SEO, multilingual websites and translation

One of the most important aspects of internet marketing is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), the name given to techniques which increase a website’s ranking in search engines.

These techniques fall into two categories: ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’ SEO. ‘White hat’ SEO follows the guidelines laid down by search engines, whilst ‘black hat’ SEO employs tricks such as so-called link-farming, which, if it is discovered by the search engines, will result in the site in question being heavily penalised (i.e. excluded from listings).

One important aspect of white hat SEO is repeating in your website those certain words or phrases for which you want to come high up in the ranking (in other words: when someone types your key SEO phrase into Google, you want to be the first site in the list). If you have a translation agency based in Barcelona, for example, you might have a series of key phrases based around words like ‘translation’ and ‘Barcelona’.

This is where things get interesting for multi-lingual businesses. Do you try and rank highly for certain key phrases in every language that you work in, or do you concentrate on the search engine position of your main page? If you are based in a non-English-speaking country, but could equally well have clients anywhere in the world, should you focus on English as a way to access the worldwide market?

Consider that people might use different terms to search for the same product in different languages, for example, or that a sales-leading product in one country might have limited interest to customers in other country.

An slightly silly example which nonetheless illustrates this point would be a garment manufacturer which is trying to establish a foothold across the entire European market. Clearly, it will want to concentrate its SEO efforts in Sweden on coats, hats and gloves, but in Greece it is going to need to rank highly for summer dresses and flipflops.

If you work on SEO in more than one language, this will mean paying more than one SEO team, whether they are internal or external. Unless – unless! – the people who translate your website are also experienced in working with SEO…