When companies enter a new market, they need an SEO strategy to fully exploit the new opportunities. The vast majority of buyers feel that having pre-purchase information in their own language is a critical factor in buying services. Most global digital agencies tell you that you need an SEO strategy when designing a new website. SEO should drive your site structure, content, design – the whole project. It’s the same with website translations. Maybe you don’t want to change your site structure in this process but everything else will be affected.
Some call it geolocation targeting, multilingual search engine optimization or even local SEO, but it’s basically the same thing. Today we start a series on what to bear in mind when translating a website.
Localization is not the same as translation
Do you want to see your content translated word for word or you want it adapted to a local context? Since business is conducted in the language of your customers, a localized text will always bring you more ROI. Brief your translator accordingly!
You might also need an SEO expert to make your localized offer attractive to both visitors and search engines. Remember that Google is (will always be…?) your website’s number 1 user!
Automatic translation might be an option for at least some sections of your website. If you have to use machine translations for some sections on your website, use robots.txt or a no index tag to block search engines from crawling these. Automated translations can be viewed as spam by search engines.
Translating Keywords and Keyphrases
From an SEO perspective you will need to go one step beyond simple translation. Create a list of keywords for all the pages you need translated. Have them translated separately. Then ask a local SEO expert to localize the list for you. That expert will look into search volumes, keyword competitiveness and other factors to create a highly targeted version of your keyword list. Once the raw keyword list is filtered you can go and optimize the content – using the most competitive keywords.
Website structure and content
Carefully select the pages you’d like to translate and decide on the level of translation needed for each type. For content that is out-of-date, automated translation tools can be helpful. For a successful localization strategy, however, they are usually not appropriate. If possible, avoid copying original language pages to the local website. Link or redirect these pages to the original website to avoid duplicate content issues with search engines.
This local keyword list is the perfect starting point for a global glossary of your company’s terminology. Although this is near impossible to unify across an organisation, do share this glossary with all of your offices worldwide (or at least the communications departments/managers). That way everybody will be on the same page and use the same terms.
Include all elements of the website
Make sure that elements that are hidden from visitors (META and ALT tags, media attributes) are also adjusted accordingly. TITLE tags are also important.
URL structure and domains
Decide whether to localize URLs. Check whether your Content Management System (CMS) is capable of handling a localized URL structure. If not, use redirects.
Country top level domains are always good to use but if you want to use one domain you should differentiate language versions in the URL. You can indicate French language content either as a sub-directory (www.example.com/fr/) or as a sub-domain (fr.example.com). This provides human users with a clue about the content on the website and is very useful to distinguish between language versions.
The PROXY method of translating a website allows multiple users to create and update content in your CMS without having to worry about translation. Train your local teams in how to use the website and encourage them to create local content. Local content also contributes to better search rankings locally. You should also have a brief editorial guideline (style guide) in place to keep your company’s tone and register (your communications DNA) intact.
Of course the website should be technically capable of handling local content. Create a system for localizing fresh content authored in the central office.
The location of the servers also gives a good signal to the search engines about the location of the audience but not necessarily. If your web servers are running on a content delivery network (CDN, in cloud) or are hosted in a country with better web server infrastructure then there is no issue.
The best and most common way to show language versions on your website is in a dropdown menu showing what versions are available, in their own language (e.g., the French version would be indicated as “Français”). Small flags (another common way) can cause a confusion in countries where multiple languages are spoken.
With automatic language or IP detection you can detect a user’s language or location through their browser and redirect them to the corresponding language version. Even with this functionality, you need to allow the user to choose a language or switch between languages with ease.
Apps, feeds, data and social media
Localize whatever you can and do not forget to include all internal and external data sources that are fed into your website. Also localize social media channels where content is shared so your local website can get links and mentions locally. Use all available local services like registering your local business with Google Places, Foursquare and others. Use local directories to submit links to your local website.
Global links and sitemap
Do not forget to update your sitemap to include the local versions. If local versions run locally – create a new, local sitemap. If you’re using local domains, you should consider creating a new footer on the websites containing all international websites.