If you run any kind of website, especially an e-commerce site, and are expanding into overseas markets, you should be using multilingual SEO. It can mean the difference between your business succeeding or failing abroad – in other words, a game-changer.
What is multilingual SEO?
In a nutshell, it means that your website is optimized for the content in another language – or several – making your business much easier for in-country search engines to find.
Here’s an example of how using SEO for multilingual sites works. Let’s say that “suits for men” is your main key phrase in US English. When you have your website translated into Mandarin for the Chinese market, for example, the translator may translate the phrase literally. But this might not be the term Mandarin-speaking Chinese people commonly type into a search engine when looking for suits. Also, it may yield a search volume of only 300 per month – relatively low.
In contrast, a phrase in Mandarin that means the same thing but is worded slightly differently might get 20,000 searches every month. To maximize your visibility, your Chinese website should clearly use the latter key phrase rather than the former.
Of course, only a native Mandarin SEO expert will have this in-depth knowledge of the language (see more below on why multilingual SEO should always be done by a native speaker with SEO expertise).
Why do I need it?
The common SEO strategy to get your website found by Google is to optimize your content and various meta tags for the language your website is written in. For those unfamiliar with basic SEO this entails identifying the keyphrases that encapsulate what the content is about and entering them into the relevant fields in your CMS (i.e., Content Managing System).
For example, an article about Camembert cheese would have ‘Camembert cheese’ as its key phrase, while for the tags you might use everything from the word ‘dairy’ to ‘French food’.
With English so widely spoken across the world, you might think you could forgo the need to optimize your web content for other languages.
But by making your site available in multiple languages and targeting specific regions you can expand your potential audience tenfold.
If your website is optimized for Spanish, for example, you improve your chances of ranking when a Spanish-speaking person is conducting their search.
Internet users tend to put more trust in websites that are written in their native language and consider it a factor more important than price. In a European Commission study, 9 out of 10 internet users in the EU said that – when given the choice – they would always visit a website in their own language.
Which content should I translate?
An important thing to consider is whether you have the budget to translate your website into multiple languages. If you don’t then you might be better off targeting the countries most of your traffic comes from. You can do this using Google analytics.
Therefore if mainland China and Germany are the two biggest sources of your online traffic then it makes sense to make your site available in Mandarin and German.
You don’t even have to translate all of your pages as this would be costly and time-consuming. But you should translate pages that feature the most pertinent information about your company.
Domain and URL structure
When creating a website for international markets, you need to consider more than the content itself. You also need to think about the type of web domain you’ll be using.
There are three options to consider when launching your website in another country.
The first is CcTLD – Country Code Top-Level Domain (e.g., webname.fr). Using the ccTLD indicates that you are targeting a specific country (eg .fr for France) and is the most effective at establishing trust with new web users. However, since it is, in a way, its own separate entity, it doesn’t benefit from sharing the link authority of any parent top-level domain. You’re essentially building up the link authority of these sites from scratch, making it slightly more difficult to rank.
The second option is a sub-folder (e.g., webname.com/fr). Using sub-folder benefits from the shared link authority of the top-level domain and is good for your search rankings. However, it creates less trust than using a ccTLD, which may have an impact on the click-through rate.
Thirdly, there is the sub-domain (e.g., fr.webname.com) option. This approach is a good compromise if you don’t want to use the above. A sub-domain can be separately hosted in different countries, potentially boosting your ranking in that country. There is some shared link activity but not as much as with a sub-folder.
Note that it is important to decide which domain you are going to use before you carry out your multilingual SEO in order to avoid extensive (and perhaps costly) revisions later on.
Why utilizing SEO for multilingual sites should always be done by a native speaker
Attempting multilingual SEO if you don’t plan to have a native speaker doing the translation is unwise, to say the least.
A native speaker will – or at least should – be aware of any cultural differences and write content that visitors can easily read, understand and relate to. Such translators will be aware of country-specific keywords and phrases that may have high search volume but no domestic equivalent terminology.
You should aim to always translate into your native language. Where possible, avoid hiring a native English speaker who only studied the target language as a degree subject and has spent no, or very little time in the country your website is targeting.
We can help with your multilingual SEO strategy
Wolfestone Group regularly carries out multilingual SEO work in almost every language and sector, improving clients' visibility and increasing traffic and conversions.