A guide to Localised and Multilingual SEO
The need for online businesses to rethink the use of language as part of their SEO is a growing trend. As many companies are finding out, the internet is an invaluable tool for cross-border marketing. The potential to reach a wider audience is huge. Whether your company plans to expand into an international market, or your products attract overseas customers, multi-lingual sites convey a professional and thoughtful image of your brand.
Furthermore, the influx of foreigners migrating to developed countries has created multi-national regions. And that can pose a problem with your local SEO efforts.
To increase your profits, you may want to consider building a multi-national website to expand your local customer base. But creating a localised website that appeals to foreign speaking audiences is challenging.
First of all, you need working knowledge of the subtle differences in between languages. The way expressions are used and how you should correctly address your audience is vital for communication and reader engagement. Secondly, there is the issue of choosing the right keywords so your website is visible in search engine results. Thirdly, Google Translate and other free auto-translation services will not suffice. The translation is nearly always sub-standard and you risk causing more harm than good to your search engine rankings.
What are multi-lingual and multi-regional websites?
Before we delve into the technicalities of SEO, let’s define the difference between multi-lingual sites and multi-regional sites. For ease of reference we’ll use Google webmaster guidelines:
As you can see, understanding the difference between the two and optimising your website accordingly is totally different. And driving the right customers to your online store is SEO gold.
Why is it important to focus on localising web content?
Online marketing is all about the customer experience. And consumers are savvy. With the abundance of online options to purchase products and services, consumers do not have to choose their partners as a matter of convenience.
Localising your content can adhere you to your audience. Not only will they understand your marketing message more clearly, they will appreciate your efforts to speak with them in their language. In turn, localising content, both multi-lingual purposes and multi-regional reasons, can strengthen bonds with customers. Not only will they buy from you, they are more inclined to remain a loyal customer.
Furthermore, for your business to succeed in the digital arena, you need to drive traffic to your website. That means matching the same keywords your customers type into a search query.
Is translation really necessary for websites?
Having a working knowledge of the subtle differences in expressions used between cross-border cultures is certainly more help than hindrance. There is not only the issue of colloquial and grammatical differences, you also have cultural variances to consider as well.
Let’s take a look at some key examples of how language translation companies can help:
- In Australia, the word for flip-flop is ‘thong’. This expression has also caught on throughout the Pacific region and south-east Asia. In other parts of the world a thong is a sexy undergarment – and you don’t wear them on your feet!
- Colloquial terms, or words that have more than one meaning can be lost in SEO translation. Bueno in Spanish for example means, “good” or “nice.” This subtle difference can misconstrue your meaning whereby you miss out on a conversion.
- In England, a business owner looking for translation services might use “translation agency” as a search term. In Germany however, they would use “translation office.”
- Some European languages such as German and French have formal and informal uses for you – sie and du, vous and tu respectively. If your audience is the older, they may feel you are being disrespectful by using the informal use of ‘you’.
Why should I use a translation service when I can use Google Translate?
To a professional linguist skilled in several languages, the mere mention of using Google Translate or other free automated translation tools is laughable.
These types of online translation services may be okay for helping students to learn a language, or ex-pats to have a virtual conversation with new friends in overseas countries, but they are woefully insufficient for online businesses. In actual fact, translating content with auto-tools can be highly damaging to the success of your digital store. Let us show you an example:
Take a look at the white box in the screen capture below. The original message is written in Spanish and translated to English in the shaded box to the right.
As you can see the English translation of the Spanish in the example above does not read well. The grammar is all wrong and the sentence structure is clumsy.
Automatic translation services are simply insufficient. They often miss the finer points to a meaning, convey words incorrectly, and in some cases translate absolute nonsense.
If a visitor to your website were to read a poorly constructed sentence like the English translation in the example above, they are likely to consider your site as unprofessional and immediately leave. You need to earn a consumers trust before they purchase your products or services. The fact of the matter is simple. Poorly written content evokes a negative emotional response in readers and loses you customers.
Not only that, but search engine algorithms are so advanced today they interpret text semantically. This enables them to identify spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
In other words, poorly written content adversely affects your search engine rankings and you will not appear in search results. To put it simply, automated translation tools are bad for business!
How will a translation service improve my SEO?
In order to boost your company’s performance in search engines and social media networks, content marketing is essential. But as we established above, publishing poor quality content is damaging to your online business.
Before we launch into the benefits language companies can offer online businesses, we should first briefly cover how a website is ranked and organised in search results.
Search engines like Google use certain metrics to determine where a website should rank against specific search terms used by end-users.
Although the actual metrics are a closely guarded secret, digital marketers understand that keywords, user-experience and good quality content play a pivotal role in how well a website performs.
Translation companies take a vested interest in SEO to ensure that multi-lingual websites will rank in search engine listings. And there are several areas of expertise to consider.
- Keywords and key phrases
Keywords and key phrases are vitally important to your SEO. Search engines rely on keywords to identify the central theme of the content and index the page accordingly. The indexed keywords are then matched against the end users search terms. Subtle differences between languages can mean that words have slightly different meanings.When targeting keywords for a foreign audience, the subtle differences in language can ultimately determine whether or not your website appears in search engine results. Translation companies keep your keywords and key phrases in tact so that your audience can find you in search engines.
- Inbound links
Links are one of the metrics search engines use to merit websites and rank webpages in search results. Inbound links to your website from a third party site scores very highly as it is a solid indication to Google that you are publishing quality content another webmaster feels is good enough to share with their audience.
As we showed in the example above, automated translation tools do not provide good content and is detrimental to your SEO efforts.
The prospect of inbound links from third party sites is another reason why you should be using a professional translation service to produce content that is readable and enjoyable.
- Audience engagement
Another metric search engines use to rank websites is user-engagement. They determine this by timing how long a reader spent on a page, how much they navigate your site, and what communication they have with a company, either purchasing, signing up for a subscription or leaving a comment.
Consumers only engage with companies they trust. And this means speaking their language – whatever language that may be.
A mother tongue is better than a pigeon tongue, and readers are more likely to engage with well written content in their own language than a foreign language they do not understand very well.
Using a translation service therefore enables you to broaden your customer base in foreign language countries and migrant communities. Not only that, but because the competition is likely to be lower, you can corner the market and build customer loyalty.
- Language sectioning
If you have a multilingual site that is designed to target consumers of multiple nationalities, you should use language sectioning to make your website more user-friendly.
This involves a button, typically at the top of the page, for visitors to switch languages. Having this function flags up the top-level domain attribute and helps search engines identify the target audience and index for the right audience accordingly.
- New partners
Companies expanding into foreign markets may not only attract new clients. There is also the prospect of forging partnerships with local companies that lead to lucrative deals.
A software development company in Vietnam for example, may want to target an English speaking market, but do not have a digital marketing team to produce content in English.
By teaming up together, the software company and the digital marketing agency can expand their services and attract large companies with bulging budgets. You can therefore improve brand exposure and company profiles.
Is a translation company really necessary for SEO purposes?
We have already seen how a translation company can improve SEO, readership and conversion at the front end of a website. But there are also key elements behind the scenes as well.
A digital marketing agency that produces content for a foreign audience may not be aware of how language can improve the performance of a website. A translation agency with expert knowledge of languages and localisation for SEO purposes, does.
Search engines do not tolerate duplicate content and penalise website owners that do not abide by the rules. Google guidelines stipulate that companies have to publish fresh, original content on every page. Regardless of whether you own several country specific domains or even use the same content on more than one page under the same URL, duplicate content is flagged up by search engines and pulled offline.
To avoid publishing duplicate content, professional linguists use hreflang which is used to markup pages with language variation.
Alt tag attributes
Search engines robots not only identify content through text, but can also detect what the images are of on a page. However, they cannot do that by scanning the image, they need webmasters to tell them.
You do this by updating the alt tags in the image section of your content management system. Alt tags can also be translated by electronic readers visually impaired people rely on to use the internet.
Search engines invest a lot of money to prevent marketers from publishing spam on the internet. One black-hat technique used to improve search engine results was known as “keyword-stuffing” whereby the same words were used multiple times. The problem with keyword stuffing was that content did not read well. It was written for search engine machines, not human readers. Search engine algorithms were updated to prevent this strategy, and as a result content that repeats the same word or words can be flagged up as spam by search engines. Google’s advice on spam is to “use single language for content…and avoid side-by-side translations.”
This can pose a potential stumbling block for companies that use one word synonyms which may have different meanings in English, but translates into the same word in a foreign language.
For your business to be successful online, you cannot ignore SEO. And when you consider how language affects your performance in search engines, using language professionals with knowledge of SEO is worth the investment.
Considering to translate your website?
We would love to hear from you. Whether you are translating a personal website or managing the website for a multinational business, we have a solution. Please get in touch with us via info@languagereach or give our London office a call on +44 (0) 208 677 3775.