Going Multilingual – How to Translate a Website

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From an SEO perspective it’s best to complete keyword research before doing the translation and identify important keywords to target.

If you have an English language website and want to make it multilingual, then where do you start? There are many technical challenges that need to be overcome and for a large site to be successfully translated it will require the skills of a translator, a web developer and an international SEO consultant, working together to create a harmonious end product.

Keyword research
From an SEO perspective it’s best to complete keyword research before doing the translation and identify important keywords to target. There are bound to be keywords that aren’t important in one language, but are in another.

Let’s look at some keywords in English and French for a holiday website, to give you an example:

English Keyword  UK Monthly  Search Volume                  FrenchTranslation France Monthly Search Volume             
Last minute holidays        165,000                                vacances derniere minute                       8,100
Cheap holidays                 550,000                               vacances pas cher                                40,500
Cheap vacations               110                                       vacances pas cher                               40,500

The French don’t really have a “last minute holidays” mentality in the same way as the Brits do and this is reflected in a much smaller search volume. If you were translating “Last minute holidays” into French, you’d therefore be better grouping it in the “Vacances pas cher” section and optimizing it for this search term instead.

If you were translating your website the other way and chose to translate “Vacances pas cher” as “Cheap holidays” then you would be targeting literally 5000 times more searches than “Cheap vacations”. Changing your keyword focus can literally make the difference from getting no enquiries or sales to getting plenty!

The translation
We’ll use translating an English website into French throughout this article, however the advice is equally valid for any other language, or to create a multilingual site in three or more languages.

Firstly, the translation has to be completed manually. Google have strict anti-spam rules and class auto-generated content as spam. In their list of auto-generated content(link is external) they include “Text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing”. Simply using an automatically translated version of your website is likely to incur an SEO penalty, as well as creating content that makes little sense to your readers.

Depending on the nature of your site and whether you will be completing the translation in-house or outsourcing it determines the best approach to take; the two main options are:

  • Use an open-source or custom CMS to assist with your translation. CMS systems like WordPress and Drupal have supplementary modules that are easy to install that will translate many of those niggly bits of a website for you – default welcome emails, login messages, ecommerce messages, etc. These CMS systems also have interfaces that show you what’s already been translated and allow you to translate the website directly online.
  • Export products or other bulk information into .csv files. Most websites store information in databases and if the web developer exports these into a .csv file, then the translator can translate them in Excel and send them back in the same format where they can be easily imported. This is much faster for both parties than having the translator manually copy content from the site and send it to the web developer in a Word document. There will be elements of a site that aren’t included in the .csv files, but it will cover the bulk of it.
If you’re planning on expanding into a new language and don’t have a CMS that lets you do this easily, then we recommend reading an article on how to translate your website into French(link is external). This discusses 5 different solutions and has a questionnaire you can complete to tell you which is the best solution for your website.

Other SEO factors
Completing keyword research, creating a fluent translation and using a suitable CMS all go a long way towards creating a user-friendly multilingual website with good SEO, however to be sure of success, you should also consider cultural factors and ask a few local people to visit your site and give you feedback.

Certain images and colors symbolize different things in different languages and to ensure you create a professional impression it’s best to ask local residents for an honest opinion.

About the author
Martin Woods is an international SEO consultant for Indigoextra Ltd(link is external) with 17 years’ experience. When he’s not completing client projects and researching Google’s latest algorithms, he spends his time homeschooling his two teenage boys and playing Ultimate Frisbee. Martin’s also written over 500 cryptic crosswords for The Big Issue.

See more at: B2B Marketing 

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