Website localisation and search engine optimisation

As any good website administrator (or regular readers of the blog!) will know, website localisation and search engine optimisation are both crucial activities. They are what help your website to rank well in search engine results and to reach visitors across linguistic barriers.

But how do these two things work in tandem?

For example, how do we make sure visitors end up on the right version of our website, and how do we prevent duplicate content from dragging us down in the rankings? In today’s post we’re going to be looking at just that.

What is multilingual SEO?

Multilingual SEO comes into play when a website is multilingual (meaning it targets different language groups, say English and Spanish speakers in the US) and/or multi-regional (meaning it targets different countries, say the UK and Ireland or the whole of the EU).

In order to hit the mark on all fronts, the website will need to exist in several different versions – at least one for each language, maybe more – and that means a number of potential problems to keep in check.

First of all, it means not only translating content, but undertaking separate SEO processes for each language.

As we have considered in a previous post, keywords will vary from language to language and the best term in one region may not work in another. Multilingual SEO means finding and implementing the right terms not just for your website as a whole, but for each individual version.

Beyond that, it also means managing the problems that arise from the proliferation of pages that comes from making your website multilingual.

The sheer quantity of pages can result in two things: (1) web users end up getting drawn onto the wrong version of your website and are then unable to navigate onto the right one and (2) you risk duplicate content across your many pages. This pits page against page and ultimately drags your whole website further and further down in the search engine rankings. Absolutely the last thing we want to see happen!

Multilingual SEO best practice

In order to make sure everything ticks along smoothly, Google has published a list of best practice actions you can take. There is a lot to keep in mind but here are some of the key points:

1. Clear and distinct URLs for each language version

The most common ways to do this are either by using a region domain (e.g. example.es), a sub-domain (es.example.com) or a subdirectory (example.com/es/). You can also use hreflang attributes which is code that you can implement to tell search engines what language a particular page is in. All these measures will help make sure the right users end up in the right place.

2. Easy navigation options to other versions

Remember that not all users in a specific country speak the same language. For example, a British expat in Spain might end up on the Spanish version of your website, and it will be hard to get things right every time in territories with multiple official languages, like Switzerland or Belgium. You can get around this by including an easy and visible navigation tool so that users can toggle between versions should Google send them to the wrong one.

3. Avoid side-by-side translations

You might be tempted to include multiple languages on the one page either in the form of side-by-side translations or a mix of original, translated and user-generated content in multiple languages. Although this often makes things easier for you, it can impede search engines from identifying the language of a page and ultimately it makes for a cluttered and more cumbersome user experience. In the worst case, it will send visitors racing away, negatively affecting your bounce rate.

4. Beware of duplicated content

Although the same content in different languages will not be considered duplicate, you may still run into problems when mixing languages (e.g. including quotes or certain pieces of boilerplate text in the original language across all versions) or when running multiple region versions which share a common language (e.g. a US version, a UK version, an IE version). To solve this issue you can use the so-called canonical link element.

So there you go, that’s multilingual SEO in a nutshell. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, right?

No, multilingual SEO is a maze of different considerations and pitfalls. It requires knowledge of various concepts and tools, from bounce rate to hreflang attributes, and this makes it very easy for non-specialists to put a foot wrong.

Hopefully this article will go some way to helping you navigate the maze, but for more personalised help you can always get in touch with us here at Comunica. We have ample experience with translation, localisation and SEO, and we will be more than happy to help you figure out what languages you need, what keywords to use and how to structure your site for the best results.