Website translation and localization is a no-brainer in today’s globalized world with 60% of people saying they rarely or never buy products from English-only websites. But did you know that translating your website also has a positive effect on your Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Essentially SEO ensures your website is visible in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) so it can be found by as many internet users as possible. What constitutes good SEO changes and search engines like Google regularly adjust the algorithm that decides when, where, and how to show a particular link.
To make your website an international success, you should understand how SEO and search engines’ algorithms work so you know where to concentrate your SEO energy. We’ll delve into the best practices and absolute no-go’s when it comes to translating your website and implementing SEO.
What Makes SEO Tick?
There are approximately 200 known ranking factors on Google but the algorithm predominantly concentrates on those that prioritize high-quality content and positive user experience, such as the following:
- Technical factors (such as Google page experience signals and schema markup).
- Content quality, length, and age (Google prefers newer content).
- E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness).
- RankBrain (tries to understand user intent to offer the most relevant search results).
The top two factors are content and backlinks. I.e., links on other websites that lead back to your website. The more backlinks you have, the better the ranking in search results. And links from topic- and language-specific, high-authority, reputable websites carry more weight.
Website Translation = SEO Success
The benefits for your SEO are sure to outweigh the cost of website translation. Firstly, any traffic from the original or foreign-language versions of your website contributes to your overall search engine ranking. Search engines read all versions as part of the same site.
Secondly, more visitors and engagement mean a better ranking. Providing content in several languages drives traffic from all over the world which catches the search engines’ eye.
Search engines value the best content and a positive user experience and translation helps to do both. High-quality website translations not only allow people to access your (top-quality) information, but they can do so in their native language, thereby improving user experience. 72% of consumers say they are more likely to buy products that have information in their primary language.
Best Practice Website Translation for SEO
For Motoko Hunt, President of AJPR, the best practice is “if SEO becomes a part of [website owners’] entire website management process including translation, localization, web design, and content strategy.”
Websites should be designed with SEO and translation in mind, consider: can I implement an SEO strategy when the website looks like this? Will it look good when translated? Will the translated version look consistent with the original?
The website design should account for the fact that languages expand/contract in translation and ensure there is space to adjust to include all marketing copy, keywords, and adjust to the font size of double-byte characters.
Website localization must also consider extralinguistic elements such as icons, images, and colors. Without these adaptations, the site will not lend itself to multilingual SEO and your foreign-language versions could perform poorly if relevant keywords have to be omitted.
Hunt shared the example of a client with most content written in the “California surfer dude” style and how this required extensive adaptation for the Asian market. A direct translation of the primary-language website’s tone of voice and style may be inappropriate in other cultures.
The Key is Keywords
Once you have identified your target countries and languages – with the help of native speakers or professional translators – identify key terms or phrases. Expand on this broad list using keyword research tools and metrics like search volume and keyword difficulty. You could also search for these keywords to find out what content is performing well, in what contexts competitors are using them, and where there are gaps in the market.
With the help of a professional, you can translate these keywords and ensure they are incorporated into the foreign-language versions. However, keyword spamming is poor practice and will negate your SEO efforts. Translate anything and everything: on-page copy, currencies, time zones, image alt texts, on-page SEO elements such as title tags, meta descriptions, URL slugs, and internal links.
Automatically generated content, including unedited machine translations, is a no-go for SEO. Search engines see AI-generated content as “spam”. Thanks to advancements in MT and when employed in combination with a human-in-the-loop, MT can be used for website translation.
Google uses the visible page content to determine the language. Make the page language obvious by only using one language on each page. You could also use Google-supported ways of labeling language or region variants. E.g., hreflang annotations and sitemaps.
Each version will need a different and unique URL to prevent search engines from penalizing your website for duplicate content. E.g., separate domains, subfolders, or subdomains. This helps Google index your site so it can provide users with the correct version and ensures customers can easily find their native language version of your website.
Google not indexing translated content continues to be an issue for many. As well as the points above, John Mueller, Google Search Advocate, suggests providing easy-to-find links of the translated versions on the original page and professionally translating or even rewriting the original page into the web owner’s target languages.
The Trifecta: Website Design, SEO, Translation
Augustin Prot, CEO of Weglot, joined SlatorPod to discuss the complexities of website localization and SEO challenges. He pointed out that, “You cannot just do a translation in the browser on the fly, otherwise, search engines will not see it.” Prot continued by advising “having your translations on the service side, so it means that it is rendered by the server and it is not only in your browser.”
Remember that just because you have translated/localized your original SEO-optimized website, that does not mean that the localized versions are optimized too. Additionally, optimization should always be done for people, not for search engines, and as Alex Katsambas told SlatorPod, “content is king… Google knows what good content is.”