3 simple steps to improve your multilingual sites


Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Nowadays, a multilingual website is of crucial importance to reach out to more global markets. In most cases, the website may be intended for countries with several official languages but most of all for companies’ internationalization, which leads to a bigger market size.

There are many advantages coming out of a proper country-based customization, which will eventually lead to a better Conversion Rate with the help of a better brand credibility. The possibility to address customers in their own language is a highly valuable asset if you intend to reach new markets. Users being able to navigate your site in their own mother tongue will more likely generate conversions.

Anyway, before moving any further with multilingual websites, it’s preferred having a solid structure for your site – particularly in terms of SEO. This helps search engines getting a better understanding of topics and targets of your site, as well as the need for multilingual content. It is also important to identify which search engines are used the most in the countries you’re targeting, to have a better and customized optimization. If your main target market is Russia, you should take a look at Yandex and its best practices to get more customers from there (here you find some SEO tips on the matter).

Once your website is ready to be a real polyglot, it is good considering different pros and cons for each type of implementation. The final goal is to give both your audience and search engines a clear way to detect the site’s language.

 

Choose a convenient URL structure

The very first matter concerns the URL structure of your site: there are mainly three ways to take care of that, trying to better match your needs and targets.

 

Recommended: Country code top-level domain (website.fr, website.es):

+ Probably the most popular solution, it is widely used by companies operating in different countries. No matter where the server is located, referring to a country code in your Top Level Domain (ccTLD) will get your site easily geotargeted.

On the other hand, while creating a clear separation of sites, costs and availability could be an obstacle, which sometimes brings webmasters to different and cheaper solutions.

 

Sub-directories (website.com/fr, website.com/es):

+ Easier to implement, this option makes use of the same host for different languages. It could be good to manually geotarget the different versions of your site on Google’s Search Console (more info here)

Anyway, users might still be unable to localize your website, since no particular country (but just the language) is specified. This is the case of German pages, which may refer to Austria, Germany and/or Switzerland using only a “/de” subdirectory.

 

Sub-domains (fr.website.com, es.website.com):

+ Another easy-to-set-up solution, that still gives the chance for manual geotargeting on Google’s Search Console.

Despite the clear separation of websites, the user could still find hard getting the site’s geotargeting (as happens with the use of sub-directories).

Keywords, backlinks and more custom-tailored solutions

After deciding which URL solution fits your needs, be sure that the site language gets easily identified by humans and bots. In order to achieve this task, there are a few suggestions that may seem obvious at first, but that should never be taken for granted.
First things first: use only one language for your content. Sometimes pages get automatically translated (you can block search engines to access these pages using a robot.txt file). Users’ experience relies on the quality of the translation, which is often too sloppy to be compared to “handcrafted” content.
A nice way to improve the website usability comes through the use of cross-linked domains. Clearly showing links to different versions of the website helps users to find the language/country of interest in just one click.

Not to forget: search engines crawl your site as a long series of text files. Having specific information within the content (like addresses and phone numbers) surely improve the chances of a fast and efficient geotargeting.

A common issue regards the use of different keywords (and words combination) from region to region. For example, Spanish speakers, even if sharing a common language, may find your web page through very different queries. Mexican users tend to mix up Spanish and American words, while web surfers from Spain usually stick to their own language.
These issues matter a lot, if you intend to gain visibility in a specific country. Try to analyze keywords’ search volume, to match your visitors needs the best way. A more personalized content, which is not a mere translation but a country-sized rendition of the original, helps your site both in terms of SEO and user experience.

Additionally, having backlinks from local websites gives search engine a good reference – the more links are acquired from a specific country, the easier is for the website to get geo-targeted.

 

hreflang for language and regional URLs

Sometimes you want the same content to be available in different languages through different domains; or maybe you just want to let search engines know about the multilingual versions of your website, so that the right pages are displayed on search results.
In these cases, especially for Google optimization, the use of hreflang tags clearly states which languages and regions are the target of your content.
Let’s say you want the English language site website.com to have a German version. To make Google understand it, you can put a link to the German and English version in the HTML section of all your pages. As a good praxis, it is highly recommendable to list each language version on each of your site’s pages.

Links to alternate versions usually look like this:

But, what if you’d like to target specific countries even if they share the same language?
In this case, you could write a specific German content for Switzerland, using a hreflang=”de-ch” tag (where de is the language and ch the country code), while the more generic hreflang=”de” will serve any German speaker, no matter where they’re located.
You can also choose specific languages used within the same country.To do that, simply keep the same country code, changing the language accordingly. It is possible to address German, French and Italian speakers living in Switzerland, offering a dedicated content for each of their idioms (hreflang=”de-ch”, hreflang=”fr-ch”, hreflang=”it-ch”). Just remember: using only the country code doesn’t give search engines enough information to detect your site’s language.

Another way to achieve the same goal is by integrating these information in a Sitemap (more info here), even if most of the companies use the section to list each language version of the page.

 

Summary

To sum it up, here’s what’s essential to do if you want your site to be read and optimized in other languages.

  • Select the markets in which you want to expand your business.
  • Identify the resources to translate your website the best way.
  • Choose the right URL structure. Country-code top level domains (ccTLD) are usually highly recommended.
  • Use only one language for your site, adding local addresses and contacts where possible.
  • Make clear for users where to find alternate versions of your page (cross-linked domains).
  • Analyze keywords’ search volume for each country to better match users’ queries. This improves both ranking and UX.
  • Try to acquire backlinks from local websites.
  • Insert hreflang tags accordingly, specifying language and country code.

Now, with all this in mind, you’re ready to conquer new markets, remembering that multilingual websites need periodic updates. Always get informed about new trends on this topic, providing local customers the best content and user experience.