So, You Want to Know About Foreign Language SEO? Mozinar Q&A
Posted by Zeph Snapp
This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.
I was grateful for the opportunity to do a Mozinar about foreign language SEO. There were a ton of questions from viewers, and while I was able to get to most of them, there were a few topics that I wasn’t able to cover in the detail they deserved.
There has been a lot of talk lately about what SEO is, and what it will become. One of the main things that SEOs have to think about every day is opportunity cost. We’ve also started looking at the world through a long-term lens rather than just short term wins (although quick wins are always great). Foreign language SEO plays on both sides of the field. You have to think long-term, but there are certainly opportunities for quick wins. Out of the top ten economies in the world today, only two of them are English-dominant. None of the primarily Spanish-speaking countries rank, but if you combine them, the Spanish speaking world would be firmly entrenched in the number five spot.
Online, the tendencies are the same. Spanish is in third place as far as Internet languages, and while English is still in first, other languages are gaining fast. Unfortunately for foreign language SEO, over 50% of the web is in English. This means that foreign language SERP’s are serving inferior results. There are massive opportunities for those brave enough to go after them, and you don’t necessarily have to go overseas…
The Spanish-speaking market in the US is huge. Obviously not all Hispanics prefer Spanish, but there are a fair amount that do. While translating your website is not a cure-all, it is certainly a start.
Now, let's dive into those Mozinar Q&A questions!
1. What is the best way to see if your client has a market for Spanish or another language?
I provided a quick explanation of how to do this in the webinar, but let's break it down again:
- Take your top five converting keywords and drop them into Google Translate.
- Take the translated terms and put them into the Google Keyword Tool.
- Make sure to set up exact match, as well as the language and country settings. I also like to ask that it only return results that are related to my terms. If I don’t get results with searches, I can always run it again without that filter.
- See if the numbers justify going after that market.
If you are looking to further prove your case, you can search Twitter and bios for the top terms using Followerwonk, check the terms on Facebook to see if there are fan pages or groups, and check for related groups on LinkedIn. Because social is a big part of the process, I highly recommend this option. Always over-deliver when building a case!
In-depth foreign language keyword research is no walk in the park, but check out this post for some tips primarilty on Spanish keyword research if you are interested.
2. What patterns do you see that differentiate users in Spanish vs. those in English as it relates to SEO?
This is a HUGE question deserving of its own presentation, but the short answer is that you first have to think about how different Spanish speakers are unique in and of themselves. As it relates to SEO, these are the main differences that I see:
- We use social for recommendations.
- Searcher intent is different. We see more informational queries than transactional. This is not a universal truth, but simply our experience.
- Brand loyalty is high. If someone has a good experience with a company, they are very likely to be a repeat customer, and in many cases recommend the service or product to friends and family.
- Mobile is growing at a tremendous rate. Make sure that your website is ready for that.
3. Do you recommend a startup company to have a multi-language site right away when it’s building its main site?
That depends on the size of your market and whether or not you have the budget. I usually tell startups to figure out how to serve the market in their own language before trying to get customers from other countries. The exception, of course, is if your native language has few speakers or is not in need of the product. Then it is best to start with English and build from there.
4. If you can’t provide foreign language support, should you target foreign language SEO?
The short answer is no, but that doesn’t mean you can’t scale support slowly. In fact, with these types of customers, we always offer to set up a phone line and answer their calls for the first couple of months. That way the person who translated the website and is familiar with the product is also the one answering emails, chats, and phone calls. Call centers are unfortunately having a tough time right now, so if you need help in languages that are difficult to support, you can get cheap, temporary help while you figure it out.
5. Do you recommend translating as much of your pages as possible, including every product page? Is "literal translation" a good idea?
The plan is always to make your international visitor feel welcome, and if you’ve proven the concept and gotten buy-in, then yes. However, this is for UX reasons just as much as SEO. Can you imagine finding a site that sells stuff you really like, but once you get to their product pages, the descriptions are suddenly in Russian? You would be suspicious, and would probably leave the site. As AJ Kohn once said to me, “If the customer is confused, the answer is always 'No.'”
Regarding literal translation, I’m not a fan. Even when you have highly technical product specifications, there is something lost.
The above image is an example of literal translation gone wrong. Skateboard is translated as “knee roofing.” When you do this, you immediately lose the trust of the person browsing your site, not to mention that they will probably make fun of you on social media platforms.
6. Will your translated website get picked up as duplicate content?
Search engines are much smarter than people give them credit for. If the content is translated correctly, enough of the information should change so that most search engines will understand the difference between the two pages. However, the <hreflang> is a good tool for avoiding confusion and giving the search engine a better idea of your intended language.
7. With so many dialects of Spanish, which do you suggest to translate into?
That depends a great deal on your market, and is why keyword research is so important. I always suggest that unless you already have internal data informing your decision, do your research across multiple markets. This will allow you to make the right choice.
8. How do you deal with accents?
This opens up a huge can of worms. Through conducting Spanish keyword research, it is obvious that there are significant differences in keyword volume between terms with and without accents. Generally speaking, keywords without accents receive more traffic. This makes sense because when you are typing in the search bar, you aren’t concerned with how you are addressing someone, and for 99.9% of the queries, the meaning of the word doesn’t change.
This means that searcher intent is the same, but what about the results? We haven’t done extensive tests on this (believe me, we will), but the SERP’s do change:
Now, according to the Google Adwords tool, if you put them in as exact match, the version with the accent has not even 10% the number of searches as when you don’t use the accent. But when you go to broad match, they show up as identical.
The way we deal with this divide is the following:
- Don’t put accents in the URL (for Spanish). This is a surprisingly difficult rule that we stick to. I’m about to do a study on this subject for Eastern European languages, but if supporting/refuting data already exists, please share it in the comments.
- Don’t use accents in the metadata because of the query. Because the priority is to rank for the keyword phrase without the accent, we want to indicate to the search engine that we are optimized for this phrase. Co-citations notwithstanding, we’ve found this strategy to be effective.
- Use the grammatically correct phrase on the page itself (including the H1 tag). At this point, we want to make sure that the person arriving on this page knows that we actually have the ability to write well. We are obviously still concerned about optimization, but once someone is here, we want them to convert. Writing correctly leads to higher conversions.
9. What is the best way to change an English site to support multiple languages? What framework or technologies can you recommend?
My philosophy is always that where there is a will, there is a way. I've never been in a situation where I had to tell a client “do it this way or else.” The most notable exception being that using a CMS makes translation much simpler.
10. Can you explain best practice related to domain structure if company is in the US, but want to target the Hispanic market?
For this type of campaign, assuming that you are focusing on Spanish speakers first, you want to go with subdirectories. That means you should structure your pages in the following way:
This will pass along some of the authority that you have already built into your site, rather than forcing you to start over from scratch.
11. Can you comment on the usage of separate domain TLDs corresponding to different locales/localizations? Is there some sort of canonicalization process on a domain level?
Let’s say that you are an international organization that plans on selling widgets in both Mexico and Guatemala. Since they are both in Spanish, and the dialects are pretty similar, chances are that you are going to serve the same content to both. In this case, you would want to use the canonical tag to indicate to Google that while these pages have the same content, they are aimed at different audiences.
12. Can you explain more about registering a domain in a foreign country, and should you set up hosting there?
Buying a domain for another country is easy. Almost any company that you can buy domains from will do it for you. Hosting, however, is a different matter. Finding a reliable hosting company, especially when you are expecting lots of traffic, can be difficult.
The good news is that you don’t have to find a different hosting company in every situation. The location of where a website is hosted is no longer a high priority for Google, as long as you have the correct ccTLD. However, if you are targeting China or Russia, Baidu and Yandex do consider it important that your site be hosted in the targeted country.
Because I haven’t personally worked in either of those markets (yet), I can’t make a recommendation for providers.
13. What activities will help you promote a Spanish language website?
It’s no different from a site written in English. What I can tell you is that in Latin America, we use social media and mobile technology at a higher rate than in the US. Also, in order for a customer to purchase a product, you will need to establish trust. Because eCommerce is relatively new, do everything you can to show the potential customer that you are the real deal.
14. What about links from websites in other languages and from other countries or regions? How important is relevance in that content, and should the anchor text be in the target language or that of the website that is doing the linking?
Relevance is always important. I’m going to share a little secret about how I select link targets: if it can send qualified traffic to my client’s site, then I want it. If it can’t, then I don’t care. At the end of the day, the goal is not just to increase traffic, it is to increase conversions.
Of course, there are situations where relevance is less important. If the New York Times wants to link to a client of mine, I’m not going to say, “Don’t link from the Culture page, link from the Business page.” I’m just going to say, "Thanks!"
As far as anchor text language, in most cases the best anchor text is going to be branded, right? At that point, if your links are being built organically, the language that the anchor text is in doesn’t matter.
15. What tools do you recommend for targeting Hispanics outside the US? What do you use for Link Building?
Your brain. (Credit, @ipullrank)
I know that seems pithy and not particularly helpful, but the fact is that there are very few useful tools that are specific to the Spanish language market. As a result, you end up using many of the same tools as you would in English. I’m a fan of the SEOmoz suite for on page work, I like Buzzstream for keeping track of relationships, and Trello for project management.
For link building, many of the tools aren’t going to be nearly as helpful in other languages as they are in English. This means that you have to be more creative in your approach. I use Rapportive and Boomerang for outreach, but the main thing that helps me is being extremely persistent (sometimes I have to talk to the same person 6-7 times in order to get a link/guest post opportunity).
Finally, I use social media as a way to create a relationship out of thin air. You’d be surprised how easy it is to create ego-bait and figure out what people actually want by following them on Twitter or connecting with them on LinkedIn.
My team has also been building some tools internally, and are thinking about releasing some of them soon. If we were to do, what tools would you find most interesting? Please answer in the comments.
Well, Mozzers, there you have it! Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave your thoughts or ideas in the comments below.
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