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4 Key Search Engine Optimization Tips for Your Multilingual Website in 2020

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Updated 05/05/2020

When setting up a multilingual website, there are several Search Engine Optimization (SEO) factors to consider (for a full – not only multilingual-related – WordPress SEO checklist, have a look at this great article by Kinsta).

Elements that contribute to good SEO also tend to improve overall user experience, so making sure your site ranks highly benefits both your business and your customers.

When it comes to multilingual SEO, first and foremost, you want to make sure that people are seeing the correct pages for their location. You also want to avoid penalties for content that is considered duplicate. Thankfully, Google has laid out some best practices for multilingual SEO, and there are a number of measures you can take to improve your rankings.

Firstly it’s probably important to understand what multilingual SEO means…

Multilingual SEO: What is it and when should you use it?

Multilingual SEO is the act of optimizing content on your website for different languages, so you become searchable in new markets and people in different countries can find your website.

SEO experts will tell you that multilingual SEO means you have to optimize your site for native speakers of languages in countries other than your own.

The majority of the internet uses American English, and that may well be your native language. But English is only the third most widely spoken language in the world; so it pays to use multilingual search engine optimization to reach as wide an audience as possible. Even if you’re targeting the United States with your site, you’ll find that not all of your visitors are native English speakers.

It’s tempting to rely on Google translate, which non-English speakers can use to translate the results of a Google search, as well as the contents of your site, in theory. But the reality is that you’ll get a far superior result, both in terms of content and SEO, if you use a multilingual SEO strategy.

Planning out Your Multilingual SEO Strategy

So you’ve decided to adopt a multilingual SEO strategy: great. But what do you need to consider when you’re planning what that strategy will be and how it will fit with your broader digital marketing strategy?

Any search engine optimization strategy has to start with an understanding of your audience and their search habits. In your target countries, this might be different from in your native country. Consider the target languages that your audience will be speaking, and make sure you have a solution that translates your content and your SEO metadata into those.

Internet habits might be different in different countries too. So consider the following:

  • Social media use, and how you can use that to support your on-site SEO
  • Backlinks and how you can do more link building in other countries and multilingual markets
  • Content strategy and search terms: is there content that will be more successful in pulling in an audience in other territories and languages? Can you add new content for international audiences?
  • Visitor statistics: use Google analytics to identify where your traffic is coming from right now, as well as the percentage of that coming from searchers, and compare that to where you want to be
  • Ecommerce: if you’re running an international store, you’ll also have to consider currencies and how products meet the needs of different markets, as well as how you can optimize them for local SEO
  • Your domain name: do you need a different one in different languages or will your brand name be recognizable by non-English speakers?
  • Search engine results pages, or SERPs: do they look different in different territories? Test how your search results look on different versions of Google search

Multilingual SEO Tips

There are 5 key steps to optimize your site’s search engine rankings which we’ll take a look at in more detail!

1. Use Dedicated URLs

One of the main fears with multilingual sites is duplicate content.

While not all duplicate content is detrimental, content that appears within multiple URLs may lead to penalties such as lowered rankings or even deindexing.

To avoid duplicate content penalties, Google’s best practices recommend using ‘dedicated URLs’ that include a language indicator. 

The indicator enables search engines and users to identify the language from the URL alone. For example, an original page might be www.example.com, while the French version could be www.example.com/fr/.

The placement of the language indicator in the URL depends on the domain structure you choose. The three choices are:

  1. Top level domain (e.g. www.example.fr)
  2. Subdomain (e.g. www.fr.example.com)
  3. Subdirectory (e.g. www.example.com/fr/)

Even a language indicator, though, can still be misinterpreted—so it’s an important step to take in making sure your site is SEO-compatible, but definitely not the only one. 

Each of these have their pros and cons, but subdirectories are easy to set up and maintain. We use them within the Weglot translation solution, which uses rewrite rules to create a unique URL for each language.

2. Apply hreflang Tags

Aside from the aforementioned language indicators, Google also uses hreflang attributes to help determine both the language of the page and which region it is intended for.

These tags can be inserted in the header section of the original page or submitted via a sitemap. For example, an hreflang tag referencing a French page intended for readers in Canada could look like this:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr-ca” href=”http://example.com/fr/” />

If a page is intended for multiple regions, multiple hreflang attributes can be added. However, it’s worth noting that this whole process is both complicated and time-consuming, particularly for beginners. If you use our Weglot translation solution, this step is  automatically done for you, so you don’t have to worry about adding your own code.

3. Stick to One Language Per Page

It may be tempting to translate some areas of a page while keeping other parts in the original language. A couple of instances where a page might have multiple languages are:

  1. The main content is translated but the navigation text is in the original language.
  2. User generated content (such as forum discussions and comments) are in different languages.

In both of these cases, the intended language and region of the page can be clarified by adding the hreflang tags discussed earlier.

However, multiple languages on a page could dilute the user experience. In the first case above, the reader might understand the main content but have trouble navigating to other pages. In the second case, user-generated content in different languages could result in discussions losing context, and a confused or even frustrated reader.

Fortunately, when you translate your pages with our Weglot translation solution, it automatically detects all content – including user comments – so you can be assured that everything will be translated.

There are some cases where multiple languages on a page are actually beneficial to the reader, such as side-by-side translations on a language-learning site. In its multilingual site advice page, Google recommends avoiding side-by-side translations. However, if you do need to go that route, you should definitely make use of the hreflang tags we talked about earlier. You can even add multiple tags if appropriate.

4. Translate your metadata

When you create a multilingual website you’ll also want to ensure it’s not just the content on your site that’s translated. Your metadata is also a crucial piece of text that will help you rank better for the new countries you’re targeting.

But, it’s not as simple as just translating the metadata word for word.

What might be a keyword within the original language of your site, won’t necessarily be the same for your translated site. Which means you’ll need to conduct new keyword research into your new target markets.

This can easily be carried out either through Ahrefs or Ubersuggest. It’s just a case of using their keyword explorers and entering a translated keyword, selecting the country you want to target and review the results to give you a better idea on what your potential customers might search.

5. Make sure your website loads fast

site-loading-speed

One of the relatively easy things you can do for your multilingual SEO (and SEO in general) is to make your website fast. Starting in July 2018, the time your website takes to load has become a ranking factor for search engines. That means, every little effort you put into making your website load faster, is going to directly influence the amount of traffic your website gets, particularly if some of your pages are slow (3+ seconds).

There are a number easy wins which you can implement to make a significant difference in the loading time. These include:

  • installing a plugin which enables page caching 
  • setting up browser caching
  • integrating a CDN with your website
  • optimize the size of your images (shortpixel vs smush vs imagify)

Most of these optimizations are somewhat technical in nature. The good news is, if you’re using WordPress to build your site, you’ve got access to a plethora of plugins that will implement these speed optimizations—without you having to touch a single line of code.. Plugins such as WP Rocket, fix most problems identified by Google’s PageSpeed Insights, including the above points.

Another effective and important way of making your website faster is to check your hosting plan. Most hosting plans are relatively cheap because your website shares the server resources with hundreds, maybe thousands of other websites, making it slow in the process. You can check the great reviews from our partner CollectiveRay like this one: InMotion VPS Hosting Review – Is It Worth the money? (7 thoughts).

To make life a little easier, the first few steps are automatically taken care of by our very own Weglot Translate plugin.

Conclusion

When creating a multilingual site, there are several important SEO factors to consider. You need to ensure that your content is not considered duplicate, and that you’ve defined a clear intended reader for each of your pages..

Addressing these issues will not only boost your rankings, but also improve the overall user experience. Fortunately, Weglot can do most of the dirty work for you.

In this article we’ve explained what needs to be done to make your site SEO friendly. Let’s recap our tips quickly:

  1. Use dedicated URLs.
  2. Apply hreflang tags.
  3. Stick to one language per page.
  4. Translate your metadata
  5. Check your website load speed.

Do you have any questions regarding optimizing your multilingual site for search engines? Reach out to us at support@weglot.com—we’re always here to help.

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