The following survival guide to multilingual SEO will take you through the 3 key stages of tactical international SEO implementation, complete with tried and tested first-hand experience in what really works.
I will introduce some of the great tools available (some free) that allow you to research and implement your own international SEO strategy. Although I advise professional management in certain parts, much of the investigative work and conceptualization can be done by yourself, making the process cheaper and giving you control over the scope and direction of the project.Let’s get started.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is dependent on recognition of search patterns. How a potential customer searches for your product or service; the terms, phrases and keywords they use, the search engines they choose, the time of day and frequency of search, are all pivotal in identification of trends and the subsequent ability of a business to optimise their online activity in a bid to rank higher and increase incoming site traffic.
When approaching international SEO, the process becomes more complex. An appropriate SEO strategy will consider local culture as well as language, and a detailed research process will ensue. The benefits of getting multilingual SEO right include improved targeting and subsequently an increase in quality traffic, enquiries and conversions.
Foreign markets must be addressed on an individual basis and targeted in accordance with key market demographics and with consideration of local buying behaviours. Although Google reigns supreme as global leader, opportunities still exist for local search engines.
Having undergone complete site migration to a new platform, Language Connect was able to rebuild and restructure content to improve SenSEO scores. Here’s how the team at Language Connect recently applied multilingual SEO tactics to improve SERP positioning for the German version of the company website.
Step 1 – Keyword Research
Assuming you have already identified sufficient opportunity to justify moving into your chosen international market (based on detailed research into supply & demand, current online/search activity and competitor analysis) it is time to research your keywords.
Assuming you do not speak the target language, the first step is to identify your target keywords in English using a keyword tool (Google Adwords is the most popular and can also be used for multilingual analysis). In conjunction with this, Language Connect used LSI Keywords – an indexing tool that discovers words and phrases related to your chosen keywords across all online content. This free tool is great at providing a list of key terms that when used together, are guaranteed to give your content distinct competitive advantage.
Language Connect also used Google’s Global Market Finder to support international keyword research. This is a global market tool used to research foreign opportunities by English language keywords.
Your keyword shortlist will ideally serve as a ‘brief’ when you enlist the help of a mother-tongue translator with search marketing experience to provide in-country interpretation of keyword context. Your research will determine the focus market and provide guidance on the type/s of search traffic you intend to attract.
Mother-tongue translators researched our chosen terms in the native language (German) to see if they translated contextually; identifying where any adaptions to terminology needed to be made.
Tip: always ask your translation professional to provide back-translations to ensure you are aware of text variances and have a good understanding of the rationale behind divergence from original target terms.
Things to consider: there is less choice in terms of keyword research tools in most other languages, and search volume is often far lower. In addition, grammar and spelling (use of accents etc.) varies between languages and searches, and inconsistencies can affect trends.
Step 2 – Competitor Research and Auditing
Ok, so you have identified your list of target terms with the help of a professional linguist-come-search marketing specialist. Now it’s time to expand on your research and see which companies are competing for the same search terms as you. What are their on-page SEO scores?
The team at Language Connect used SEM rush – a great tool that provides a detailed account of the vital search engine stats of your competitors. In addition to this, our translators conducted in-country keyword research across English and German search engines to make sure all keywords applied to all engines and markets.
Identifying how your competitors are ranking will help you gain insight into the ways in which multiple search engines manage page authorities and rankings. We will never know exactly how search engine algorithms are decided and arranged, but we can second guess and make educated assumptions, and then test our own theories using multivariate testing. Understanding competitor strategies will mean you can choose whether to replicate or differentiate to achieve the best results.
A technical audit should be conducted for the international market to address items such as:
- Geo-selection v language-targeting: is your website language oriented or geographically oriented?
- International domain names: will you choose a country-specific top level domain or sub-folder/sub-domain?
Auditing is a timely but essential task and should also include elements such as identification of content duplication between existing international versions and an internal linking audit.
Step 3 – Optimising Your Content
This is the ‘no brainer’ section. Ultimately, your multilingual SEO strategy depends on quality content in every target language.
As a rule of thumb:
- Use keywords wisely – they should not be packed into text that doesn’t read well.
- Visitors to your site arrive with a specific goal in mind – you have approximately 3 seconds to engage them. Make content ‘skimmable’ by using headings, bullet points and visuals.
- Check your SEO scores and see how your page ranks. A page scoring 80+ is considered to be very well optimised. Refresh content regularly in line with regular keyword research to boost your score and ensure your site remains current.
For more information on multilingual content creation see my previous post; If content is king, is quality translation queen?
Tip: content should be localized – this means that the content you produce for your native site should not be directly translated into the target language. It should be adapted to address cultural nuances, such as notational conventions, differences in symbols, colour associations, colloquial slogans and payment preferences. See Delivering a locally relevant customer experience.
Multilingual SEO in Action!
Here’s a summary of our in-house project – a good example of how investment in keywords can almost instantly convert to business.
Company: Language Connect
Task: Improve SEO of German website – in particular, the homepage and interpreting service page
Where Language Connect Started:
- SenSEO grade 66/100 for keyword übersetzungsbüro (translation) on homepage.
- SenSEO grade 63/100 for keyword Dolmetschen (interpreting) on interpreting service page.
The outcome: having followed the process above and then periodically tracking traffic volume and keyword density in relation to competitor scores and content developments, on-page scores were improved within 2 weeks to:
- SenSEO: 80/100 homepage
- SenSEO: 80/100 interpreting service pageerman website click through rates have since increased by 2.59% resulting in a huge increase in conversions (35%) as a result of improved quality of traffic.
About the author: As Marketing Copywriter for leading language service provider, Language Connect, I am keen to offer insight into industry debate; projecting what I believe to be important and asking you for your opinions.
I am particularly interested in digital progression and discussions on how businesses are expected to react to these changes.
I have a varied background in Marketing and Copywriting in the Magazine, Accountancy, Recruitment and Language industries. I hold a BA in English & American Literature and a Professional Diploma with the Chartered Institute of Marketing body.