Last Updated: July 4, 2019 7:40AM
SEO in any language is a constant push-and-pull. When you optimize your web content, you must necessarily strike a balance between quantity and quality. You strive to drive as many visitors as possible to your site, but they should be the right visitors: the ones who find answers and inspiration in your content. Search engines reward you for having a high volume of visitors—provided they stick around once they’ve made it to your site.
That’s a tall enough order for a site you’re managing in one language. How do you ensure high-quality SEO when working with a multilingual, multi-national site?
Truly optimizing your international SEO is doable. Start by keeping the following common-sense maxims in mind.
1. Speak like local people
For your English content to drive solid engagement, it needs to resonate with your reader. That same truth applies to multilingual content. To make your content soar, you need to speak to your customers in their local languages—everywhere.
That means you need local writers who understand the nuances of each language and its associated culture. And it means you can’t assume an English-only version of your site is a viable long-term option if you’re trying to capture the hearts and minds of customers who speak a different native language. Don’t confuse ability for preference—just because your customers can speak English doesn’t mean they want to.
“Generally, the more people are spending the more they will want to see content in their own language,” wrote Emily Mace in this Search Engine Watch piece. Besides, she continues, “users in your international markets are more likely to be searching in their local language and not in English, so even if they are comfortable purchasing from you in English, they might not find your site as they will be searching for your products or services in their local language.”
It’s an important point—consider not just how multilingual customers will engage with the content you post, but also how they will find you in the first place. That means you need to conduct localized keyword research. It also means, increasingly, that you need to consider the vernacular that drives your customers’ voice searches. The rise of voice as a search medium naturally corresponds with longer keywords, as users ask long questions rather than type in short “keywords.” Tailoring content to a local audience and anticipating that audience’s questions becomes even more critical.
2. Know your audience
When you’re optimizing your multilingual web pages, you need to ensure you truly know your international audience. That means understanding their needs and voices, but it also means understanding tangible logistics about their region.
For example, are you sure you’re writing your content for the right target language or dialect? If you’re writing in Switzerland, for example, are you writing in German? High German? French? If you’re writing in Quebec, are you sure your French follows the parameters of Quebecois French vs. Parisian French? These seemingly small differences could pay huge dividends on the efficacy of your SEO.
Similarly, are you sure the multimedia content you’ve chosen are appropriate for the culture you’re targeting? Multimedia localization is complex — and it includes optimizing multimedia file structure, voiceover translation, subtitle, animation production, and imagery. You wouldn’t simply duplicate English text on your multilingual website—don’t copy and paste your imagery and video content, either.
And finally, but equally importantly, you need to understand SEO’s ultimate audience: the local search engine by which visitors find your pages. It’s safe to assume that you need to optimize your site for Google’s algorithms in most places—but that assumption is not universal.
“While Google is by far the most popularly used of the search engines around the world, in some countries, there are locally grown search engines that are far more popular than Google,” writes Motoko Hunt in this Search Engine Journal piece. She lists China, Russia, eastern European countries, and South Korea as nations that require “some extra attention to monitor these local sites and for additional optimization work.”
3. Give your house a strong foundation
As you prepare to optimize your on-page content for international audiences, make sure you’ve built the back end of your site with a strong foundation. Have you weighed the pros and cons of your various options for site structure? For example, will you purchase a country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) for each new locale you target, or will you choose to create subdomains or subdirectories for each new location and language? The right choice for one company—depending on budget, human resources, and bandwidth—might not be right for another.
It might seem that this should go without saying, but your site also needs to work the way it is intended in every region. Ensure the site’s links are fully functional, that pages load quickly, and that you have a team prepared to address questions in-language in real-time.
As Charles Travers writes in this FineTune post, “How prepared is your hosting company for you to receive 2x as much traffic to your website? Hint: they’re not. So, you need to have web technologies in place that not only support your existing audience but are also capable of supporting users from multiple countries. And lots of them!”
Succeeding in international SEO is a necessary component in forging strong connections and brand association with customers around the world. To do international SEO well, you need to weigh a considerable number of factors. But if you start with common sense—speaking like a local, knowing your audience, and building a strong foundation—you’ll be well on your way.
Need help going global? We can help with all your multilingual website and content needs, from localized keyword research to multimedia localization to international SEO. Contact us to learn more.