spoken within Spain. This page would link to the French language page targeted at France and French-speaking users and to the English page aimed at all other users.

The hreflang attribute specifies the language and optional geographic restrictions for a document. It enhances the probabilities of the right pages being indexed and displayed to the users. It helps prevent the user from being confused by pages that look the same but are in fact aimed at different audiences. hreflang can be implemented in three ways:

Creating unique and relevant content for each language

Content tailored to each specific country is always preferred, and for every language their contains are particular. Many global organizations utilize an alternate dialect on a sub-space or in a registry, which is an incredible begin yet this is just halfway to making an interpretation of that into enhanced brand engagement and after that expanded deals and leads. The initial step is to weigh the pursuit interest in every dialect in every nation you are focusing on. The best approach to gauge this is with Google’s free Adwords Keyword Tool, by entering in a few essential words in your business’ industry you will have the capacity to see the extent of quest volume for those terms crosswise over diverse nations. Assuming that there is a right around a nonaggressive quest business, investing time and cash in interpreted content would not be fitting. The following venture is to source new content for every dialect to be interpreted. Interpretation of existing content through free web apparatuses can now and then deliver incoherent aftereffects of the dialect unique in relation to the proposed significance. Go on nature of interpretation; a pun or play on statements with the expectation of setting off a comical reaction might be lost in interpretation if an exact equivalent word does not exist. A robust interpretation by a qualified etymologist is liked to guarantee content is just about tantamount to the first and could be referred to PL. The last stage is actualizing the new content into the site utilizing the interpreted words as watchwords. Make new pages for every bit of content if feasible to expand the point of arrival alternatives for guests, new pages being an alternate URL will pass on the top significance in SERPs for the interpreted content. Alternate choice is to utilize element content swaps inside the same page in the event that it is not financially savvy to make various new pages or the interpreted content is just a little measure of the whole site. This includes setting off a script to distinguish IP addresses from guests and divert them to the significant dialect or making a drop down/selectable choice of dialect on the site. This was the option chose by the late Ryanair site upgrade, where a solitary new URL was made for every dialect of the site on an interim sub-space such as fr.ryanair.com, these have been accepting great results and will soon serve as the changeless area for the interpreted site and are as of now positioning autonomously in SERPs.

Optimizing website structure and navigation for multilingual SEO

By specifying this meta information, it is less likely that Google will make assumptions about who the content is intended for. Information in English about the Spanish football team may be intended for Spanish-speaking people in the UK and not from Spain itself, so the use of these tags would be beneficial. Following on from this, it is necessary to organize the URL structure of the website to cater for language and regional differences.

“This is a new tag introduced by Google to specify the language and region for the content on the page. This can be used in the HTML of the page or within the HTTP header. This is an example of how to specify the language and region for French content intended for the Canadian market. In the content default tag use:.”

Remember, the goal of any multilingual or international SEO campaign is to correctly target the intended language and country. Very often, search engines like Google make automatic assumptions about who the audience for the pages are. Language and location targeting can be done implicitly using the default settings of Google. If this is not changed, it will assume that your English pages are for the USA and similarly for other language/country combinations. This can be changed on the page settings where you add the region and language annotations. An example of this in English will be as follows:

In the journey of setting up a multilingual website, the setup of the website including URLs, structure, and actual visual content all need to be catered for in order to provide successful results for the particular target audience. Website structures differ between different languages; URL structures differ, and also cultural differences can manifest different expectations regarding navigation. To overcome these challenges, there are several best practice methods which can be recommended to ensure optimal results.

Monitoring and analyzing SEO performance for continuous improvement

Monitoring and analyzing the success of your multilingual SEO implementation is critical to making continuous improvements. Maintaining high search visibility and performance in foreign target languages can take time, and the feasibility of success is something which varies on a case to case basis. Consistent tracking and analysis will help you to ensure that you are devoting the right level of time and resources to your SEO implementation, or if it needs further reconsideration. There are several areas which require monitoring and they should be built into a structured reporting framework. This should be produced for company stakeholders or translation providers to show them the value of SEO and provide clear information on changes in search visibility, traffic and conversions from search. Making changes to URL language targeting or other implementation methods becomes very risky if you are not able to accurately measure the impact of these changes, so avoiding ad hoc changes and keeping to a structured plan is something that a lot of site owners may struggle with – the data from the below areas will also help make the case for SEO in more competitive verticals. The accurate measurement of changes in search visibility between multiple search engines and countries is often very difficult due to the amount of data involved, but it is important to define success at a level where you can measure it and focus on specific countries or engines to show ROI. Creating custom reports in Google Analytics is a good place to start, by using segments to isolate and compare traffic from different linguistic or geographical groups, or filters to create profiles which only include traffic from certain languages or countries. This will often involve the use of keyword data so ensuring that these are tracked accurately by associating them with the correct language and country is ground work which makes future analysis more viable. Changes in search visibility can take a number of months to become significant so monitoring this over a long period is recommended. The data that Google Webmaster Tools provides can help give an indication of changes in visibility within specific countries and has now been expanded to include data for URL parameters if you are geo-locating content. A rank tracking tool which can measure changes in search visibility for specific keywords across different languages and search engines is not something that currently exists, however this may be a future consideration for the major rank tracking software providers.

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