1. SEO the English (or source language) site properly first. Learn how to do this or get agency help, but importantly, target 2-3 key-phrases per page. A really useful tip when looking to localise, is to place these 2-3 key-phrases in the ‘keywords’ meta tag. These will then expose the target key-phrases to the localisation process. When translating the site, research the equivalents of these key-phrases in the target language first and choose the correct local version to SEO for (based on search volume, competitiveness, strategic importance). Build these into the terminology database (multi-term or similar), then when the page is translated, it will stand a fighting chance of being naturally SEO’d for some good keywords.
2. Make sure the language page URLs are unique. The language selector should not be setting a cookie that automatically selects the right content. For example, if one of your pages is www.mysite.com/products, when viewed in French the URL should not be the same URL. Many sites use the same URL with dynamically served content based on the cookie. These will not list in the target language search engines because search engines cannot hold the cookie and then spider the language content. Also, the cookie should not cause the browser to auto-forward on to a French page. Cookies are not bad tools to use for remembering a user’s preferred language, but they should not be used in the ways above or the content will not be spidered.
3. Running PPC in a target language or locale is an excellent easy and low cost way to test out a market. It saves the expense of translating the whole site, and removes the uncertainty of judging a market because a newly translated site will not list well on local engines. PPC also delivers excellent statistics on search volumes and interest in your products and services, and will drive enquiries or orders instantly without the long wait to get listed.
4. Many SEOs talk about having to have a local domain name and local IP address in order to list on local search engines. These are not essential unless in a very competitive market. Many sites list very well without this. Do not take this step (which is expensive because it means hosting on multiple servers) unless you are sure it is required. Use Google’s webmaster tools to specify the location of your site initially, perform good SEO friendly localisation, and then asses the results before you go to extra lengths.
5. Google, and many other search engines rely on links. This is no different in other languages. You need on-topic links from sites that are in the target language, linking to your site using the target keywords in the link text. Links are not easy to get in English, let alone any other language, so if you don’t have the resources internally you may have to enlist help.