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Website Optimization for Enterprises #3: Multilingual SEO

Local SEO Using Languages

“Website Optimization for Enterprises” is a series built to help marketers and SEO practitioners understand how enterprise websites can be optimized for local SEO.

We spoke about making domain-related choices for local SEO in part one of this series and quickly followed it up with URL structures for enterprise local SEO in part two. Let’s move on to taking a closer look at multilingual SEO in this post.

Let’s start this one off with a question.

Do languages affect the local SEO of my website?

Short answer: Yes.

Google has confirmed that using multilingual web pages for multiregional websites can help with search optimization. In fact, Google even has detailed information about best practices when it comes to website localization with regional languages. Google is all about making sure that users have the best experience when they visit a website, so it’s important that you focus on this. Anything that contributes to better user experience is a potential local search ranking factor.

This mostly stems from the fact that the audience from non-English-speaking countries/regions tends to search in their native tongue on search engines. By optimizing your website to rank for these local terms and phrases, the likelihood of your website ranking for the local target keywords increases. There are other advantages to optimizing your website for regional languages as well.

So, we know that going multilingual helps your website’s local SEO. But where do you start?

Analyzing whether you need to invest time in building a multilingual site right now needs to be step zero of this process.

Do I need to build a multilingual website for my business?

Well, the simplest way to figure this out is to just work on understanding your website’s audience.

In most cases than not, you will already have a fairly clear idea of the demographic that your business caters to, especially if you own an enterprise that operates over multiple countries/regions. However, to get a clearer picture of your audience and the language that they speak and search in, you can use a tool like Google Analytics to get the job done in under a minute.

Head over to your website’s Google Analytics account and click on Audience > Geo > Language in the sidebar to view your website visitors’ language preferences.

You can also look at the Audience > Geo > Location section to categorize the traffic sources your website receives by country. Clicking on one of these country names will give you a better breakdown of your audience, split by state/region.

Website Optimization Using Languages

You can even go one level deeper and analyze the revenue that you’re receiving from each country using Google Analytics (make sure you have Ecommerce and revenue tracking set up before you do this).

Doing this will help you gain a quick understanding of whether you need to work on multilingual SEO for your website. (You can learn more about how you can use more advanced Google Analytics for your enterprise here!)

Now, it doesn’t make sense for you to get all hands on deck for local language optimization if more than 90% of your website traffic seems to be from an English-speaking audience (this percentage might vary based on the nature of your business/industry). This infographic will give you an idea of how you can analyze this better.

However, if you notice that a significant portion of your website’s traffic is coming from a non-English speaking nation/region, then it makes sense for you to optimize your website for that regional language.

Working on website localization will help you rank for more relevant, local keywords and will contribute to an increase in organic traffic as well.

This step-by-step article will help streamline your process when you’re optimizing for multilingual SEO.

Localizing your website using multilingual SEO

Step #1: Translating Your Content

It probably wouldn’t come as a surprise that the first step in localizing your website is working on translating your website content. However, this also brings us to the first “Don’t” of this article as well.

Don’t translate your website content using apps like Google Translate.

It’s been confirmed by Matt Cutts that Google levies penalties on websites that use machine-translated or auto-generated content for their web pages, so this qualifies as a bad practice for your local SEO. As we mentioned earlier, Google is all about making sure that your website delivers a good user experience for its audience, and unreviewed, machine-translated content makes for bad UX almost always.

If you’ve made the decision to localize your website using regional languages, then work with a team of native speakers of the language to get the job done. You can even outsource this task to an agency that provides language translation services, or use a portal like ProZ to get the job done.

Don’t waste resources translating the entirety of your website in one go. Several companies that operate over multiple regions sell only a part of their products/services in other regions. In cases like these, it makes more sense to work on translating only parts of your website to other regional languages.

Step #2: Back to URLs

Once you’re done translating your web pages, it’s quite possible that you’ll find yourself wondering where you can host the translated web pages.

Essentially, once you have your translated web pages, you need to also make sure that the localized pages reach the right kind of audience – and to help search engines do that, you can use subdomains, subfolders, or geotargeted ccTLDs.

Let’s take a look at the examples from all three scenarios here.

Using subfolders/subdirectories

An example of using subfolders to do it would be to host the English (US) version of your website under “https://example.com/en-us/product1” and the French version of your website under “https://example.com/fr-fr/product1”.

While subfolders are very easy to set up and require little to no maintenance, they might not be the most effective way to geo-target your content.

Using subdomains

You can alternatively use subdomains to achieve this, by hosting the English (US) version of your website under “https://us.example.com/product1” and the French version of your website under “https://fr.example.com/product1”.

Subdomains are easy to create and help segment your site effectively.

Using ccTLDs

You can use ccTLDs to do the same by hosting the English (US) version of your website under “https://example.us/product1” and the French version of your website under “https://example.fr/product1”.

While ccTLDs are probably the best way to clearly geotarget your content and website(s), they require more maintenance and are expensive.

Google has an entire article dedicated to helping you understand the pros and cons of choosing each of these methods. Take a look at it before you decide where you’re going to be hosting your translated web pages.

You can read more about URL structure optimization for enterprise local SEO in this post.

Step #3: Using hreflang

Once you’re done hosting the regional versions of your web pages on your website, you need to work on two things:

  1. Letting search engines know that your website is multilingual and that the right version of your webpage needs to show up when regional users search for it.
  2. Letting search engines know that pages with the translated content on your website aren’t duplicates

While these things sort themselves out sometimes, we recommend that you stay on top of this for best results. Thankfully, there’s a common fix for both of these issues. And that’s where hreflang comes in.

What is hreflang?

The hreflang attribute is used to explicitly tell search engines about the language that has been used on your webpage. It allows search engines to serve the right (translated) version of your website when someone runs a search in that language.

How do I use the hreflang attribute on my website/web pages?

The standard syntax for hreflang in web pages is:

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://examplewebsite.com” hreflang=”en-gb” />

Don’t worry, this isn’t very technical at all. We’ll break this down for you.

link rel="alternate”

This part of the code is just to tell search engines that there are alternatives to this page. Pretty simple and straightforward.

href=”http://examplewebsite.com
This part of the code is to indicate which version of the website you want search engines to serve for a different type of audience. For example, if you want http://examplewebsite.com/en-us/ to show up for the English-speaking audience in the USA and http://examplewebsite.com/fr-fr/ for the French-speaking audience from France, you can drop in the following line of code in the two web pages:

<link rel="alternate" href="http://examplewebsite.com/en-us/" hreflang="en-us" />

<link rel="alternate" href="http://examplewebsite.com/fr-fr/" hreflang="fr-fr" />

In the hreflang=”en-us” part of the code, “en” refers to the user’s language of choice, while “us” refers to the user’s geographic location. This means that http://examplewebsite.com/en-us/ will show up only for the English-speaking audience in the USA.

You can also add the following piece of code to tell search engines that for all other English speaking users, “http://examplewebsite.com/” is the preferred webpage you want search engines to serve your audience:

<link rel="alternate" href="http://examplewebsite.com/" hreflang="en" />

Note that the “us”, “fr”, etc. (geographic location indicators) in the hreflang attributes follow the ISO 639-1 format, and using values that do not conform to these norms will be discounted as invalid by search engines.

Also, note that the hreflang attribute is recognized only by Google and Yandex, and to specify this for other search engines, you can use the meta tag:

meta http-equiv="content-language" content="en-gb"

Here’s a post from Aleyda Solis explaining hreflang in detail. You can also use this free hreflang generator tool to make your job easier.

Step #4: Making UI Changes

There are always going to be edge cases when it comes to your customers and target audience. For example, a French user can search for something in English on Google while in Spain and reached the English (US) or Spanish version of your website, but might prefer to just view the webpage in French.

To give users the possibility to switch between languages, you need to add a UI element in all of your web pages as well (or at least the translated ones). You might have seen this in a lot of websites, where there are small country flags with an option to change the language in which you are viewing the page.

Something like this.

Website Optimization Using Languages 2

That will open up a modal or redirect you to a different page like this one.

Website Optimization Using Languages 3

Having this is important because it gives your user complete control over the language in which they are viewing your website. There’s no way you can completely know which language they prefer to view websites in, so it helps to give them the power to choose.

This might also greatly improve some users’ likelihood of sticking around (session duration), and this is good for your website and SEO.

Step #5: Measuring your success

That’s pretty much it! Once you’re done localizing your enterprise’s website using languages, it helps to measure how these changes have impacted your website’s traffic. See whether the average duration that regional language speakers spend on your website has improved, and how the traffic from different parts of the globe has changed.

Measuring the impact that any project had on the growth of your business is important, and going through the trouble of working on this and not seeing how it helped you would not be wise.

Also, to help you quickly look back at the dos and the don’ts when it comes to local SEO using languages, we’ve created a small checklist that you can use for your project.

Local SEO and Languages – Best Practices

The Dos:

  • Always start with an analysis that will confirm the need for making your website multilingual before you get started
  • Always follow the ISO 639-1 format for language and geographic values in your hreflang attributes
  • Show options for users to choose their region and/or language of choice on all your web pages

The Don’ts

  • Never use machine-translated content on your web pages
  • Never use URL parameters like “https://examplesite.com?loc=fr” to host your translated web pages

This brings us to the end of our blog article about how businesses can optimize for local SEO using languages. In our fourth and final part of this series, we will talk about on-page local SEO and what you can do website optimization for ranking on local searches. Subscribe to our blog newsletter to get the final part of this series delivered straight to your inbox!

Harsha Annadurai

Harsha Annadurai works as an Inbound Marketer at Synup. His excessive love for music and football has led many to believe that he was a jukebox in a football stadium in his past life. You can follow him on Twitter @harshaannadurai.

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