How to steal a robot’s heart – five mistakes in multilingual SEO for e-commerce (and any other business) and how to avoid them

Do robots have hearts at all? Let’s assume, for the purpose of this article, that yes, robots do have them and it’s extremely important to win their hearts to be successful in business. And even though language is something that basically defines humanity, it can also be a medium to befriend a robot or two.

We’re talking about Google robots, of course. Search engine optimization has become one of the most important elements in the marketing strategy for any business in any industry. Courting to robots may not be a very traditional way of getting customers’ attention, but it’s proven to be one of the most effective. No one’s perfect though, and even the biggest and the best make mistakes. We have outlined the most common mistakes that are potentially harmful to your multilingual SEO strategy.

  1. Focusing on Google only

Working and living in one country, it may not even occur to us that people from other regions may use other search engines! Yes, Google is the most popular search engine in Europe but you should definitely do your research when heading to other world regions!

Yandex dominates in Russia, Baidu is number 1 in China and Yahoo leads in Japan. Even though Google operates 63.2% of all American search results, Bing.com follows with 24.2%! Google takes the lead again when it comes to mobile devices – 93% of all mobile inquiries are made in the Larry Page’s tech baby.

Delve into those numbers and think about your customers – where do they come from? Where do they search for products (mobile/desktop)? And finally – should I really need to invest all my money into Google search optimization?

  1. Translating keywords word for word

The most common language-related mistake is literal translation of keywords.

Search behavior differs from one country to another, and keywords are basically a keyhole through which you can take a look at how your customers think. Machine translation is getting better and better so believe us when we say you should embrace it as soon as you can. On the other hand, it’s really not a good idea to use it in every project and it’s definitely a bad idea to use it to translate keywords. The perfect solution here is to use a native translator’s insights — they understand what drives local customers and can find the best keywords to boost traffic. This way you also avoid missing the context, which often happens when translating word for word.

  1. Not optimizing your website from a back-end point of view:

“If you have multiple versions of you website for different languages or regions, tell Google about these variations. By doing so you will help Google Search direct users to the most appropriate version of your page by language or region.”  

The quote above refers to the hreflang attribute that will be a clear sign for Google robots that your website is multilingual. Remember to include the hreflang attribute on each of your translated pages – that’s how Google can accurately assign the website to a regional search engine version. To sum up, it will allow the German version of your website to be visible in the German search results and not, e.g. English ones.

Another other technical aspect that you should pay attention to is auto redirection based on the IP or user’s perceived language. Google itself advice avoiding automatic redirection: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/182192?hl=en

  1. Not translating URLs and no cross-linking

The success lays in nuances – detecting small things that make search engine bots love or hate your website may be your best chance to differentiate.

Translating URLs may seem obvious but it’s one of those “make it or break it” issues. A link structure can really make it easier for the search engine to properly geo-target your website to the regions you’d like. You do have a few options to choose from:

Choose one of them to clearly indicate the region that this particular website’s language version targets.

Another link-related issue that is often detrimental to multilingual websites rankings is forgetting about cross-linking and substituting it with redirection to the home page. What does it mean?

Make sure that the user can smoothly switch languages – if they are currently on the “Offer” page in English, it should be cross-linked to the same page in German/Spanish, etc., and not redirected to the regional language home page.

So: example.com/offer links to de.example.com/offer  and not to de.exmaple.com

  1. Neglecting the quality and quantity of content of the regional versions of your website

Visibly less content or a visibly worse quality of translated content may give your customers a second-class experience. You wouldn’t like that, would you? If you invest in quality SEO copywriting in your native market, you should do the same in any other market you target! Here comes transcreation.

Transcreation is what you could also call multilingual copywriting. It’s more than translation — by transcreating content you adapt it fully to a new language, culture and customers’ decision-making patterns.

Creating relevant, localized content for each region will do wonders to your website’s edge rank. You should also support your SEO strategy with proper content distribution and link building. Reach local bloggers, influencers and popular websites. Kill two birds with one stone by publishing expert articles on external platforms: this builds brand consciousness, creates an expert image and gains link authority for your website.

Language is one of the most important tools you can use to steal a robot’s heart. Optimizing and localizing your website for foreign markets may seem like a long and costly process, but in most cases – it’s worth it.

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