Recently, I worked on an SEO project whereby a global tech site’s Page Titles and Meta Descriptions were written in English and within Google’s current character limits—60 and 320, respectively and including spaces.
Yet, near the end of the project, we learned that the site needed to be translated into 15 different languages for users across the globe.
Instead of rewriting the unique Page Titles and Meta Descriptions in each of the 15 languages, it was decided by the client that we’d pare down the English versions to allow for increased characters counts once Google automatically translated them.
Anyone else see the multiple layers of problems here?
The deadline-driven decision meant that instead of taking full advantage of the allowable character limits in the SERPs, we needed to essentially cut those in half to account for languages that inherently display a higher number of characters, such as German.
So, we sliced our valuable SERP real estate in half for the main, English version. And all other non-English speaking audiences received a terrible, bot-translated user experience.
Multilingual SEO Best Practices – What Would Google Do?
Google recommends that we create websites with users in mind. If you’re targeting users that speak a language other than English, you should translate your site. That means all parts of your site, including the metadata that help users find content.
According to Google, a multilingual website offers content in more than one language. A multi-regional website explicitly targets users in different countries. Achieving a multilingual, multi-regional website means creating multiple versions of your site. That can get you into trouble if you consider that any errors or issues will also be multiplied!
When Do You Need to Translate Your Website?
If you’re not actively targeting non-English-speakers, the first thing to do is consider whether you really need to do a translation at all.
Check your site for traffic from other countries and languages. Use Google Analytics to see the keywords used to reach your site and identify the pages people land on. Pay attention to the visits and conversions per country. And Use Google Webmaster Tools, SEMRush, or SearchMetrics to identify your site’s search visibility from other countries.
Your research here will suggest how important it is for you to do a translation, and the keywords you identify will be useful when focusing your new pages.
Aside from translating the content itself, you should also translate all SEO meta data.
How to Approach a Multilingual Site Translation
Google Translate is helpful in some circumstances, but it’s just not good enough for the efficacy and marketing of your website.
Aside from confusing your readers, automatically translated content may be marked as spam. You really do need to invest in manual translation from a qualified translator.
There are two ways to do an SEO translation. One way is to translate your site, then optimize the new version by making sure it includes the right keywords and correcting the length of meta data. This seems like a low-fidelity approach. It’s understandable for businesses that have many pages to translate and/or a limited budget, but it’s not the most effective approach.
I recommend a more thorough approach, however, which would mean identification of native target keywords and incorporation into content as the translation is performed. Here’s a breakdown of this methodology:
1. Assign 1-2 target phrases for each landing page.
2. Find other related keywords in that language.
3. Use keyword research tools to find out the search volume and difficulty of keywords in other languages. You might start with Ahrefs.
4. Make sure that you include these keywords in the following locations:
• Page Title
• Meta Description
• H1 Title
• URLs – Translating your URLs will help your SEO. It’s best to use clean URLs, so you’ll want to avoid accents. If you don’t use a content management system that converts translated URLs into clean URLs (WordPress and Drupal have plugins that do this), this tool will help you remove accents from letters.
5. Incorporate these keywords within natural sentence flow within the content, but don’t overdo it.
Ironically, Google’s AI and bots are working harder and harder to make search more human. With your translation, you should pay more attention to spelling and grammar than using keywords. You certainly shouldn’t force keywords into a page where they don’t seem to belong. The days of keyword stuffing are long over, and if you’re site’s CMS still has a Keywords field in the meta data, remove it.
If you’re targeting non-English-speaking users, translate every part of your site, including the meta data. Pay attention to the quality of your translation. Consider localization, so that you’re talking about the right currencies, for example. Measurements might need to be changed from inches to centimeters. And slang or ambiguous phrases should be weeded out for clarity. The details matter, no matter which language your audience speaks and reads.