11 SEO tips for website localization

When entering  a new market where people speak a different language – you’ll need an SEO strategy to fully exploit market opportunities. The title of a research conducted by Common Sense Advisory tells it all: “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy…”, as the vast majority (85.3%) of respondents felt that having pre-purchase information in their own language is a critical factor in buying services.Most global digital agencies tell you that an SEO strategy should come first when designing a new website as SEO will affect site structure, content, design – the whole project. It’s the same with website translations. Maybe you don’t want to change your site structure in this process but everything else will be affected.

Some call it geolocation targeting, multilingual search engine optimization or local SEO – it’s all the same.

Here’s a good article on how to integrate SEO into the localization workflow.

Localization is not equal to translation
Firstly, it depends on your brief to the translator – you want to see your content translated word for word or you want it adapted to a local context. Since business is conducted in the language of your customers – a localized text will always bring you more ROI.

Secondly, you’ll need an SEO expert to make your localized offer attractive to both visitors and search engines.This article has more good points on this.

If you have to use machine translations for some sections on your website use robots.txt or a noindex tag to block search engines from crawling these. Automated translations could be viewed as search engine spam.

Keywords / Keyphrases
From an SEO perspective you will need to go one step beyond translators. Create a keyword list for all the pages you’d like to translate (keep the page URLs in the document so that collaborators can see which keywords belong to a certain page) and have them translated separately. Then ask a local SEO expert to localize the list for you. That expert will look into search volumes, keyword competitiveness and other factors to create a highly targeted version of your keyword list. Once the raw keyword list is filtered you can go and optimize the content – using the most competitive keywords.

Website structure and content
Carefully select the pages you’d like to translate. There may be content that is outdated and automated translation tools can be helpful but usually not appropriate when implementing a successful localization strategy. If possible, also avoid copying original language pages to the local website. Link or redirect these pages to the original website to avoid duplicate content issues with search engines.

Global glossary
This local keyword list is a good base for a global glossary of your terminology. Share this glossary with all of your offices worldwide – so they can find the appropriate language versions.

Include all website elements
Make sure that all website elements that are hidden from visitors, are also adjusted accordingly (META and ALT tags, media attributes). TITLE tags are also important.

URL structure and domains
Decide whether to localize URLs. Check whether your Content Management System (CMS) is capable of handling a localized URL structure. If not, use redirects.

Country top level domains are always good to use but if you want to use one domain you should differentiate language versions in the URL. You can indicate e.g. french language content either as a sub-directory (www.example.com/fr/) or as a sub-domain (fr.example.com). This provides human users with a clue about the content on the website and is very useful to distinguish between language versions.

Local content
Train your local teams in how to use the website and encourage them to create local content. Local content also contributes to better search rankings locally. You  should also have a brief editorial guideline in place to keep your company communication DNA intact.

Of course the website should be technically capable of handling local content. Create a system for localizing fresh content authored in the central office.

Server location
The location of the servers also gives a good signal to the search engines about the location of the audience but not necessarily. If your web servers are running on a content delivery network (CDN, in cloud) or are hosted in a country with better web server infrastructure then there is no issue.

Language markers
The best and most common way to show language versions on your website is in a dropdown menu showing what versions are available, in their own language (e.g., the French version would be indicated as “Français”). Small flags (another common way) can cause a confusion in countries where multiple languages are spoken.

You can also detect a user’s language or location through their browser and redirect the user to the corresponding language version. Even with automatic language or IP detection, you need to allow the user to choose a language or switch between languages with ease.

Apps, feeds, data and social media
Localize whatever you can and do not forget to include all internal and external data sources that are fed into your website. You can find database localization methods here. Also localize social media channels where content is shared so your local website can get links and mentions locally. Use all available local services like registering your local business with Google Places, Foursquare and others. Use local directories to submit links to your local website.

Global links and sitemap
Do not forget to update your sitemap to include the local versions. Here’s a summary for using multilingual site annotations in sitemaps. If local versions run locally – create a new, local sitemap. If you’re using local domains you should consider creating a new footer on the websites containing all international websites.

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