Multilingual SEO: Website Translation Best Practices

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Most websites are built, written and designed to suit a particular audience or a handful of audiences. That customer-first focus becomes more complicated when language creates barriers to finding, understanding and utilizing a website. You can reduce friction by following multilingual SEO best practices. These gold standards may help to improve your site’s organic rank regardless of default user language or location and communicate more effectively with users. Allons-y!

What is Multilingual SEO?

Multilingual and multi-regional SEO combines technical website best practices and the practice of selecting keywords from multiple languages to better message users. Multilingual websites that are technically sound and prioritize a keyword profile that is inclusive of keywords from multiple languages or dialects are more likely to achieve a competitive organic rank in key markets, enabling customers in various countries to find and understand the brand’s content.

Serving multiple languages is critical for brands—even those that aren’t operating globally. More than 41 million people in the United States speak Spanish. Without an accurate translation of your website, you could miss out on nearly 1/5 of the US population!

The best multilingual websites go beyond simple translation and ensure that their content is properly contextualized, uses local colloquialisms and is culturally relevant.

How to Translate Your Website (Good, Better, Best)

You’d be forgiven for not being able to speak a dozen languages fluently—but not for ignoring large portions of your potential audience!

There are several ways to translate your website. As you’d expect, the easy (and free) option isn’t the best route. Still, it’s an accessible way for small and medium-sized businesses to serve multiple languages and improve user experience.

Content translation options include:

  • Good: Google Translate
  • Better: Dedicated Translation Plugin
  • Best: Use hreflang Attributes for Each Piece of Content

Good: Using Google Translate

Google Translate is a free translation service available ….. Google Translate will never be as accurate as using professional translation services. Good might be good enough for smaller companies or those with minimal need to accommodate multiple languages.

How to Add Google Translate to a Website

There are two ways to add Google Translate to a website: The Dynamic Google Translate widget and static Google Translate widget both do exactly what their names suggest; they translate your site. Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks to relying on a Google Translate plugin or directly from Google using an API:

  • No SEO value: Google can’t index the translated content, which means the translated page will only rank in the original language.
  • Say what? Google Translate’s AI capabilities mean it is always getting more accurate. Still, it’s not the most accurate experience. It often lacks context, making accurate translation difficult. Is Google Translate accurate enough for your purposes? Test it on key pages by translating content to languages you expect to serve users and then translating it back to English. 

The Google API option is free for up to 500,000 characters. The basic version costs just $20 per million characters per month, though your team may need some development help setting it up.

Better: Using a Dedicated Translation Plugin

A dedicated translation plugin….There are several WordPress translation plugins available as well as similar downloadable options that can be added to custom websites. Multilingual plugins also utilize Google Translate to translate content automatically but offer some key differences. Some of the benefits include:

  • Automatic translation: Most plugins can translate every page element, including navigation and footer blocks. Site owners can also adjust translations to make every piece of copy perfect.
  • Language switcher: Most plugins use the user’s IP address to automatically display the most likely language spoken in that country or region. Language switchers allow users to change the website text to one of the site’s other options.
  • Navigation based on language: This is a neat one for businesses that don’t offer the same products or services globally. This option allows owners to adjust the site menu and hide pages or content that houses goods not available where the user is searching from.

The Best Language Translation Plugins

Each plugin has different features, pricing structures and theme compatibilities, so be sure to do a little homework before purchasing.

Need help choosing the right plugin for your site? Get in touch; we love this stuff!

Best: Using Hreflang Attributes for Each Piece of Content

The best multilingual websites build language-specific pages for each piece of content. This approach can be time-intensive and expensive but it’s crucial for brands that rely on delivering accurate translations across several languages.

But it’s worth it.

Multilingual SEO Best Practices

Using hreflang attributes allows organizations to implement a robust multilingual SEO strategy that mirrors the SEO work they’ve already done in their native language.

Start with multilingual keyword research

Using a tool like Semrush (our favorite), conduct keyword research in each language you’ll need to translate. This will ensure your translated pages gain organic rank for valuable terms to generate traffic in new regions or markets.

Build new pages for translated content

You may not need to build a new translated page for every page on your site. We recommend focusing on the pages that best support your KPIs, such as:

  • Pages with the most organic sessions
  • Pages with the most conversions
  • Pages that house contact forms or locations

Use dedicated URLs for each language

Creating a 1 to 1 translated page for all your content has one significant risk: duplicate content. Google is not a big fan and SEO invests considerable energy in identifying and resolving duplicate content issues. One of the most important website translation best practices is using language indicators. These are small indicators added to the URL of each page. Each abbreviation signals to Google what differentiates it from the site’s native language.

One example might be www.oneupweb.com/thats_my_jam which becomes www.oneupweb.com/fr/cest_ma_confiture for French language users.

The /fr/ indicates that the page is in French, which is helpful to search engines. It’s also useful for users who can visually assess the URL to confirm the intended language.

Apply hreflang tags

These short bits of HTML tell Google which language the page is intended to serve. Multiple hreflang tags can be added to a single page to communicate multiple regions or languages, but in most cases, keeping this simple is more effective.

NOTE: This is complicated. And time-consuming. You’re going to need in-house development support or tag us in to tag your stuff! Multilingual SEO is one example of how closely SEO and web development work together.

Translate your metadata

After all that work, don’t skimp on the details. We are often asked if it’s worth it to translate meta descriptions or not. It is! Translating title tags, meta descriptions and alt text improves user experience and can offer incremental SEO benefits.

Say It Right in Every Language

Establishing a global presence for your brand isn’t a quick or simple task. Invest in your company’s growth with an experienced digital marketing agency. Oneupweb is a fully integrated agency with writers, SEOs, strategists, photographers, developers and designers ready to support all your marketing needs. Break boundaries with the right message and the right translation. Contact us or call 231-922-9977 to learn more.  

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