You have a large and somewhat complex website. And now you have target audiences in multiple countries and/or regions. While you may have a good SERP position with your current native-language site, you are now looking at SEO strategies to position yourself well for foreign audiences/search engines.

Defining Multilingual SEO

In a nutshell, multilingual SEO is providing optimized site content in one or more foreign languages and the actions that you take to get the same organic traffic. Optimizing means that it will be in a good SERP position with search engines in those languages too. The actions will be the same as you have taken for your current website, just in different languages.

So, how do you take a WordPress site and optimize for foreign language search engines? The following should help you.

What WordPress is Not

WordPress is not a multilingual content management system. You cannot just create these websites like you can in English. But the good news is that you do have several solutions – WPML, Polylang, Weglot, or WPGlobus, for example. These will be discussed in detail a bit later. But, no matter which solution you may choose, there are some things that you must think about during the translation process.

Important Considerations

the following suggestions should help you as you implement multilingual sites and accompanying SEO.

The Translation

Using a machine translation (e.g., WordPress plugin Weglot provides translations) is a big mistake, if that is all you do. If you do use machine translation, then you must be certain that it is reviewed and edited by a native of the language. There will be word usage errors; there may be culturally offensive language. The best option is to have the site initially translated by a human – a professional translator. There are a number of online translation services that provide this expertise. Read through some reviews of translation services and find one that meets your needs.

Translate Your SEO Attributes

These will include all of the titles and meta descriptions for your posts and pages, your tags, and any custom taxonomies titles and meta descriptions. If, for example, you have a food site, and you have a page title of “Eat Well,” that is a focus keyword through your Yoast plugin.

  • The SEO title is “Eat Well;”
  • The slug is “Eat-Well”
  • Your meta description is included in the supplied field.

Translated into French, the SEO title is “Mange Bien,” the slug is “Mange-Bien,” and the meta description field will be professionally translated as well.

URL Structure

You have a few options – language per domain, Language per subdomain, language in directory, or language parameter placed in the URL. They would look like this, respectively for your “Eat Well”

  • fr/mange-bien
  • comain.com/mange-bien
  • com/fr/mange-bien
  • com/mange-bien/?lang=fr

Just remember: pay very close attention to your meta tags – incorrect use can result in low rankings.

Don’t Use Cookies or Sessions to Set the Language

Search engines like Google will only index one version of your “Eat Well” page if you do this. Instead, If your page is “Eat Well,” and it translates into French as “Mange Bien,” just be certain that your English URL is different from the French one. When someone visits the page, “domain.com/eat-well,” the English version of the page should come up. And domain.com/fr/mange-bien” should open the page in French.

Use Hreflang Tags

Hreflang tags tell Google that your site is available in other translations. According to Google support, you should use language annotations. You can place an HTML link element in the header that points to the foreign language version. It would look like this:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=fr” href=http://fr.eatwell.com/ />

If you have non-HTML files (e.g. PDF), you can choose to use an HTTP header to indicate another language. It would look like this:

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Link:  http://fr.eatwell.com/;  rel=”alternate”;  hreflang=”fr”

If you have more than two language versions, each language page should indicate all other language versions, including itself.

It will be important to check Google support carefully for more detailed information about using hreflang tags. But, some WordPress plugins, like Weglot and WPML, will do this for you, and that’s a good thing.

Multilingual Sitemaps are Another Option

You can also indicate to search engines that you have multiple translation through sitemaps – submit these sitemaps to search engines (e.g., Google Search Console). Again, Google support will show you how to do this.

Plugins Have Eased the Pain

In the past, there was only one way to have multilingual WordPress sites – get your site fully translated and set up a new WordPress site for each of them. And of course, maintain them, so that each change you made was also manually made to the others.

Some have used WordPress Multisite to have multilingual sites, but that was not the purpose of it. It is more for creating multiple sites from a single install, but all in the same language – like a blog network. Trying to do multilingual sites with Multisite means a lot of manual work.

Choosing a Multilingual Plugin

There are several options which are all summarized here.

qTranslate

This has been the most popular of the free plugins. It’s been around for a long time and has had lots of updates. One of its benefits is that it uses proprietary tags to separate different languages in a single post – this allows quick transition from one language to another. Just remember: if you ever disable this plugin, you are likely to have all of the languages appear in one piece of content.

Polylang

This plugin is also free. It will create a unique post/page for each identified language. This is a clean process. The problem is that novices will have a bit of learning ahead of them to use this plugin – it’s more complicated than most others. The biggest reasons for this is that it does not come with an installation wizard.

Weglot

While Weglot is an easy translation solution, its developers realized that machine translation is not always the best. And so, it has a unique dashboard that can be used for users who want to purchase professional translations and download them. No coding is required, and functions do follow Google’s best practices for SEO.

WPGlobus

There are free and premium versions, of course, and many of the other plugins in the family are fee-based. The important thing to remember here is that this plugin does not translate – you will have to do that yourself, but that is probably a good thing anyway. With the free version, you can enable multilingual SEO features of “Yoast SEO” and “All in One SEO” plugins. Switching languages at the front-end is via a drop-down menu extension or customizable widget. The family of plugins can be found on its information page. WPGlobus is relative new, but there are frequent updates, so features will obviously improve over time.

WPML

This is a premium plugin but is pretty comprehensive. It will translate virtually everything – pages, custom typology, taxonomy, posts, menus, etc., and it is compatible with every plugin or theme that uses WP API. More recently, it has integrated with Matecat, a free translation management system and has added more extensions for its integration with WooCommerce.

Translating Your Site

Your plugin will either translate your content or, in the case of some others, you will have your content translated and then upload it. If your plugin does the translating, you will select your languages via the plugin settings. Polylang and WPML will craft unique posts for each language. They will also have their own URL’s.

All metadata must be translated too. Some plugins will allow you to just duplicate your metadata in another language. In other cases, you will have to translate them.

If your theme has custom fields, you probably won’t have to do anything other than filling them out. When you save you data, their metadata will automatically be assigned to them.

Any attachments or captioned images will have to be translated too. When you upload them to the post page, they will be marked as belonging to that post. Don’t scrimp on this. Images may be an important part of you overall design. Some plugins, like WPML, have media translation add-ons.

Translating widgets can be tricky, because most plugins do not have built-in solutions for this. You may need to install some additional plugins for this function.

Translating Menus is basically accomplished the same way as posts and page content. Some plugins will do this automatically with pages, but others will not. At any rate, you will want to double check those menus or check with a professional translator to ensure they are what you want.

Translating theme options Depending on the theme author, you may or may not have automatic translation in styling, appearance, etc. Some settings will require different values in different languages. You may need to get professional help in this area. The best action, though, is to check with each theme author before you ever select a theme, if you believe that you will scale to an international audience at some time in the future.

In Summary

Multilingual websites are far easier to construct now than they used to be. Still, novices should never attempt to do this on their own. There are too many variables and too many potential pitfalls. You goal is to successfully target, attract, and engage foreign audiences. You need to make sure that you have honored their language, their cultural nuances, and their desire for a seamless experience on your translated site.

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