The first rule for international SEO when working with languages and translation is never use machine translation. Machine translation is very hit and miss, leads to a bad user experience and mediocre referencing.
Content translations must always be done by a human being who speaks the source and destination languages fluently. If you are dealing with regional differences it is recommended to use a translator who comes from the country concerned or who lives in the region.
Increasing the translation budget slightly will ensure a better user experience and improved organic traffic.
URL / Domain Name
When creating a multi-lingual site the first decision to make for international SEO, after which countries to target, is the URL structure.
This is a very important decision, because once you have chosen a structure, every time you add a new country you will need to use the same model. Changing the URL structure later is difficult and will see a short-term decrease in your organic traffic.
In my order of preference, your choices are as follows:
Sub-directories. This is my preferred configuration because it uses the same domain and sub-domain everywhere. This means you can utilise some of the organic traffic that you have already built with the other country zones, or the initial site. This configuration works well for adding different country translations later.
Note: If you use sub-directories for the country and the language always start with the country, then the language. Example: www.voxnative.com/us/es (for the US in Spanish) ou www.voxnative.com/ca/fr (for Canada in French).
CcTLD (country coded top level domain). This is the strongest signal that you are concentrating your content on a specific country. They automatically geo-target. But this also has a drawback. If you have started with a ccTLD and you develop another language later you cant then use a sub-directory in the ccTLD later. For example: www.domain.ca/us will not work to target the US, the target will still be Canada.
Sub-domains. This is my last choice because you stay on the same domain. But if your technical team prefers it, you can use sub-domains for geo-targeting. You should register each sub-domain in Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools and define the geo target for each one.
Country Targeting / Geolocation
Geolocation usually works by automatically looking up an IP address on a WHOIS service and retrieving the registrant’s physical address, to serve the user the correct language version of your site.
If your content changes according to the user’s location, country targeting is for you. If you offer different products or if your delivery costs, prices, images or descriptions are different then you should go down that road.
Dont use geolocation if your content or your offer doesn’t change or if you dont have the necessary resources to change the content. If you direct targeted content in any URL structure (ccTLD, sub-domains ou folders) and the content is identical you take the risk that users receive the wrong content.
Content is the added value of your site. It represents about 80% of SEO, and this is the same for international SEO. This is why it has to be rich, unique and perfectly adapted to the destination countries. I can’t stress too much the importance of creating local content, which is to say articles that are relevant to the country concerned. It is the best way to be referenced by foreign search engines.
The best way of finding out what content to provide for the target country is to carry out market research. There are several ways that you can change your content to target a new country. The main ones are as follows:
If you offer different products and services in different countries by eliminating those that are not in demand, forbidden or not required or adding specific new products for that country that changes your site’s content.
The meaning of product names can change in different countries. The way in which a specific region names a product or a service can also change, which means you need to change the term used to describe your product or service de produit ou de service.
With international SEO it is important to adapt your key words to the local language and trends. This means you need to search for the terms that are used the most in the relevant local market.
One of the things that changes the most often in country specific content is the price. There is the currency difference, but additionally different countries have different markets for products which will change your pricing structure.
You may have to change the images on your site to adapt to different cultures. It is essential to understand the culture of your local market if you want your marketing to work.
Laws, rules and regulations
Another big reason to change your content is to satisfy local rules and regulations. This will depend on each company and what they are selling. Some products are subject to a lot of regulations while some will have hardly any. Check local competition to see what you should do and employ a specialist in local law for your sales conditions. For example, the cookie law in Europe requires you to warn users that cookies are being used on your site, but this is not necessary in the USA.
If you want to be referenced by foreign search engines, it is important for your hosting to be in the destination country. Local hosting has a positive impact on the indexation of your site by these search engines.
Coding: Hreflang and XML sitemaps
One of the solutions to the problem of getting the correct language to your clients and improving international SEO is by using hreflang attributes (rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x”). They are used by Google (and Yandex) to correctly identify the language and the country targeting of multilingual websites. (Note that Bing uses a “content-language” meta tag).
Imagine you have an English page at http://www.mydomain.com/, with a French version at http://fr.mydomain.com/. According to Google you can indicate that the French URL is equivalent of the English page using hreflang attributes basically in two ways:
1. An HTML link in the header. In the HTML section of http://www.mydomain.com/, add a link element pointing to the French version of that webpage at http://fr.example.com/, like this:
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en” href=”https://www.voxnative.com/” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr” href=”http://fr.voxnative.com/” />
2. A sitemap. Instead of using an HTML link in header, you can include language version information in an XML Sitemap.
An XML sitemap is an easy way to provide search engines with a list of all the pages that are available on your site. XML sitemaps are submitted to search engines so they can crawl your website in a more effective way.
(Be careful not to confuse XML sitemaps with HTML sitemaps, which allows users to easily navigate a website. Users can go to the Sitemap to locate a page they are unable to find by searching or navigating through your website menus.)
XML Sitemaps usually include a list of URLs and optional information about each URL such as:
- Its importance (priority of URL relative to other URLs)
- How often it changes (daily, weekly, monthly, never, etc)
- The date it was last changed.
- Images or videos included on each URL.
For multi-lingual websites, sitemaps also can include information about alternative language URLs (the hreflang annotation).
There are several differing opinions about using XML sitemaps, and they are not always relevant or necessary. Also Google recommends choosing only one way to implement hreflang annotations, in order to avoid errors.
Once your site is live and your tagging in place you can check problems in the Google Search Console. This will help you to identify incorrect tags.
User experience and IP redirects
One of the major things that companies are concerned about when selling in other countries is making sure that their users receive the right content. This is particularly important when products change and purchasing the wrong product would cause problems for the user or if the product is not available in their country. To avoid over-loading customer service and any legal problems, and to improve your bounce rate you need to make sure your users reach the right country version of your site.
In conclusion content is still king for your international SEO, in particular when it’s translated into several languages, but a bit of technique and careful localisation by a native speaker can help you to get to that coveted first page.
Here is a video from Google on the subject.