Google’s Tips on Managing Translations of your Website

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Google has recently released a new video via its GoogleWebmasterHelp You Tube Channel on how to create a professional, multilingual website as well as how to successfully manage the translations.

In the video [below] Google’s Programs Tech Lead developer Maile Ohye gives us a few insights on how to expand your website into multiple languages successfully.

If you follow Ohye’s tips, you can be sure that your website will remain search engine-friendly, even when translated into foreign languages.

Next to the issues that arise when companies plan to launch multilingual websites, Ohye also provides us with a number of background questions that can be useful to answer before the translation process commences.

She provides her audience with use cases and discusses signals that will help Google analyse your international website.

Ohye concludes her presentation with a number of best practices.

How do users find translated versions of a website?

Ohye starts with discussing three different issues that companies can come across when launching a multilingual website.

When a user is using a search engine the following reasons can prevent them from finding the most suitable version of your website:

•    URLs in the user’s language might be omitted.
•    It is possible that a search yields two nearly identical URLs, which can be confusing for users.
•    Lastly, search engines might be unaware of language variations.

In order to prevent these problems, Ohye recommends that companies engage in a little self-reflection before they have their website translated.

According to her, website owners should ask themselves if their employees are committed to:

•    Develop a tailored experience for users from various regions or languages.
•    Create, review and keep new content up to date for the different visitors of their site.
•    Support customers from regions and languages they have not been in contact with.

According to Ohye, many companies that have a high ranking in their native country ask her why their ranking in new regions stays behind. She believes this has to do with expectations: global expansion does not come overnight and requires a lot of dedication.

How do I make my translated websites SEO-friendly?

After introducing the topic, Ohye discusses two use cases:

•    First, she gives the example of regional variations within one language. Here, she mentions the difference between British and American English. Even though these variations might look alike, small but important elements, such as currency, often differ.

•    Second, Ohye points out the case in which full translation is needed. If a website is translated from English into Spanish, for example, companies must translate the website’s content completely.

Now, Ohye arrives at her presentation’s main topic: how can companies make their translated websites more search friendly?

rel=“alternate” hreflang

According to Ohye, this can be achieved by using rel=“alternate” hreflang.

This signal enables webmasters to tell search engines about the configuration of their global websites.

rel=“alternate” hreflang can signal to Google exactly in what way a website has been expanded to new languages or language variations. The markup can be entered in several places. It can be placed in:

•    The on-page markup
•    The HTTP Header
•    The sitemap. Here, all languages can be listed for every separate URL.

However you use the rel=“alternate” hreflang , Ohye says, a hreflang value is mandatory. This value consists of either the language or the language plus the region in which it is spoken. If you opt for the latter, Ohye recommends that a general language version is created as well. If companies skip this step, it is unsure what speakers outside of the specified region will come across in their Google search.

A company’s content can consist of different languages. Oyhe states a number of reasons for this:

•    A website can redirect users to pages in their native language based on their IP address
•    The same page can also serve dynamic content that adjusts itself to the user’s location
•     In addition, a page can serve as a language selector, i.e. a page where users select the language they want to view the content in.

If one of one the above applies to your website, x-default can be entered as the hreflang value, Ohye says. This way, it is indicated to search engines that the language of the URL is broad instead of specific. A useful place to use x-default is the Google Play Store, as this page dynamically displays content.

For duplicate URLs, the value ‘canonical’ should be used. These only have to be added to the canonical URL.

If rel=“alternate” hreflang is implemented, all alternates on every page, including the page itself must be specified, according to Ohye.

In addition, the different versions of a website can either be on the same or different domains. However, Ohye believes it is wise to keep URLS in a similar URL structure. She also points out that although Google supports hreflang, there is a possibility that other search engines do not treat the signal in the same way.

Practical Uses of hreflang

Ohye then returns to the use cases she previously discussed and shows us how hreflang can be used for these examples:

•    For country-based variations, all variations are specified on each page. For example, for British English this is rel=“alternate” hreflang=“en” and rel=“alternate” hreflang=“en-gb”
•    For full translations, the values for the hrefland are both “en” and “es”
•    And what if you would combine the two? For websites with full translations plus country based variations, al variations must be included. In the case of a combination of the two examples above, this would result in rel=“alternate” hreflang=“en” and rel=“alternate” hreflang=“en-gb” rel=“alternate” hreflang=“en-ca” and rel=“alternate” hreflang=“es”

Best Practices for Multilingual Websites

Ohye rounds up her talk by summarising the benefits of using hreflang:

•    Search engines will understand the relation between the several pages of your website.
•    Moreover, the markup helps search engines to discover new URLs.
•    Lastly, when using hreflang, users are presented with search results that are tailored specifically for them.

As a bonus, Ohye states a number of best practices to ensure the launch of your global website is as successful as can be:

•    Ohye believes companies should strive to create URLs that can be shared. This means that for every language- or region-specific URL, similar information should be included. As a result, companies will greatly improve their search engine ranking.
•    Many websites use banners to guide users to the page best suitable for them. Here, webmasters must avoid using languages or countries in their URL parameters as this makes URLs more difficult for search engines to understand.
•    It is also advised to use Unicode in URLs when needed, Ohye says. This can be done by UTF-8 encoding. However, companies do need to make sure that their stack supports UTF-8.
•    Ohye encourages businesses to actively find new users which might recommend your websites to others. This can lure new costumers to your website.
•    Companies must also pay attention to page speed. This is especially important if new users are at a far network distance.
•    It is also vital, Ohye says, to empower the users of our site; visitors must be able to switch languages whenever they please.
•    Finally, it is recommended that websites reference resources. According to Ohye, Google has written a number of great articles on this topic that can be of great use.

We hope you have found the above summary useful. For more we recommend you watch the video.

If website translations are of interest, you may also want this free guide to international SEO or to read the blog post Translation, Internationalization and Localization: Google’s Tips for Taking Your Website Global.


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