B2B SEO Strategies for Multilingual Web Content

Multilingual Web TranslationIt is becoming more common for B2B organizations to offer website visitors content accessible in multiple languages. That doesn’t necessarily mean the organization wants to market to multiple countries either. Rather, an organization – particularly one based in a country outside the United States – will need to market their solutions to visitors using their native language and other languages in proximity of their country, as well as English potentially.

In the past, B2B marketers would be concerned with duplicate content issues that could arise in the implementation of multilingual web content. However search engines, Google specifically, have made it clear via guidelines that web copy written in multiple languages for the same geographic market, will not have an adverse impact in search engine optimization.

In other words, if you have the same or similar web content, written for visitors in both English and Spanish as an example, you don’t need special code or tagging, per Google guidelines.

According to Google guidelines, the search engine uses only the visible content of the web page to determine its language. That said, several factors should be considered when implementing multilingual content in the B2B website.

Multilingual Web Page SEO Best Practices for Google

  • Keep the content for each language on separate web addresses / don’t mix languages on the web page.
  • Avoid side-by-side language translations.
  • Consider cross-linking each language version of a page.
  • Don’t use cookies to show translated versions of the page and avoid automatic redirection based on the user’s perceived language.
  • Use robots.txt to block search engines from crawling automatically translated pages on your site.

This last recommendation is often the most difficult for marketing managers, since robots.txt coordination is not a common marketing responsibility. Here are basic guidelines on managing a robots.txt file from Google.

Multilingual Web Page SEO Best Practices for Bing

Unfortunately, Bing’s guidelines for understanding multilingual content require a small bit of HTML tagging to ensure the search engine’s understanding of language as well as country parameters.

The simplest way to instruct Bing is to use the “content-language” meta tag to embed a document location in the <HEAD> section of web pages.

Example: <meta http-equiv=”content-language” content=”en-us”>

Alternatively, Bing suggests adding language criteria in either the <HTML> or the <TITLE> element using the same format. The priority order for these tags is: <META>, <HTML>, <TITLE> and it is not recommended to input in more than one option.

Multilingual Web Pages Across Regional Websites

Multilingual content optimization gets more complex when done in coordination with regional websites / international online marketing initiatives. The reason is because many organizations duplicate material across regional websites, like English variations in Germany, China, and the United States for example.

Even though Google in particular indicates that this is “generally not a problem” it is best to implement a more detailed tagging structure, per search engine guidelines. Bing guidelines for multilingual, multi-regional web content listed previous will work the same.

In the past we used to recommend blocking duplicate content found on regional web sites and web pages with a robots.txt file. However this is no longer required with the addition of rel-canonical and hreflang tagging guidance from Google.

If content is duplicate or very similar across regional web pages – such as English variation content on a German website – utilize the rel-canonical tag to alert Google to the preferred destination.

Even though Google also recommends redirecting users to a “preferred destination”, I would be hesitant to do so as it might confuse users wishing to go back to region-specific web pages or domains.

The hreflang Attribute

Implementing the hrefland attribute can be tricky. If your organization is implementing this attribute across multilingual, multi-regional web content, I highly recommend mapping (“whiteboarding”) your process out. It is very easy to overlook market or language-specific content without a thorough mapping of information.

The easiest way to implement this attribute is through HTML link tags like the ones illustrated below.

Sample Code via Google:
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en-ie” hreflang=”en-ie” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en-ca” hreflang=”en-ca” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en-au” hreflang=”en-au” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en” hreflang=”en” />

In the code example above, we’ve identified alternate, English-specific web pages in Ireland, Canada, and Australia. The B2B marketer would simply replace the example web addresses into applicable region-specific web destinations.

It is also possible to submit this information via XML sitemap. Google guidelines for using a sitemap to indicate alternate language pages can be found here.

Region-Specific Web Pages

Please note that multilingual web page optimization is only a component of a country-specific online marketing initiative. There are several factors to consider which are too numerous to outline in this post. Here are a couple recommended resources of note to get started however.

Multilingual Web Pages In The Chinese Market

We’ve detailed SEO best practices when dealing with multilingual content in association with Google and Bing, but what about in regions where these search engines are not the dominant technology providers?

While Google dominates much of the international search engine marketing landscape (like Europe and South America), there are a few countries worth noting where other search engines own the majority of the market.

In China, the search engine leader is Baidu, with just over 63% of market share (source). Fortunately, Baidu is used almost exclusively in the Chinese language, which means it would be highly unlikely searchers would use Baidu for English queries.

Our understanding is that most searchers in China, wishing to search in English, will use Google Hong Kong primarily. As such, B2B organizations with a presence in China should consider following Google guidelines when tackling multilingual web page content.

Multilingual Web Pages In Russia

Multilingual SEO in Russia is a bit more complex even though Yandex controls over 62% of the search market (source). Both Google and Bing are used for English queries and that means multilingual SEO best practices for both search engines should be considered.

However Yandex can also search in English and translate results into Russian, which means SEO for Yandex needs to be considered as well. There are several subtle differences with the way Yandex ranks web pages, as detailed in an interview Andy Atkins-Kruger held with Rand Fishkin of Moz, following a presentation at SMX Advanced in 2011.

I would recommend reviewing the video and transcript as well as keeping tabs on Atkins-Kruger’s archive of columns on Search Engine Land and following his updates on Twitter for more information.

Multilingual Web Pages In Japan and South Korea

Both Google and Yahoo / Bing appear to be the primary search engines used when searching in English in the Japanese market. Similar to the Russian market, organizations marketing English users in Japan would want to adhere to both Bing and Google SEO guidelines in their multilingual search engine marketing strategy.

Final Thoughts

It took a little over twelve hundred words to tell B2B organizations that SEO for multilingual web content can be fairly straightforward and simple. What makes SEO for multilingual web content difficult is when it is done in coordination with a broader international SEO initiative or a focus in specific regional markets.

Even though recommendations can be straightforward once defined, B2B marketers need to work carefully to ensure their multilingual SEO initiative covers all of the bases.

Has your organization implemented a multilingual web content program that takes into account SEO prioritization? I’d love to read your feedback and perspective via comments below.

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