About Multilingual Web Sites and Optimization

I remember about 10 to 12 years ago a very sharp gal had a news letter dedicated mostly to SEO concepts and I learned a number of things from her and her approach to the riddles of what is right, what is white and how not to lose your PR or page or whatever it is we are trying to accomplish. Actually about 18 years ago when I started designing web sites I went to the pages of the Gods, IBM, Microsoft, Norton, Intel, etc. and found they were not worried because they were so famous they didn’t and still don’t have to depend on Search Engines to be found. Therefore, they did whatever they pleased. I came from an orderly background working with UNIX in 1969 and with IBM Mainframes after that. Well the short of the long story is I finally learned what it meant to Optimize a web site for the Search Engines and actually spent a few years teaching Web Design and Optimization at the Universities in South America. I happen to be multilingual and I have a good education in engineering, science and medicine.

Then came the day I realized I did not know how to SEO a multilingual website. Now that was rough on the ego and a page I had just converted from English to Spanish, English, Italian and French dropped its position by 8 pages and went from a PR of 4 to a 0. Therefore, that is how this treatise or blog came about. So here we go, everyone has his or her opinions but in this area, I suggest you read it well, it is the result of nearly a thousand clients with multilingual pages. Ideally, if you are going to have a multilingual site it would be best to have separate domains and completely separate files. Now that’s not always possible but I did separate when I could by using a.com and a.net and when I couldn’t each language has its own folder under the principal language including copies of the Images and all other sub folders. Therefore, each language looks like a different site. Why you ask? Is it necessary to go to that extreme? Well it has to do with two things; first, the spiders or robots are unilingual. They speak the language assigned in the Metas at the head of the page and you had better have the language specified. If you have another language on the page you had better have it in quotes or brackets so the robot will ignore it otherwise when it cannot recognize the words, it stops reading. Meaning the rest of the text is useless. Secondly the SE’s are different for each language. German for example is Google.de not Google.com, each language has its own version of the search engines. Of course, it should be obvious that your keywords in English are meaningless in Spanish and so on, so you have to rewrite the Metas for each language including the Title, Description, Language, Keywords, Key Phrases. I do hope you are starting to see the picture. You cannot merge two languages into one site unless you separate them as I have mentioned. Do not try to use a common Images, PHP, CGI or Java file, a unique one in the folder for its own language. That also saves you from confusing the URL of your site. The sub folder names should be titled as short as possible using a Keyword from that language if possible. Once inside the Metas clearly specify the language and the SE’s and the visitor is at home. This probably a good time to mention canonical links though I am sure you all use one up in the header. Remember we all have the habit these days of not using the www or the http but did you know that Google and other SE’s treat each variation of that URL as a separate URL. It is simple enough to cure and not lose all the good brownie points, just add a canonical link (you have to look it up if you don’t know it, most sites won’t let me include it since it’s HTML code) and now the SE’s know that all variations are in fact the real URL as shown. Took me a while to figure that one out and yes each language page will have its own index and in its header will be its canonical link. Now each language will have its own PR and Page position in the SE’s.

No offense to PHP friends but I still do not suggest that the first page, the Index be a PHP. I hold that it should be a clean HTML5 index and please do use the code to identify which system you are using, even PHP has fun with code from version 4 not working in version 5. Old Java code is not working in the new browsers giving a message of unsigned code. Now of course we have to research our keywords and if you are not proficient in the second languages then get some help and if you or someone else translates the page from English to say Spanish make certain that the person doing it is current with the language. There are many variations of Spanish but there is a universal common form but change is constant. I translated an Andes Mountain climbing web site in German to attract German tourists to South America, I did my search on keywords and grammar checks, and spelling checks, all was perfect. So I sent it to a tour guide friend of mine in Germany for his comments, I had been stationed in Germany for almost two years in Heidelberg and spoke fluent German. My friend called me on the phone, was still laughing, and said there was no way he could put all of his laughs in an email. He said your German is letter perfect for 20 years ago and it is perfect High German but in advertising, we do not use the formal language we have a new version that is more common. This is true for all languages, if I’m speaking to some one I still use the formal version as a sign of respect but when I’m writing I loosen my belt do a draft and run it by someone from there not some one who was there 20 years ago. It is true for all of the languages, believe me I just made a tour 2 years ago and was amazed at the changes and the informality, in advertising they speak to you as if you were a member of their family not as if you are a stranger.

I won’t bother going into a long tirade about correct grammar, spelling and accents. As a French speaker, I am highly annoyed if someone writes to me without accents. We do not demand as much in English as they do in other languages. Proofread and proofread again. There are a number of excellent programs to check spelling and grammar and usage and they are better than Microsoft Word. If you’re going to work multilingual, invest in the tools you need and find some friends overseas. Try LinkedIn.com, I have and have friends around the world. When I do a site in more than one language, I usually change the background colors for each language and often choose different photos for the first page trying to be more in tune with that speakers taste. Don’t know? Go fishing in Google and visit similar sites in other countries it’s amazing how different we are and if you tell time, date or temperature remember to change to the format and style of that language. For heaven’s sake remember to use icons, buttons, and menu tabs in the correct language and don’t use home or back, it is offensive. Yes, sorry about that, it means you have to redo your menu codes and if you have as much text as you should then pay attention to indentation rules in each language. Also, if you’re interested in your copyright statement, it’s different in other languages. E-mail may be a universal word but it’s [correo] in Spanish not Email. Your visitor must feel that you are a neighbor speaking to him, show your best side and go the extra mile. Well now, as we all know there is a lot more to do for the SEO of a website and that I leave in your able hands.

I do not do Sexual, Pornographic, Gambling, Dating or Escort sites; if you do, the language is very special. Now one note about internal links in these sites, do not link to the short address, I suggest the full URL address for each page and graphic and the return links as well. Remember on each index page to offer a link to the other languages titled in their respective language. Getting external links can be very difficult especially in the beginning. We all struggle with obtaining good relevant links. Yes, I use the Text in the Alt of graphics for key messages or key words thinking of the robot. Last but not least, remember a separate sitemap for each language. Using the above guides and general good SEO techniques I have maintained one site on first page of Google with a PR4 since 1998 and suffered no hiccups when Google changes their algorithms. That site is for a small town in Venezuela, South America but it’s a number one site in all of South America for tourism.