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What is Multilingual SEO and how to manage it

An introduction to Multilingual SEO

One of the major benefits in running a multilingual site is appearing high on Google search results in different languages. The process of promoting your site to the top is called Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO. When it’s happening on a multilingual site, we call it “multilingual SEO”.

With multilingual SEO there are no magic tricks or shortcuts. We simply cannot pay our way to the top. We can follow good practices and use good tools to achieve our goals and get visitors from all over the world. Hopefully not just to visit our site, but also to buy our things! In this article, we’ll review the objectives, tools and best practices for multilingual SEO.

SEO Basics – How it works and what to expect

Imagine for a second that you’re the all mighty Google. You get billions of people looking for different things 24hs per day. You have to pick 10 sites from the entire Internet and show them on the first page for every search.

There are hundreds of millions of web pages for you to pick just 10 items for and you need to do that in a split second.

Of course we understand that everything is automated, using complex algorithms, and there’s nobody to talk with. One cannot pay to have your site appear higher. So, any SEO or web company that promises #1 place on Google search results is selling you hot air.

So, back to Google. If you were Google, how would you tell which 10 pages to show in search results? The answer is surprisingly simple and also explains to us what we need to do in our SEO work.

Pages that include the subject of the search

Obviously, the page must focus on the specific subject. If we are looking for ‘cat food’, a good page will include a wealth of information about ‘cat food’. If it talked about ‘pet food’ and briefly mentions ‘cat food’, that page is a lot less interesting than a page that talks specifically about ‘cat food’.

Pages from websites that include the search topic

If you have a page about ‘cat food’, but it’s part of a site that talks about ‘auto parts’, Google will assume that you are not the world’s biggest authority on cat food. However, if the page belongs to a site that includes content about pet food and mentions cat food in a dozen other places, linking to that ‘cat food’ page, Google knows that this site may be relevant for ‘cat food’ searches.

Pages that other sites consider an authority

This is a tricky part in this game, but it’s also the one that comes very naturally, in time. Google cannot go and interview a billion people, asking their opinion about hundreds of millions of websites. But it can ‘interview’ other websites and see which sites they are referring to.

When Google sees a link from one site to another, it considers this link as a vote of trust. It assumes that placing a link means you recommend people to read the information in this other site. Of course, many people try to exploit this by buying links or creating misleading content on their other sites, but Google’s algorithms are pretty smart and not so easily fooled.

So, if this is how Google determines the best 10 pages to show on their search results, what can we do to be one of those pages?

  • Produce high quality content.
  • Stay focused. The narrower, the better.
  • Promote your content to others, so that they know about it and will link to it, if they truly appreciate it.

Simple, or what?!

How to explain your content to Google

Now that we know what we need to do, let’s talk about how we do it. Let’s agree that we are writing great content. Our purpose when we talk about SEO is to make sure that Google also understands it.

When Google reads our site, it looks at it a little differently than we see the site in a browser.

Google doesn’t care about fancy design, fonts, colours, animation and images. When Google ‘reads’ your site, all it sees is the content and the HTML that goes around the text. Google does see how we use standard HTML tags to emphasize important parts of the page.

Just like when we read a newspaper, Google assumes that we do the same when we read web pages. The most important part of any web page is its title (the tag). Then, there are the headings, starting with the <h1> heading and going down in importance as we go through H2, H3 and on.</p>

So, you should always use short, descriptive and clear texts inside the <title> tag of every page. Never have empty title tags or meaningless titles. Furthermore, you should not have the site name appear in all title tags.

After you’ve written good title tags and good header tags, you can get to the content. If you’re not sure how to do this, think about yourself as a visitor, looking for your things. Don’t think about what you want to say but about what they want to learn. Write for them and answer the questions that they are most likely interested in.

In summary, Google needs to understand:

  • what your site is about
  • the structure of your site
  • what each page is about
  • the language of every page in your site
  • what is a translation of what

Checklist for Good Multilingual SEO

Now that we understand better what SEO means and how it connects with multilingual sites, let’s recap, and list what you need to do to achieve good multilingual SEO for your sites.

  • Write focused content
  • Explain to Google what different pages mean by setting good titles, using good headings and good meta description.
  • Translate pages accurately, yourself or with ‘real’ translators
  • Remember to translate SEO attributes

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