International Content / SEO Strategy

A human understands what is going on when they see content in two languages on a single web page, but a search engines may have trouble figuring out which country search index it belongs in.

Multilingual Search SEO Strategy by Mark SpragueMultilingual SEO presents a set of problems that must be dealt with on a number of levels. Not only do you have the problem of properly translating your English-oriented website into another language, you also have to deal with a number of technical issues that impact your SEO footprint. These issues include the flexibility of your content management systems, your domain name strategy, the software platform that you’re using and real estate display issues, such as getting text to fit in the original allotted space (e.g., buttons and menus).

At the highest level these are the important issues you will have to deal with, and we will talk about the first four in this post:

  1. Content Management Systems
  2. Domain Name Strategy
  3. Language Issues
  4. Country-Specific Search Engines
  5. Getting into Country-Specific Search Engine
  6. Webmaster Tools
  7. Source Code / Meta Data
  8. Keyword Research
  9. Search Behavior
  10. Linking Strategy
  11. SEO Issues to Think About

Content Management Systems (CMS)

Call Lexington eBusiness ConsultingDoes your website have a critical mass in content and refresh this content regularly? Do you use a CMS platform to manage and deploy content to your website? If so, you should make sure that your software platform gives you full editorial control over all Meta data, and you should think about the following issues that plague certain CMS platforms.

  1. If your CMS platform generates URLs that contain numbers, parameters and session IDs, these can often be problematic for search engine crawlers, and you could end up with a diminished SEO footprint from the start.
  2. Can you edit English words easily in extended URL strings?
  3. Can you edit individual Title Tags and Description Tags data on an ad hoc basis?
  4. Does your CMS platform force dynamic URLs that you cannot modify?
  5. Does your CMS platform prevent you from changing your Header and Alt Tags?

If your company is using one of the free open source platforms, keep these observations in mind.

  • WordPress has a Multi-Lingual plug-in available that is template-driven but hard to edit. It requires modification of the template to achieve your SEO goals.
  • Joomla has a multi-lingual plug-in available called JommFish. But, has a reputation as not being very SEO friendly.
  • Drupal has a strong developer community and a reputation for being SEO friendly.

Domain Name Strategy for SEO Localization

There are essentially four ways to deploy a language specific website. These four options do come with trade-offs, and I will talk about those in a little more detail. The four options are:

  1. Deploy your website in-country using that country’s domain-TLD. This is the best option, but there are significant costs associated with this strategy.
  2. If you have significant brand-capital invested in your website, you could redirect the CC TLD to a sub-folder or sub-domain in your English website.
  3. You can create a sub-domain for each one of your foreign language properties.
  4. You can create a sub-folder for each of your foreign language properties

If you decide to go the sub-folder or sub-domain route, make sure that you register these folders and sub-domains as separate accounts (set geographic target) with your search engine’s webmaster tools.

Language Issues

How does a search engine such as Google decide if you belong in one of their country-specific search indexes? Google can detect pages written in German, but it may be hard to identify whether it is Dutch German or Swiss German, if no other indicators are available.

What if your website has multiple languages on a single page? A human may understand what you are doing but search engines may have trouble figuring out which country search index it belongs in. Make sure you do the following to ensure you end up in the proper country search index.

  1. Make sure your website has a declared language in the HTML source code.
  2. Make sure your language is declared in your webmaster tools account.
  3. If you have your foreign language website in a sub-folder hosted for example, in San Francisco, you will need to declare the language / country for that folder.

Language Translation Issues

  1. Declaring a language is merely the first step, Google is interested in indexing only high-quality websites with substantive content. Keep these issues in mind when you are developing your new foreign language website.
  2. Auto-translation technologies can be a real timesaver, but sometimes result in poor quality content if the results are not curated. Google is suspicious of auto-generated content, so if you use auto-translation technologies make sure that a real person reviews and edits the work for grammar, coherence and local nuance.
  3. Have a native speaker translate your website and keywords – recent college graduates who are not native speakers will rarely pick up the nuance that comes from a lifetime of growing up and living in the country.
  4. Translating keywords without understanding how consumers actually search for hamburgers and insurance in France is problematic. Again local nuance is required.
  5. Having a lot of English slang in your website copy will present problems. Most of the time you will never be able to translate this into a second language.
  6. Jargon detection will be an issue. A lot of English business and technical jargon in your foreign language website may not be the best way to engage your global customers.
  7. There is a great deal of variability of term usage from one Spanish-speaking country to another.
  8. Gender is not much of a language issue in the US, but it certainly is elsewhere in the world.

Language / Technology Issues

If you have mastered how search engine technologies work in the English language that’s great. This will give you greater insight into how you can maximize your website presence. However, keep in mind that there are technical issues when translating to another language that will change how you should be thinking about search technologies. For example:

  1. Search engine relevance algorithms differ from language to language. For example, stemming does not work very well in Romanic languages (Spanish, French or Portuguese). Stemming allows you to associate terms such as compute and computing.
  2. Word order differs from country to country, which impacts search results.
  3. Search engine spam filters currently are not as advanced, and don’t work as well outside of English content. However, I think this will be a short-term problem.
  4. The use of hyphens and underscores in URL strings in Asian languages, and the use of tilde and accents (vs. the ASCII English equivalent ) in a URL.

Country-Specific Search Engines

Understand who the dominant search engines are for each country. Don’t assume that Google is the dominant player. For example, in France there are 15 search engines alone to deal with.

  1. www.adminet.com/comp/
  2. fr.altavista.com/
  3. www.club-internet.fr/selection/
  4. www.cocorico.com/
  5. www.pratique.fr/
  6. www.google.com/intl/fr/
  7. www.hotbot.fr/
  8. www.indexa.fr/
  9. www.kartoo.com/
  10. www.lycos.fr/
  11. nomade.aliceadsl.fr/
  12. www.telefrance.com/
  13. www.voila.fr/
  14. www.walhello.com/mainfr.html
  15. fr.yahoo.com/  

For a comprehensive list of search engines from throughout the world check Steve Arnold’s website, which has a list of close to 500 search engines listed by country.

Find Out More about Multilingual SEO

In this post I have dealt with the first four topics in the following list that impact multi-lingual SEO.

  1. Content Management Systems
  2. Domain Name Strategy
  3. Language Issues
  4. Country-Specific Search Engines
  5. Getting into Country-Specific Search Engine
  6. Webmaster Tools
  7. Source Code / Meta Data
  8. Keyword Research
  9. Search Behavior
  10. Linking Strategy
  11. SEO Issues to Think About

“We have worked with Mark Sprague and the Lexington Consulting Group over the last 15 years. There are few people that have the expertise and experience to stay current in the ever changing world of technology. We heartily recommend Mark and his colleagues.”  Robert E. Shapiro, CEO, Waterford Development Corp.

If you would like to find out more about the rest of the international SEO issues in the above list, send me an email at Mark@MSprague.com or call me now at 781-862-3126.

Lexington eBusiness Consulting

About Lexington eBusiness Consulting

Providing comprehensive International SEO services to the Asheville NC community…

Mark Sprague’s 25 years of product development experience, which includes expertise in Search Engines, Information Products, SEO platforms and Social Networking applications provide in-depth expertise to help you refine products and services, and improve your search engine marketing and websites performance by:

  • Developing a superior data-driven SEO strategy for your website.
  • Understanding your customers’ search behavior and normalizing it to your content strategy.
  • Understanding how search engine technology practically impacts SEO and content strategies.
  • Understanding how search technology impacts content in a social networking environment.
  • Developing a superior user experience based on sound information architecture, usability and coding standards.

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Mark Sprague,  CEO
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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. musicindustryseo
    Feb 24, 2013 @ 09:32:39

    I’m very new to SEO…not so new to language…was curious about all of this. Thanks


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