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5 of the biggest multilingual SEO myths debunked

By Josian Phillips, 

Once your company is well established in one country, it makes sense to branch out into a second or third country. It’s an obvious next step for many companies, especially given that over half of businesses (55%) see a positive impact on their bottom line within a year of expanding internationally.

One of the things that can make or break your digital marketing strategy is multilingual SEO.

But with a lot of conflicting information out there, even the basics seem quite complicated. We’re here to help!

Learn how to improve your website rankings and organic traffic, by leaving these five common SEO myths behind.

Myth #1: Google Search dominates the world

Just because Google ranks your site highly in the UK, doesn’t mean it will in another country. Or even that your audience will use Google in the first place.

The most popular search engine in one country, may not be in another.

For example, in Russia, the most popular search engine is Yandex. Meanwhile, internet users in China primarily use Baidu, and Japanese users tend to prefer Yahoo.

Let’s compare Google and Yandex:

  • Yandex places high priority on geo-targeting. All queries are divided into geo-dependent and geo-independent. For geo-dependent searches, only websites from a particular region are shown. So, consumers in different regions see different results. That becomes a challenge when your audience is nationwide. In Google’s case, location is only one of the many signals the search engine takes into account before showing results.
  • Yandex takes longer to index website content than Google, so you may need to be more patient with your new pages and optimisations.
  • For Yandex, user behaviour plays a bigger role than for Google, and it doesn’t rate backlinks so highly. It focuses on the volume, shares, and behaviour of non-organic search traffic.

Myth #2: There is only one best site structure for international ranking

Contrary to belief, there’s no right answer for the best international site structure, as it largely depends on your website and brand.

Once you’ve determined the countries you’re targeting, you need to choose your geo-targeting domain/URL strategy. These could be:

  • Country-specific: ‘example.co.uk
  • Subdirectory: ‘example.com/uk’
  • Subdomains with generic top-level domain: ‘example.com’
  • URL parameters: ‘example.com?loc=uk’- this is an option but isn’t recommended.

Here are the main pros and cons of each as outlined by Moz:

URL structure table

As for URL parameters, well, we suggest you steer clear. They offer little benefit to your sites as segmentation will be difficult and geo-targeting is not possible.

The most important thing is to consider what makes the most sense – language level or a country level targeting, or perhaps both? Do you plan on selling products online? Are you building an online community platform alongside your main site? Answering these questions should lead you in the right direction.

Myth #3: Automated translations and translation proxies are enough to get ranked

A general rule of thumb is to localise and translate content as much as possible. However, automated translations will be low quality, won’t include cultural nuances and may include mistakes. You need the help of a localisation expert to ensure your website copy is high quality, so that it will be recognised and ranked higher by the search engine.

Setting up geo-targeting in Search Console isn’t enough and translation proxies are neither  Google’s nor Bing’s cup of tea.

Although proxies are faster and easier to set up, it’s not going to help with your SEO at all. Simply because it works as an overlay which serves the needed translation dynamically depending on the user’s location. It’s not the right approach for businesses looking to grow their organic traffic.

To help get to the top of that search engine it would be best practice to set up a separate version of your website using a CMS plugin. Alternatively, you could use a separate login for each country, with the language inputted in a particular way – without using a proxy…

Myth #4: I can use the same keyword research for each site in every country

It’s a battle to rank for your keywords, whatever country you’re in. You may rank #1 for your top keywords in the UK and think that the same ones can simply be translated and become a success in your target language.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that.

It’s rare for words and phrases to retain their full meaning when translated. You need the help of a multilingual SEO expert, or company, which both understand keyword research and has in-country SEO knowledge. For example, in the Netherlands, there is a higher search volume for the English version of the word ‘sofa’ than for the Dutch version. If you used ‘bank’ (the Dutch word for ‘sofa’) as your keyword, you’d miss out on the search volume.

It’s crucial that you target high-volume and relevant keywords in order to rank highly. So, you may want seek the help of a partner like Brightlines to get it right.

Myth #5: One website site design and UX works in all countries

If only someone had told eBay this one was a myth!

The multinational e-commerce company performed poorly in the Chinese market as their website flopped. They didn’t factor in user experience features and visuals that Chinese users enjoyed. eBay served up the same e-commerce platform that had been popular in the US and across Europe.

Chinese users ended up preferring the Taobao platform over eBay as the site offered more features like a live chat and more interactive graphics. Chinese buyers also prefer to haggle, starting bids high and then lowering them while western users tend to start low and then go high.

eBay learnt the hard way that the localisation of site design and importance of user experience affect traffic and user engagement as one size doesn’t fit all.

Within the design of the website, other SEO elements which will need translating and localising are headings, meta titles and descriptions, website page copy, image file names, alt text and link anchor text, and URLs.

Need our multilingual SEO expertise to help your website rank internationally?

Request a quick quote or get in touch, we’d be happy to help.

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