With the internet constantly growing and businesses being able to reach all corners of the planet we are now beginning to see websites that serve multiple languages and regions… OK I may be a bit behind on technology, but despite international sites being present since the beginning of the World Wide Web, international SEO is still an area plenty of sites aren’t implementing correctly. This simply shouldn’t be the case because, despite the concept of an international site sounding quite daunting, making sure a website is welcoming to foreign friends is a simple matter of asking yourself the following questions and adhering to some simple tips.
Multilingual or multi-regional?
This one is more for a sanity check when talking terms – multilingual refers to a website that offers content in more than one language e.g. a site in Belgium that features Dutch, German and French languages. Multi-regional is a site that serves multiple (you guessed it) regions such as an English site that serves the UK and the US. Of course a lot of sites will be both, serving several languages to several regions.
Are your different languages clearly distinguishable?
Assuming you haven’t created a hybrid language from different tongues, what I’m referring to here is make sure your different languages are hosted on different sections/URLs of your site (as opposed to translating through cookies – don’t do that). This can be done in a number of ways:
Top level domains (TLDs)
e.g. noporkpies.co.uk, noporkpies.ua, noporkpies.bg
Top level domains are an easy way to distinguish between languages and have the added bonus of being easily recognisable by Google, making them more likely to be crawled and rank in regional search engines. They also have the added advantage of perceived trust from the user (British people are generally more trusting of a .co.uk domain), they also sound better: “you should check out our site – noporkpies.com/uk/” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Multiple domains can be expensive though and will require more admin work when it comes to hosting as you will need to renew several sites, and separate domains mean separate backlink profiles.
e.g. noporkpies.com/en/, noporkpies.org/hr/, noporkpies.net/hu/
A more cost effective way of internationalising a site is by folder, with each different language sitting under a subfolder of the site. This is a simple way of hosting and organising different languages and by keeping different regions on the same domain it means that website authority is consolidated on one domain and shared between regions. This method of subdividing your site requires a little extra work to ensure Google (and other, equally reputable search engines) knows which section is applicable to each region and also requires a generic TLD such as .com .org etc.
e.g. en.noporkpies.com, ro.noporkpies.com, mk.noporkpies.com
Subdomains are a logical way of organising websites for humans, but not so much for spiders. It is important to remember that authority doesn’t pass between subdomains like it does directories/folders and search engines may consider them separate, as they would for TLDs. Even if you implemented a similar nomenclature, subdomains don’t provide as strong a regional signal as country specific TLDs.
How can I ensure my site is appearing in the right places?
Luckily Google hasn’t left us in the lurch when it comes to prepping your site for their foreign tongued spiders and have supplied us with some tools to ensure our sites are ranking in the right searches in the right languages in the right countries:
Webmaster tools – Geotargeting
Google Webmaster Tools geotargeting allows you to register what regions you want to target your site at. Note this is only if you’re using subfolders and subdomains on a generic top level domain such as a .com (if you’re using country specific domains such as .co.uk then no need to worry).
If you are targeting one domain at several regions you should create separate XML sitemaps for each language section of the site. These will be easier for Googlebot to understand, but more importantly will allow you to monitor issues in countries and languages individually.
Rel Alternate Hreflang
The rel alternate hreflang tag notifies Google of other variations of your page, such as the same content in a different language and/or region. This offers Google a better understanding of your site, the different languages available and how they all relate.
There are also some additional things you can do on page to optimise for international bots, (that should hopefully come naturally) such as using the local language and a local address, telephone number and currency.
In summary if you’re going overseas with your site, investing in international top level domains provides the strongest international signals and has the added benefit of removing the need to geotarget. A close second, and sometimes a more appropriate, approach is to implement international subfolders on one international .com domain and using geotargeting to target the right regions. The rel alternate hreflang tag can be implemented in any of the above scenarios, and should be, to ensure Google knows how your site operates.
Have you got an international site or are you building one? How have you tackled your SEO?