How to ace SEO for international sites

If you work across different markets, with different languages thrown in the mix, things can get a little confusing to say the least. You NEED a strategy to ensure your SEO is efficient in all the languages you cover. In short, you need to start the process of optimising your existing content so it’s understandable in a variety of languages. This makes your site more accessible to an array of different countries, cultures and people, helping you to become searchable and visible in new markets through organic search. Now say that again without looking.

So, rather than relying on good old Google translate and hoping non-English speaking customers will take the time to use it, why not take your site up a notch and show users new and old that you’ll go above and beyond to accommodate everybody. After all, it’s in your best interest

Here are some things you need to think about when planning your multilingual SEO strategy along with some top tips you should put into practice..yesterday.

 

Planning Your Multilingual Strategy

 

At the core of any SEO strategy are the initial understandings of your audience and their search behaviours. You’ll likely have target countries that are different from the country you reside in, so you’ll need to consider those languages, too. You’ll also need to ensure that you have country-specific solutions in place that will be able to correctly translate your copy and SEO data. The internet may also differ in certain parts of the world, so be sure to consider the following, also:

  • Social media are you ensuring your social media is accessible to all languages?
  • Backlinks – is there a way you can generate more link building additional languages?
  • Do you have certain content that would be more successful if you were to incorporate localisation?
  • Can you create new content to cater to specific international audiences?
  • Use geotargeting Google Analytics to determine where most of your traffic comes from.
  • In terms of Ecommerce and running an international online shop, do your products/services meet the needs of other marketplaces? Do you need to consider different currencies? 
  • Does your domain name need to be in different languages or is it universally recognisable?
  • What do your search queries look like on different versions of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages)?

Tip One: Use Dedicated URLs (slugs)

 

When it comes to multilingual sites, duplicate content is a worry. But while it’s not always damaging, if the same content is located within multiple URLs (even if it’s your own website), you could face penalties and lose your precious rankings. *screams*.

To avoid this, Google suggests using ‘dedicated URLs’ that include a language indicator. They’ve written a whole section about managing multilingual versions of your site, so it’s definitely worth a read.

The indicator works by allowing SERPs and users to recognise their language from just the URL. For example, your shop URL page might be www.mywebsite.com/shop, but in German, it would be www.mywebsite.com/einkaufen. 

Google states specifically to make sure your page language is obvious, and you can help it

“determine the language correctly by using a single language for content and navigation on each page, and by avoiding side-by-side translations.”

 

Tip Two: Use hreflang Tags

 

These are the bits of code that basically tell SERPs what language each page of your website is using. They’re essential for multilingual sites because they assist search engines in differentiating between each version of copy. 

For some context, an hreflang tag in English is “en”. In Spanish, it is “es”. They’re also really easy to add to your page, and there are a variety of ways you can do it. While you can edit the code on each of your web pages individually, this is extremely time-consuming – especially if there are multiple languages you need to consider. 

Instead, there are a range of platforms you can use that will automatically input the tags to your pages for each individual language. This makes the SEO process much easier, and you can almost guarantee there are no mistakes.

Popular CMS’ such as WordPress and Shopify have a range of Hreflang plugins available on their respective plugin/app directory. However, if you are doing it manually, check out this hreflang Tags Generator Tool.

The language tab within Google search console’s international targeting setting is great for debugging any issues as it will highlight any potential problems with your hreflang setup.

 

Tip Three: Make Sure You Have One Language Per Page

 

For time-saving purposes, you may be tempted to only translate certain parts of your webpage, and keep less important areas in the original language. This may be enticing when pages are already in multiple languages, including:

  • User-generated content, i.e comment sections and forum discussions.
  • The main bulk of the content has been translated but the navigation text remains in the original language.

In both instances, you can correct the intended region and language of the page by adding the appropriate hreflang tags. 

Note that avoiding this and leaving multiple languages on a page can compromise user experience. For example, user-generated content in multiple languages would compromise the validity of the discussion or provoke it to lose context, which could in turn confuse and antagonise readers. In the second point, a user may be able to understand the main copy, but be unable to navigate to other areas of the site.

 

Tip Four: Translate Metadata

 

It’s not just your visitors you need to be aware of, it’s search engines, too. There are plenty of pages that users won’t see, simply because they’re intended for SERPs. These elements are called metadata, and it consists of meta descriptions to image alt text right through to tags. 

It’s vital you translate this important data, as otherwise, it’s unlikely your website will rank or even be visible in languages other than English.

What’s more, a keyword in English may not be the same in multiple languages. This means that as well as translating metadata, you’ll need to conduct new keyword research to attract your new markets.

You can do this on platforms such as Ahrefs. Simply use their keyword explorers, enter a translated keyword, choose your target country, and review the results. This will give you a better view of the search habits of your potential customers abroad.

 

Tip Five – Set up the Target Country in International Targeting

 

International targeting helps Google understand which specific country you want to target. You can find the International targeting setting under “Legacy tools and reports” in Google Search Console and then within the “Country” tab.

You can find more info and guidance regarding international targeting from Google with their related guide.

 

Tip Six – If using subdirectories, remember to create separate search console properties

 

As you would with ccTLDs and sub-domains, If you are using subdirectories, make sure to also give them individual properties in Google Search Console so you can easily view organic search stats associated to a specific language and/or region as well as assigning specific settings to them, such as international targeting.

Et voila! Follow these steps for a much better optimised site and a much bigger international audience.

Sophie Crosby
Head of Content @ Minty Digital.
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