Creating a Multilingual Website – SEO and Web Design

Creating a Multilingual website

Creating a multilingual website and running a business can be a lot of work, especially when you consider the complexity of taking your business international!  We’ve already discussed why multilingual website design can be crucial to the success of your company.  Now we’re going to walk through making your website multilingual.  It can be done successfully, as long as your SEO is done correctly.  First, we’ll review what multilingual web design is and why its so important.

What is the process of creating a multilingual website?

Multilingual website design is the translation and localization of a website’s content into another language.  The translations are meant to reach either a multilingual group or a multi-regional one.  Often though, translation is geared towards both.  Translation of a website’s content is the direct shift of the content from one language into another.  Additionally, localization is the shifting of the site’s content to fit the target demographic socially and culturally.

Why should I translate and localize my website?

If you are looking to expand your business to a specific country or region, it is essential that your target audience can understand and connect with your content culturally.  By doing so, your company’s message will be more appealing and have a higher chance that potential customers will want to do business with you.  Therefore, translating and localizing your website can be crucial for your company’s success.

Common Mistakes to avoid when creating a multilingual website

The following are common mistakes companies make when creating a multilingual website.  Don’t make the same mistakes and you will improve your chances for success.

  1. Failing to translate the entire site.

    Often, the majority of the content of a website is translated.  However, if you do not make sure to translate the whole site, you may give a bad impression to your target audience.  You will also miss out on valuable SEO opportunities.  That means you should be translating not just the title and texts on your website, but also images, the theme, URLs, and the full SEO metadata.  Translate your content as completely and authentically as possible for the best results.

  2. Not localizing your website’s content.

    The first mistake many companies make is failing to localize for their websites in each language.  You’ll want to culturally and socially localize your content.  Ideally, you make sure that your content is visible and ranking in each country.  This means your content should be appealing to people in the target region, which means localizing keywords, URLs, metadata, images, text, and themes.  One of the best things you can do is optimize your content as specifically as possible for each region you wish to reach.  This can be done by hiring a local marketing firm in each country to localize your content or one big agency that specializes in international web design.  It will cost you more, but if done right, you will see a higher return on your total investment.

  3. Using only machine translation.

    Machine translation can be a huge time saver when creating a multilingual website. However, if you ONLY use machines to translate your websites you won’t be happy with the outcome.  Machine translation is often inaccurate and not localized, thus it will give a bad impression and rank poorly in search engines.  If your target audience cannot read and connect with your website, they are unlikely to follow up with your business, which will be detrimental in the long run.

  4. Failing to create a culturally responsive website.

    Once the translation has been done, it can be easy to think that you wouldn’t need to do anything else to make your content accessible for your target region.  That is not the case.  Many times, companies will forget to organize their websites to suit different regions and languages.  For example, a company targeting a region of Japan may fail to adapt to Japanese writing.  Inspired by the traditional Chinese system, the characters are written in columns going from top to bottom, with columns ordered from right to left.  Not accommodating this difference means that a company is going to lose business when potential Japanese customers cannot easily read and use its website.

  5. Failing to add language options to your navigation

    A final mistake that can be very easy to make that can damage a website’s SEO is not making it easy to switch languages on the website itself.  If it is not easy to find the button to change the language of the site, people who may want to switch between languages for different clients may decide your website is not suitable for their needs.

How does Google recognize and sort translated websites?

Google’s language recognition services work to identify the most relevant search results for each query.  These results depend on who makes the query and in what language.  One thing that may help your translated website do well is if there is only one language used per page.  Don’t make the mistake of providing direct side-by-side translations on pages of your site.  This will only confuse search engines.

A website should have keywords that will result in more searches by a target audience.  Therefore, Google will increase the rank of a website which includes those keywords.  The keywords you choose for SEO in each language should differ based on your target demographic in each region.  Google also wants to see original, non-duplicate content shown explicitly to a target region.  That content will rank better if it is not competing with other content that has the same keywords, just in another language.

How can I ensure my translated content will rank well?

You can make sure your content will rank well by ensuring first that your base site is error-free, especially post-translation.  Something Google will prioritize is the use of translated and localized keywords, adding to site optimization.  Not only that, you can ensure that your content ranks well by making sure it is prioritized in the geographical location most important to you.  You can guarantee this by focusing on your multilingual SEO.  It is generally better to prioritize location over language.  It would be nearly impossible to target an entire language group by prioritizing content in only one country.

How do I make sure my content is reaching a specific region?

Chances are, the website you’re currently operating has a generic top-level domain name (gTLD).  These domains can be easily changed to fit a specific region.  Some gTLD domains include .net, .com, or .org and can be manually geotargeted using Google’s Webmasters’ tools.

Google’s Webmasters’ tools are easily accessible and available for businesses that want to rank successfully in a given area.  By changing the URL structure of your site, Google can recognize the geographical area you would like to target.  Then, they provide your website in search results for relevant queries within the region of interest.  Additionally, if you can get a server within the geographic area of interest, then Google will more easily be able to recognize that you would like your content to appear in that region.  However, it is understandable that it can be expensive to get an individual server and domain in each international location.

Google has created a video that explains geographic targeting in depth:

How can I use multilingual SEO to get my URL to match the region where I want my content seen?

As covered in our previous post on multilingual website design, there are different options for optimizing gTLDs.  The most common ways to optimize each of your sites includes creating subdomains or subdirectories from the base website.

If we wanted to create a subdomain for bostonwebdesigners.net for Germany, we could create a domain called de.bostonwebdesigners.net.  This page would be an entity underneath the base website in English.  With a subdomain, you can create multiple servers.  Doing so allows for easier identification of the content in the target region.

To create a subdirectory, we would direct potential customers to bostonwebdesigners.net/de.  This subdirectory may be slightly less accessible because it is available under a single server, instead of an individual server in the target nation.  Additionally, people may not necessarily recognize this site as geotargeted.   This could occur if they don’t register what comes after the domain name with another language.

Finally, URL parameters are a technique for streamlining multilingual content, though we do not often recommend using them.  They can be difficult to identify within a longer URL, so the person searching for content may not know that the material has been translated.  Using URL parameters also does not allow for geotargeting through Google’s Geotargeting Webmasters’ tools.  Therefore, we do not recommend them for most business ventures.

How do I ensure my content is not competing with itself?

If you are not careful your English website in the United States will start competing with your main website if you are located in another English speaking country or region like Canada.   If you are using proper translation and localization techniques, you should have no issues with your content in different regions with the same language competing with itself.  Usually, this is only an issue when the content on a translated site has not been localized.  That, or when page content is an exact duplication of content from your main website.

You can also ensure that your pages won’t be competing with each other if each page is in one language.  If you have a page in both English and French, then it may compete with the same page that is entirely in English.  Therefore, making sure that you’ve localized your content, especially, is one of the most important aspects of multilingual SEO.  Generally, the best thing you can do when creating a multilingual website is to individualize your content for each language as much as possible.

Use Canonicalization to prevent duplicate content issues.

Another way to ensure your content is not competing with itself is through the use of a canonical tag.  A canonical tag is a way in which an administrator of a website can tell Google that a certain webpage is the copy of another page.  Canonical tags allow a business to assign ownership of content to one page and domain.  Duplicate pages won’t rank as well for the same content.  Google will choose one URL as the canonical version and crawl that, and all other URLs will be considered duplicate URLs and crawled less often. 

That way, the content won’t compete with its direct counterpart in another language.  The goal is to minimize duplicate content, especially content which has been directly translated into another language.  While we don’t recommend automatically duplicating your content without localization, canonicalization can be a beneficial way to make sure your content is available across countries.

Are PDF files duplicate content?   If so, how do I add a canonical tag to an Adobe PDF file?

It is easy to think that a pdf file is different from other pages on your website, but they are not.   Google makes it clear that PDF files can cause SEO issues if the content is the same as other pages across the web.   You will want to use the rel=”canonical” HTTP header method of creating a canonical tag.   It would look like this: Link: <http://www.yoursite.com/downloads/white-paper.pdf>; rel=”canonical”.   Click here to learn more about HTTP header fields.

Creating a multilingual website using WordPress

With the growth of technology across the world, the need for multilingual content has grown, as have the services to translate websites.  If you are operating a WordPress website, there are several multilingual plugins that will work.

Evaluate WordPress plugins and choose wisely

If a WordPress plugin is updated frequently by their developers as new versions of WordPress come out, they can work well with your website.  These plugins can help you optimize your content in other languages so it ranks well internationally in different regions of interest.  Some of the most popular plugins for multilingual website design include:

WordPress Multilingual

WordPress Multilingual is one of WordPress’s most popular plugins for translation and localization.  It also serves as a plugin for multilingual SEO enhancement.  It is easy to use and works alongside SEO enhancers, such as Yoast.  Thus, you will be able to change and localize your metadata, as well as your URLs.  WPML offers automatic translation services or self-translate services.  We recommend self-translating and/or hiring a professional who will not only translate but also localize the content to fit the target audience best.   WPML starts at $29 per year or is $79 per year for a more complete package.

TranslatePress

TranslatePress is another multilingual plugin that will allow you to change every aspect of your website without any interruptions.  Like WPML, it offers the ability to get an automatic translation from Google, but also allows for individual translations.  The system enhances each URL for the target region, which aims to increase local SEO.  TranslatePress is initially free, but SEO enhancements could cost between $79 and $199 per year.

There are other multilingual plugins, such as Polylang and Weglot, which don’t necessarily work with both automatic and manual translation.  Polylang focuses mainly on manual translation, while Weglot focuses primarily on automatic translation.  Neither will as entirely translate every aspect of your WordPress website.

This site provides an in-depth review of each of WordPress’s most popular multilingual plugins so you can pick the one that will suit your needs best.

Conclusion: Creating a multilingual website can be problematic if you don’t use the right tools and SEO techniques. 

As the market for international websites has increased, so has the need for translation and localization.  If you are careful about translating and localizing your entire site with proper tools and techniques, you are positioning your company for growth in international markets.

Google has many resources for creating a multilingual website.  These resources ensure your international site ranks well.  In particular, their Webmasters’ tools for targeting a specific geographic region are very helpful.  With their help to get your content ranking in your new area of interest, your business is likely to grow.

We understand that the process of multilingual web design is stressful enough, and even more so once we start talking about SEO!  So, if you are looking for a web design firm that can help with your multilingual SEO needs, please reach out to us at 978-851-9077.

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