By Martin Woods
If you’re looking to expand your business in Europe, you need to do more than just translate your website, though that’s the first step to any successful multilingual SEO campaign.
Here we review the best practice in terms of how to configure your site initially, identify whether it’s even a good idea to translate your website, how the culture of a specific country affects your SEO strategy, and what SEO services in Europe are best for you.
Should you translate your website?
Do you want to dominate the European market and increase your sales? Are you planning on translating your website into multiple different languages to reach the widest audience possible?
Before you begin, the first question should be:
Is going multilingual a good idea?
Even if you already have a successful business model in an English speaking country, it doesn’t follow that your business model will work just as well in every European country. A simple example of this is if you’re selling coats in the UK, which has an average annual temperature of 8.5 degrees Celsius, they may not sell as well in Spain or Italy, which are roughly 5 degrees warmer.
How to estimate demand for your service internationally?
To estimate how much demand there is for a particular product or service in any country, it’s best to start with keyword research using a tool like SEMRush, which gives you search volumes on a country by country basis, or if it’s that on the expensive side for you, then here’s a review of 15 different keyword research tools.
Alternatively, you can use Google Trends to give you an indication of the interest in a particular keyword over time. This has an advantage that as well as seeing whether a keyword is increasing or decreasing in search volume, you can see an international map based on a specific topic, saving you the need to translate a range of relevant keywords to estimate interest.
Has the coronavirus affected my industry?
Google Trends also shows how much the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the vast majority of industries. Some keywords like SEO itself are actually generating more interest (see the graph for SEO on Google Trends). This is because SEO is a long-term marketing strategy that moves you up the search results, so you’re ready when people start shopping again, whereas using any short-term marketing service like email marketing or PPC, just doesn’t make sense unless it generates immediate results, and all forms of face-to-face marketing are impossible in most countries.
Chart – Interest over time – SEO
It’s also worth remembering that for effective multilingual SEO, you also need to do multilingual link building (more on this later), therefore if you have a small budget, you will get a better return on investment by targeting just one or two new languages, and saving some of your budget to run a link building campaign in each language, rather than spending it all on the translation itself.
Choose separate domains or sub-domains
If you do decide to translate your website, the next question is what to choose for a domain name. There are 3 options in terms of structuring your website, which we’ve shown below using appropriate versions for France, Germany and Italy:
- Separate domains
fr, example.de, example.it
Either use your brand name for each domain, or if you have a keyword rich domain in English, then translate it into each language and use that version instead.
- Separate sub-domains
example.com, de.example.com, it.example.com
This works well if your main domain is a .com, .net, .org, or other international domain. Never use sub-domains for a different country for local domains (e.g. de.example.fr), as Google will rank .fr domains higher in France, but lower elsewhere (including Germany), plus it sends mixed messages about where the website is to potential visitors.
com/fr, example.com/de, example.com/it
Avoid sub-folders where possible as they are the most prone to accidentally breaking links, or having images disappear. This is because if you use a local link like:
<a href=”/page-123″>About Us</a>
Then with separate domains or sub-domains this will work in every language, but you’ll need to change it for every language if you use separate sub-folders. This format is also the least popular amongst large companies.
Google give equal weighting to all of these, so choose between separate domains and separate sub-domains.
Use an SEO translation
It’s essential to use a professional human translator who is translating into their native language. Never use Google Translate, or another automatic tool to create a multilingual website. If you doubt this advice, simply copy a section of text, translate it, then copy that and translate it back into English. You’ll soon see that it won’t create a professional impression, and will immediately be obvious that it’s not a local speaker who wrote it.
For example, if you translate, “If you doubt this advice,” into German and back again, you end up with, “If you give this rat”.
For a full SEO translation, start by putting together a dictionary of the most important keywords in English, then make sure that the translated words have a high monthly search volume and if possible low organic competition. This way, you will use words in the translation that are commonly searched for in the native tongue, rather than inadvertently using words that are valid, but that don’t contain the local keywords that are searched for the most.
This is particularly important for websites providing a technical service, as Europeans will sometimes use English terms when searching, even if a local translation exists.
Respect the different European cultures
Multicultural marketing has become more and more important even in the USA, so it’s particularly important in Europe where there’s a widely diverse culture with 28 member states, over 500 million consumers and numerous languages, and the culture differs greatly from one country to the next.
When carrying out a website translation decide how formal a tone you want to use and keep it consistent across the whole site. Some countries, like France, tend to be more formal and use “Vous” as standard for any content addressing adults, whereas other countries like Germany are more informal and playful in both their written and spoken language.
For an in-depth country by country guide on how to write for different cultures throughout Europe, with detailed information on social media usage too, visit Business Culture.
Display prices correctly on eCommerce sites
The majority of countries in Europe are part of the Eurozone, however if you’re selling to Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, or the United Kingdom, then your website should offer the option to pay in the local currency.
The majority of European countries including Denmark, France, Germany and Spain (but not the United Kingdom) also use the decimal comma separator, rather than a full stop, so for example 1069 Euros and 99 centimes is written as:
The European Commission recommend that you put the Euro sign before the price in English, but after the price in other European languages. If you’re creating an ecommerce site, then configuring these options will help reassure visitors that you’re local.
Complete the technical website elements
When you have a multilingual site, there’s a few fiddly bits that it’s also important to check. These include:
- Make sure your translated Meta Titles are under ~57 characters and Meta Descriptions are under ~157 characters and remember to translate these and the URLs.
- Double check the home page, category pages, footer blocks, checkout page, invoices and default messages to be sure everything’s translated.
- If you have a blog, check which pages on your English website have the most traffic and translate these pages only. Use any budget you save translating the rest of the blog items on writing new content or link building instead.
- Check that your Hreflang tags are properly configured for each language.
These small elements can make a big difference to how successful your multilingual site will be.
Use an SEO agency for link building in Europe
If you have a talented native speaking translator in-house, then so long as:
- Your original site has good SEO
- You create a personalised keyword dictionary for your translator to use
- You localise the content using the above guidelines
The on-page SEO of your new site will be good, though using a native speaking and expert SEO service is likely to be able to further increase your ranking in Google.
That said, on-page SEO can only get you so far and building quality links from high authority websites is the other half of the picture. It’s important that backlinks are also relevant and in the same language, so links to your German website should be predominantly or exclusively from German websites, for example.
As well a range of tools that help with link building, there are various ways to build high authority backlinks and some valid strategies include:
- Search for keywords in the local version of Google and try to obtain links from the pages that rank high, no matter what type of link they are (if a site is in the top 2 or 3 pages with Google for your target keyword, you can safely assume a link from that site will benefit you).
- Guest post on relevant, high domain authority sites. This can be very time consuming and if you choose to use an SEO agency for any part of your project, link building is the obvious service to look for, as a good agency will already have a network of contacts.
- Submit your site to the top directories in the respective countries.
- Create infographics and share them on the top social media or infographic sharing sites.
- Create Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter profiles and share some posts linking to your site on these (make sure other posts include industry news, up-to-date tips, etc.)
Google likes links to look natural, so a range of the above will be more effective than just using one strategy for all your links. A few quality links is also far better than many low quality links.
To successfully expand in Europe you should first define the countries you want to expand into and the website structure and domain name(s) that are right for your company.
Once you have these in place, use a professional native speaker who understands the local culture to translate your site, then complete a link building campaign, focusing on links from high authority websites.
About the Author
Martin Woods is the SEO Director of Indigoextra.com, a multilingual SEO agency who have helped hundreds of companies expand in Europe. Indigoextra offer state of the art SEO and link building services in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Dutch.