Most of us can only wish that our customer base was so diverse, widespread (and big!) that we need a multilingual website. However, it’s not that difficult to come up with examples of where multilingual websites can be useful closer to home. If a large section of your customer base is Hispanic and speaks Spanish at home, there is a good chance that they also surf the Internet in Spanish and would come across a Spanish version of your website before they find the English version of your website.
What are the main things to consider for multilingual websites? As basic as it sounds, apply the same rules of search engine optimization to your foreign language web pages. These rules include:
- Translate your English keywords or identify relevant keywords in the new language. Remember that it’s not always as easy as looking up a word in a dictionary. Dictionaries are not always perfect when it comes to technical terms or slang, some words can have a number of different meanings in a different language or a number of possible translations. Remember the car company that wanted to launch a car named “Nova” in Latin America, where “No va” means “it doesn’t go/work”?
- Translate your existing Web content. Make sure a qualified translator or fluently bilingual person works on the translation, and ideally get a native speaker to check the translation. There’s nothing worse than translated text that just didn’t quite get it right (remember the last time you tried to read an English instruction manual from South Korea?).
- Optimize your foreign language Web content, i.e. make sure the translation contains a good amount of the keywords you identified, make sure your title and other meta tags are written in the foreign language, include appropriate ALT tags and so on.
- The URLs for your new pages should also contain foreign language words, e.g. instead of the URL http://www.mycompany.com/products-and-services/spanish.html use http://www.mycompany.com/productos-y-servicios.html.
- Link to the new pages from your existing website, and try to obtain links to your foreign language content from relevant and suitable external websites and directories. You’d be surprised how many foreign language directories there are that target United States residents!
- Make sure your language options are clearly visible on your English homepage.
- Include the new foreign language pages in your sitemap.
Once your new pages are up and running, make sure that you also have appropriate foreign language support in place. You might get email questions and telephone calls in Spanish. Don’t stop once you’ve attracted someone to your website – make sure you also close the sale!