Multilingual SEO on WordPress: How to Optimize Your Site for Different Languages

Are you looking at growing your business and want to expand to new foreign markets? Or perhaps you have a client who wants to serve people in multiple languages but with a single domain?

If so, the way to go about it is by optimizing your WordPress site for different languages. This will not only bring you more traffic to your site, but might also help you leverage marketing strategies that you are currently using, but in different languages. 

Are you still wondering if this is for you?

Well then, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of running such a multi-language website. After that, you can decide for yourself whether this marketing strategy is worth your time or not.

What Are The Benefits?

Apply what you already know

The main benefit of translating a website into another language is that you can apply the same strategies you initially used when setting up your site. 

For example, if you already have a successful SEO campaign or content marketing strategy all you have to do is just repeat the same thing but in a different language.

Increase conversion and customer satisfaction

In 2011, The Gallup Organization(based in Hungary) conducted a study. They interviewed 13,752 people(aged 15 and older) from 27 European countries in order to find out their language preferences when surfing the web. What they learned is that 9 in 10 internet users in the EU, when given a choice would visit a website that is in their own language. And only 53% of those people would accept using an English-language website.

So in short, what this means is that foreign users are more likely to convert if the site they’re on is available in their own language. This, of course, works only if your content and presentation are on par as well, otherwise, your CTR might just drop.

More visitors and engagement equal better rankings

This one might sound obvious, but what search engines value most is great content and user engagement. So if you manage to provide quality content in multiple languages, that will possibly drive more traffic to your site. In turn Google will rank you higher in the search results(for multiple keywords.)

What are the disadvantages?

Finding the right translator

One of the main disadvantages of making your site multilingual is that in most cases you will need a translator.  Finding a trustworthy translator is not always simple and can be quite costly.

Translated content needs to be updated regularly

If you think your website has to be translated just once and that’s the end of it, you’re sorely mistaken. The content on a multilingual website needs to be updated every time you add anything new to the main version and we’re not talking just about text. Many times you will have to translate videos and images from the site’s main language as well. 

You should treat your non-English content the same as any other article. Google likes freshly updated content, you should include in your content plan to update it as much as possible. 

Support Service in more than one language

This one should be a no-brainer, but If you’re offering a product or service in multiple languages on your website that means you will need to have a dedicated support team speaking these languages. So you’ll need to have resources in order to employ qualified foreign-speaking personnel. Since as you know, providing good support is just as important as having a great product.

If you’re still here after reading all of the pros and cons of marketing in a foreign language then you’re ready for the technical part of things.

What should your lang tag in HTML look like?

For this let’s open up a site that targets more than one language, take the site for example. With your favorite web browser, right-click on the page and hit “inspect”. Now go under “Elements” and look at the html lang tag.

How To Change Lang HTML tag in Wordpress

To set up your HTML lang tag, go to Wordpress, then click on “Settings” and then choose “General”.

Once you change the site’s language press “Save Changes” and your site’s lang tag will be changed to the one you chose. However, it’s important to know that this will also change the WordPress interface.

But there’s a way around this. You can keep the language set to a foreign one, but give certain users in your WordPress account, access to the English(or their native language) interface. For example, if you own a Chinese website and have a developer or designer(who does not speak Chinese)  working on that same site, you can make things a whole lot easier for them by setting their user language to one they understand. 

To do this go to “Users” and select the person whose interface you want to be in a different language.

Choose the appropriate language, then click on “Update Profile” and you’re good to go.

How To Do The Keyword Research

When doing keyword research in another language, it’s best you use a reliable tool like Ahrefs or Semrush. I personally think that Ahrefs is the best option out on the market at the moment, Plus, they have a 7-day trial(which is more than enough time for extensive keyword research) where all you pay is 7 dollars and get all the premium features.

The best way to go about choosing the right keywords is by studying your competitors. Go to “Site explorer” and paste a competitor’s domain.

Then click on “Organic keywords” and look at all the keywords they rank for. 

However, remember to choose the right language. A huge mistake a lot of people make is to look at the keywords a site ranks for in another language not the site’s main one. So, if let’s say your competitor is a Brazillian e-commerce store, check out what keywords they rank for in Brazil.

How to use the international targeting feature in Google Search Console

If you don’t notify Google within Search Console which country you’d like to target, they’ll automatically set one according to your website’s country domain(.uk, .au, .ca, etc.). However, if you’re domain ends in something more generic or international, like “.com” or “.org” Google will pull up all the info they have regarding your site, like IP addresses, backlinks, location details and so on to try and guess it’s target country.

To avoid doubt and confusion as to which county you’re trying to target, you’ll have to update your Google Search Console.

Click on “Legacy tools and reports” in the sidebar and then choose “International targeting”.

Now go to “Country” and select which country you’d like to target with your website and click “Save”. 

It’s good to note that this feature may not be there for that long, as it’s part of GSC’s “Legacy tools and reports” which Google is moving away from. 

How to tell Google about localized versions of your site

There are quite a few ways of letting Google know about all the different languages you support on your site. Like optimizing your HTML tags in the , sitemap and HTTP headers. To be straightforward, all these details are fairly technical if you are not comfortable with coding, you should hire a developer. 

If you are a coder, really the best thing you can do is review the best practices yourself. If not, it's a good idea to let a coder review and implement everything for you. It's one of those types of things, while not very difficult, you can easily mess it up and possibly harm your current rankings.

For example, if you plan to have a website in both Spanish and English, you should have a strong understanding of how to optimize the HTML tags, Sitemap & HTTP headers.

Final Thoughts

Setting up a multilingual WordPress site can be a bit confusing at first. Mainly due to all the different settings you have to be careful of.

However, this initial effort might be worth it in the end, as the pros of owning a multilingual site or a site in a different language can be beneficial for many business owners.

One final tip would be to look at the ROI for having a site that supports another language. For example, if no one searches for your product offering in Spanish, setting up a spanish subdomain or website might not be a very good idea. 

If this approach sounds appealing, just make sure you follow best practices. Doing so can save you a lot of heartache in the end. 

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