Foreign-language SEO. International SEO. Whatever you want to call it, the idea strikes fear into the hearts of those of us with two years of college Spanish and a summer trip to Rome in our Worldliness repertoire, and even freaks those of us with a little bit more international business and language experience out a little. SEO is nuanced, and it’s not so easy to be nuanced in a language you don’t understand the nuances of. That’s why so many of us do it wrong. Below is a list of what we’re doing wrong…and how we can work to make international SEO a less painful experience for ourselves, and for our different-language visitors.
You only translated one page of your site into another language.
You’re not really doing foreign-language or international SEO if only one page of your site is in French…Spanish…German, etc. But: if it is, it had better contain all of the information you’d most like to convey on that page. If you’re going to have only a single page in each foreign language, treat it like a landing page that’s designed to convert, don’t just translate your simple contact form. Create, test, and optimize. Or, ideally, create an expanded group of foreign-language pages to allow a more complete user experience for foreign visitors.
You directly translated your English copy, with your English keywords.
If you’re paying for translation, it’s worth it to take an extra step and do some keyword research. You don’t know what terms users in other countries and languages use, and maybe your translated term has terrible search volume and ranakability, or isn’t really going to target the same nuanced audience you’re looking for.
You’re cutting the wrong corners to save cost.
It is expensive to have a native foreign language speaker who also speaks your language very well write copy or translate yours in a way that makes sense both linguistically and conceptually. If you locate a go-to translator/editor who is willing to audit work produced by others, you can get work done more quickly and cheaply. Find students or other freelancers who can write or translate for you, and use a trusted expert to make sure what they’re producing is of good quality.
You’re wasting money where your market is not.
This can be tricky. If your site isn’t in French, and not appearing organically for people who are searching in France, how the heck can you know if your market is there? There are options. Many of our clients with long-standing international business understand the competitive landscape in their industry and know that some countries or regions just sell better than others. If you or your customer have this data, you can use it to determine where it will be wisest to allocate your translation and copy addition resources, as well as to gain an understanding of the type of information visitors in various regions will be looking for on your site. In the absence of this knowledge, if you run a PPC campaign, you can use PPC data in conjunction with Google Analytics to determine your success rates in various countries and languages and choose targets.
You’re pretending you don’t need inbound links for your foreign language pages.
Linkbuild in the same language! Find local directories to which you can submit your site, and proceed with link building in the same way as you would for your English-speaking audience. The trickiest part of this is again finding the same audiences you’d appeal to for English link-building. Making alliances with similar-industry partners in other countries can help you develop relationships, a community (and links!) in that country while helping your counterparts create the same in your country.
You’re tackling too much at once.
Be realistic about the time and finances you can commit to your international SEO efforts. If the potential customer base is large enough to justify it, begin an international SEO campaign with basic research and site optimization and continue expanding into wider efforts with conversion optimization, link building, and social media integration as you are ready to commit the resources they require.
You haven’t set targeted countries in Google Webmaster Tools.
It’s not feasible for a lot of people to host a separate site on a different domain in each targeted country. As such, a lot of us end up with subdomains or subdirectory specifications for different countries. If you have such a site, you can tell Google Webmaster Tools to target users in that country. As Google explains in Webmaster Tools help, unless you have a country-specific domain, it will use server IP address information to determine your site’s targeting, which will put you at a disadvantage should a user request to limit the scope of their searches to a particular country. Setting a language here will not stop you from appearing in other countries, it will simply allow your country-specific subdomain or subdirectory with a “generic” domain extension to appear in “country specific” search results if a user asks for them. As Google explains, this tool allows you to target geographically, not by language, so keep that in mind when setting your geographic target.
You’re not considering the internal linking structure between your languages.
Both for the sake of users and for crawlers, Google recommends you link each page to its other-language counterparts, so that users who arrive at a page in, for example, French can easily see its Spanish counterpart if that’s what they’d prefer. Remember this isn’t PPC, and you don’t get to control which such accuracy what a user will find in their organic search results.
You’re not considering search engines aside from Google and Yahoo.
If your customers are in a country where Google or Yahoo aren’t the predominantly used search engines, you’re going to have to figure out how to play nice with the boss there. We recently wrote about the challenges Baidu brings up in terms of offering our sites to 20% of the world’s population, and this is important to consider for anyone targeting China.
And that’s it! Well, not ALL of it. If you have more suggestions for easing the international SEO process, let me know!
Jessica is an Account Supervisor at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.