Creating and optimising a multilingual website is far more complex than running a single-language site. Aside from having to create different language versions of the same website, you have to work much harder to make sure your pages rank where they should, in the language they should.
To give you an idea of the steps you need to take when building a multilingual website and provide reference to help you cover the key steps, here’s an SEO translation checklist for the planning, development and optimisation of multilingual websites.
Research and planning for SEO translation
Even a single-language website can have dozens of target audiences to cater for, which requires extensive research and planning. This workload drastically multiplies once you start targeting foreign languages and you need to have the following steps covered:
- Audience research: Each target language will comprise of multiple target audiences, some of whom may have different characteristics to the ones you’re used to targeting – so start again with your audience research for every language and make no assumptions.
- Search habits: Google is the top search engine in most parts of the world, but not everywhere – and search habits can vary (desktop vs mobile, search vs social, etc.), which means your SEO strategy needs to follow suit.
- Keyword research: Directly translating English keywords word-for-word into other languages doesn’t automatically give you the keywords people are actually typing in. Start again with keyword research for every language/region to see what your audiences are interested in and the exact search terms they’re using.
- Competitor research: Your competitors’ tactics are going to vary greatly in different parts of the world and the expectations people have from your brands will vary too.
- Opportunity research: You need to know where your opportunities are for tactics such as link building, guest posting, PR and other SEO essentials in each market.
- Translation style guide: Before you start physically translating any content, create a translation style guide to guarantee consistency across your online presence.
Building a multilingual website
Now, we come to the stage of actually building a multilingual website and this is where SEO translation crosses borders with localisation, web development and various other aspects of your wider marketing strategy.
- Professional translation: Above all, make sure you have professional translators and language experts on your side. Automatic translation is not a suitable tool for creating multilingual websites – although it does have its uses.
- Website structure: One of the most important decisions you need to make is how to structure your website domains and we’ve covered this topic before. You’re essentially creating multiple websites and linking them together by country-level domains, subdomains or subdirectories, each of which has its own pros and cons.
- Web code localisation: Your code needs to be structured so that you can make changes to your website centrally, in one place, and apply them to every page automatically. You also want to be able to add new website versions without breaking the initial code, edit language files separately and maintain your sites in the most efficient way.
- Language selection: How you implement language selection is crucial to the experience. You can use geotargeting to deliver languages based on user locations, but this doesn’t help users who are living/travelling in foreign-speaking countries or using VPNs.
- Content localisation: Much like keywords, you can’t simply translate all of your English content and expect foreign audiences to engage with it. Localise your content strategy to cater for the unique interests of each audience and create unique content to match – in their own language – where required.
- Multilingual content promotion: Your content also needs to be promoted on the right platforms, in the right language for each target market.
- Resource translation: Key resources such as your FAQs, T&Cs, support centre, user guides, etc. need to be translated and, in some cases, localised for specific markets.
Technical SEO for multilingual sites
With your multilingual website up and running, your attention now turns to maintaining it for the best performance. Here are the key technical SEO essentials you need to think about for foreign-language websites.
- Hreflang tags: This tells Google which language your page is in so it can deliver the right version to each language speaker (Google is pretty good at doing this itself, but it’s always best to use hreflang tags to prevent any issues).
- Page speed: Loading times are crucial (especially on mobile, which is the only online access many people have in certain markets).
- Server locations: The further users are away from your servers, the longer it takes pages to load.
- CDNs & caching: To overcome the server location problem, use a content delivery network (CDN) to “borrow” local servers and implement caching to improve loading times for people who have already visited your site before.
- Internal links: Make sure internal links always point to pages in the same language.
- Link audits: Make sure incoming links are from websites in the same language and always remove low-quality links, regardless of the language.
- Anchor text: Use SEO translators to help you determine the best anchor text for links on your website.
If you’re unsure about any of the points we’ve covered in this article, please get in touch with our SEO translation team for further advice on optimising your multilingual website.