A Guide to Multilingual Search

Article ImageThe web is worldwide. If you're responsible for managing a site, sooner or later you'll be involved in managing sites across borders, time zones, cultures, and languages. The truth is, nobody outside of Google really knows how to make your pages rank high in search engine results. They have many complex algorithms that are always changing. The number of requests Google receives grows year after year and is now thought to be 500 million queries a day from across the globe.

As the world economy develops, we are seeing localized web projects in 20 or more languages becoming the norm. Building a great foundation is essential if your site is going to be replicated in numerous languages across many regions.


It's pretty difficult today not to use a CMS. This helps the localization process as most modern CMSs have plug-ins to make the task easier. They assist with the process of exporting your copy in a format compatible with most modern translation management systems (which will then make best use of translation memories and statistical machine translation) and control the process of importing all the translated text back in the right place.


Even in countries with an official language-the U.K., Canada, U.S., Australia, and New Zealand-there are so many different ways to say the same things. It's important that you familiarize yourself with local customs and use local writers/translators to work on the content.

Searches will be carried out in the local vernacular, and words such as sidewalk/pavement/footpath need to be localized for the relevant region. This will also have an effect on your keyword research and then a knock-on effect to things such as the cost of pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns.

Statistical machine translation can be used with success under close guidance from a qualified linguist, but please be careful when using Google Translate to produce unpost-edited commercial content-there are hundreds of stories about companies having their content translated into something silly or incoherent.


I always recommend hosting your content on a local domain on a server that is physically in the country where your target users are (make sure you periodically check the location of the servers using a geo map lookup tool). You also need to have local contact information on each of the localized sites; these are available from local chambers of commerce. The reputation of the local host is also important.


Both search engines and your users will put weight on the domain name. Search engines may rate a local domain (all other things being equal) higher than a generic one. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, we see that local domain extensions tend to perform better in search results of localized engines than generic dot-com varieties. There are alternative ways of structuring localized content, but we've seen "www.domain.TLD" working better than "language.do
main.com" or "www.domain.com/language."

There are restrictions you will need to be aware of in some regions about hosting a local domain. For instance, in Australia you can only host a domain if you own a local business.


When content is localized, a common concern from webmasters centers around duplicate content (even translated content is considered duplicate). The good news is that Google does not consider near duplicate sites to be spam if the sites exist to serve different local markets.  

It's also advisable to let Google know what region your site's geographic target is (if you don't specify, Google will guess). This can be on a domain, subdomain, or at directory level. More detailed instructions can be found on Google's Webmaster Central Blog.


When thinking about localized sites, the ideal is to gain interest from reputable local sources and localized domains. You need to get creative when looking for people to target. Start with local directories, blogs, charities, and trade associations.

Remember, not all marketing is online. Consider radio advertisements, newspapers, chambers of commerce, and networking groups. Slant everything in this domain and try to put a local spin on everything (e.g., a press release titled "100 jobs created in Smallville" is more likely to gain traction in Smallville than "XYZ, Inc. expands into new regions"). Ask local people for testimonials (video works best) as this will get people talking about your content outside of your site.


Not everyone uses Google. Yandex controls 65% of searches in Russia; Yahoo controls 51% in Japan; and Baidu controls 75% in China (more stats are available at statowl.com). Each site has its own webmaster guidelines, which will differ slightly from Google's, and they are all in a constant state of change. For instance, Yandex said last month that for searches in Moscow it no longer takes inbound links into consideration. Know that SEO is an ongoing process. 

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