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Multilingual SEO. The basics.

By Josian Phillips, 

When you have just created a website, you are in the same tricky position as anyone who has done the same in the past. But if you know how to get your site to appear higher up the search results on Google and other search engines, your web domain could soon start to grow, across the globe.

Before we get to the ins and outs of multilingual SEO, we will be talking about plain old SEO. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, which is the art and science of manipulating the content of your website in order to get higher up the search rankings. One way to do this is to find out what popular search terms could lead users to your page. Think about what you might search for if you were looking for a site like yours, and think about keywords which are similar. A useful tool for finding out the hottest search terms is Google Keywords, which helps you out with variations, derivative terms and even statistics about the historical popularity of your chosen keywords.

When you know that keywords and other SEO elements have to be converted to appeal to speakers of a variety of different languages, your company is getting somewhere. But how easy is it to predict the popular search terms of a different culture entirely whose language is foreign to you?

The fact is that direct translation of search terms (using a dictionary or Google Translate) will rarely account for the intricacies and colloquialisms used in languages in which the writer is not fluent. Multilingual SEO is a combination of geotargeted URLs (for example website.fr for France), and, most importantly, region-specific keywords inserted to appeal to a region which would be otherwise out of your reach.

Why should I use multilingual SEO?

Multilingual SEO is a necessity if you are looking to globalise your brand. No company ever became a multinational without appealing to customers who speak another language. A sobering thought for someone looking to optimise their search results to other parts of the world is that some regions have speakers of a variety of different languages, even if the native language might originate a long way from the land it is spoken in. An example of this is London, which is reported to have speakers of three hundred different languages living there. Any SEO effort in, for example, English only, rules out the possibility of dealing with many potential clients. Only 5% of the world’s population speaks English as its primary language; the other 95% is out of reach if you aren’t using multilingual SEO and a precision translation agency.

How do I use multilingual SEO?

The first step is to think about which regions you are looking to branch out into. These need to be exact, because, as mentioned before, every region has a varied selection of nuances and idiolects. Put simply, everyone speaks differently.

Deciding on regions rather than languages may be an easier business approach. A concerted effort to spread a brand or product over one region (e.g. North Mexico) could be more successful than doing the same over the entire Spanish-speaking world.

When you have decided on the region, depending on whether you speak the language fluently and have a great cultural knowledge of the way native speakers search the internet, you need to decide whether to hire a translation agency like Brightlines to do the research and formulate your search terms. Make a list of the most popular terms and attempt to incorporate them in the text on your site. It should be possible for them to be inserted very naturally and only require minor manipulation of the wording. This minor manipulation, however, will have a dramatic and lasting effect on your site.

Geotargeting helps penetrate international markets

One tool which can be used to make your website more popular on foreign search engines is geotargeting. This means making a new URL which has a location specific ending, like .fr (denotes a French website). Some URLs are generic and location non-specific, such as .com, .fm and .net. These don’t have any particular edge over one another when it comes to multilingual SEO, since they aren’t tied to a specific region or country. Creating a subdomain such as de.example.com, or even a whole new site such as example.de, carefully translated by a translation agency into the target language, can be a very effective way into that seemingly impenetrable international market.

Direct your international customers to the right language.

Another weapon in the arsenal is a small piece of HTML code known as rel=”alternate” hreflang=“x”. This is an annotation, placed in your source code for the benefit of the search engine itself. For example, if you have both German and English versions of your web page, it is necessary to point the engine in the right direction and tell it that German users should see website X while English users should see website Y. This code can be duplicated in rows, with different languages in each, to specify every possible language the page can be viewed in. Done correctly, this will avoid alienating customers who don’t speak the language of the page they are presented with. It will also mean that the customer has an immediate and accessible picture of your website, without having to use the patch automatic translation which some search engines provide.

Important things to remember about multilingual SEO

  1. When implementing target keywords, you need to remember the importance of the local dialect and make the search terms organic. No one searches like a robot, they search intuitively. To get this right, human translators should be used, not automatic translation tools. There is no substitute for using the minds of many native language speakers to collate a comprehensive list of search terms. In addition to the search terms, the HTML elements are equally important. If they aren’t up to scratch you run the risk of subjecting your clientele to the horrors of terrible automatic translation, which is off-putting for anyone, and is against the major search engines’ webmaster guidelines.
  2. Geotargeted URLs are variably effective. The closer they are to a URL which is native to the targeted region, the better. The more removed and modified they become, the less effective they are, with phrases such as ‘/language?=german’ being difficult to garner any sort of real results from. A simple ‘.de’ at the end of your website name is the most effective way of ensuring that your business shows up to the population of Germany. Of course, geotargeted URLs need to be combined with precision keywords, engineered from elements as obscure as regional dialects and even slang.

If you need to know more about how to optimise your website for international markets, please contact us on 01225 580770 or [email protected] we are always happy to have our brains picked.

See how Brightlines is helping the Hilton Worldwide brand extend its global reach through multilingual SEO.

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