Websites that carry out businesses in different countries need to set up their websites to include as many people as possible.
If you are dealing with customers of all backgrounds, then you may be considering translating your websites in multiple languages, so that it becomes accessible to those who do not fluently speak in English (as it turns out, Spanish is actually more popular than English!).
You are in luck. If your website is built using WordPress, then breaking the language barrier may be as easy as installing a plugin such as WPML.
But is that all it takes? You just have to install a plugin and suddenly, you have mastered SEO for different languages?
You probably realised by my sarcastic tone that it is not as easy as it sounds. There are plenty of potential mistakes you are now risking, including the danger of duplicate content, which is a death wish on your rankings.
In this article, we will explain how to set up your website for an SEO-friendly, multi-language website.
What is multilingual SEO?
There’s often a confusion between multilingual SEO and international SEO, but in reality, they’re quite distinct despite their similar-sounding names.
Multilingual SEO is relevant for websites with either an international audience or those operating within countries with multiple official languages.
Take the example of a German brand’s website serving audiences across North America, Asia, and Europe, or a Canadian website with pages in both English and French for its domestic audience. It’s worth noting that over 55 countries have more than one official language, so multilingual SEO is crucial in targeting consumers and users where content in their native language matters the most.
On the other hand, international SEO isn’t always multilingual. Your SEO strategy could thrive in different countries if they share the same language.
For instance, an eCommerce site could cater to multiple English-speaking countries such as the US, UK, New Zealand, and Australia, where accommodating different currencies, not languages, is the primary concern. Websites at the enterprise level are often both multilingual and international.
So, how do websites become multilingual?
Multilingual SEO best practices
1. Use hreflang tags
Google uses specialised tags called HREFLANG to understand the language in which its content is written.
Applying these tags on your website is the most crucial part of a good SEO strategy – and all it takes is one line of code. This line, to be precise:
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en” href=”https://domain.com” />
Put this in the <head> section of your website and watch as Google realises the page is in English. Unfortunately, you will have to add this tag in every page you have created.
There are two places you can include hreflangs:
- In your HTML header (most used)
- In your XML sitemap (less common)
Although the concept of hreflang tags can be quite extensive, what you need to know is that writing this line of code is essential to allow Google to distinguish between the different versions of a page written in multiple languages.
More information on hreflang tags can be found in the official google documentation.
Fun fact: Hreflang tags can also be used to automatically show content based on the user’s language! Google understands the user position through geolocalisation and browser settings and automatically assumes they want to find information in the language of their geographical position.
2. Translate your metadata and content
Now, to the exciting part: the translation.
You’ll want to make sure you are creating a different copy of your website, rather than the website itself.
Also, you will have to translate every single part of your content, including the metadata. That part you see written below the search result is actually extremely important for your rankings and fundamentally the supporting wall of your multilingual SEO strategy:
To change your metadata on your WordPress website, try using the Yoast SEO plugin. This amazing tool will allow you to easily change your metadata using a visual, built-in feature.
A golden rule: You don’t have to copy what you said in your original language word for word. Rather than translating, think about rewriting the existing content.
Idioms, specialist jargon and allowed sentence lengths will make it difficult for you to say the exact same sentence twice, but in two different languages.
For example, topflight’s header on our homepage says “An SEO agency like no other”, but the Spanish version literally translates to “A different agency.”
While this works in Spanish, it does not work in English.
3. Review your keywords
Keywords, keywords, keywords.
Not only you have to research them through tools such as SEMrush or Ahrefs, but you also need to smartly scatter them across your content so that they appear organically.
Well, they are not just a problem for the English language. Just so happens that you will have to review all of your keyword strategy depending on the language you are translating your website into.
The thing is, keywords shape a website: It is good practice to include them in very specific parts of your code, such as the H1 tags – main title of the page – and the metadata – invisible tags that provide data about your page to search engines and website visitors.
But what do you do when the keywords change language?
Do you just have to translate them and call it a day? So your “digital marketing agency for law firms” becomes “agencia de marketing digital para despachos de abogados”, and that is it, right?
Well, not quite.
Keyword usage depends heavily on the language and the culture. Something that is heavily searched in the UK may not generate any interest in other countries.
A quick glance at Google Trends can show you, for example, that the keyword “American Football” generates very little traction in countries where the sport isn’t played. However, the term “soccer” is searched much more in the United States than in Europe, while the Spanish for “football” (fútbol) is not as searched as either terms.
Therefore, your entire keyword research will now need a do-over.
It’s time to pick up your SEO tool of choice and start the research all over again, while also being mindful that you need to stick to the original topic your website presents!
Yes, this is very complicated, probably the most complicated aspect of multilingual SEO, so give us a shout if you need support with content marketing!
4. One language, one page
The worst thing you could do is try to fit it all in one space by including the translation of a website right next to the existing content.
Unless you are a translator or a dictionary, you should stay away from writing things in different languages.
Google gets confused because your HREFLANG does not correspond to the actual content of your website. And when Google gets confused, websites get penalised.
Fun fact: some languages allow English terms. For example, the Italian language does not change the vast majority of technology-related terms, such as “computer” or “web development”, which also appear in the Italian dictionary. These are called “Anglicisms”, and they appear in languages all over the world.
5. Use a dedicated URL
topflight’s website is available in both English and Spanish. The main URL address is topflightagency.com, and they get redirected to topflightagency.com/es/ if they select the Spanish icon on the top right of the homepage.
This is not a coincidence or a marketing strategy: depending on their selection, users are redirected to a different version of the same website.
- Your URL should change slightly, and only slightly.
- The language folder (/es/, in this case) should appear right after the domain name or, alternatively, you can set up a different subdomain (I.E es.topflightagency.com). Both solutions work fine, but have different implications from the SEO perspective.
- Whenever translating content pieces, such as articles, the URL should reflect it accordingly.
URLs are extremely important for SEO. Clear, concise URL addresses allow Google to crawl your website more efficiently. We won’t go into technicals, but you should know that replacing your URL from a simple “www.websitename.com/es/contact” is always preferable to a tear-jerking “www.websitename.com/get?=contact+page&rlz146123”.
Multilingual SEO is definitely a lot harder than most people think! The amount of work and effort you’ll need to put in to break the language barrier is most certainly a challenge on its own.
As I’ve explaided during the article, it’s not only about translating a set of pages whenever a new language is required. Every time a new section is created, there are a few technical aspects that you need to apply, in order to keep your rankings and visibility.
If you are struggling to understand how to apply the right tags, or you don’t want to make mistakes in your multilingual SEO strategy, then you should definitely get in touch with our technical SEO team.