Improving online visibility in new markets: translation and SEO

Nicola Winters

Head of International


Getting the “language of your business” right is vital for search engine rankings and paid search quality scores. It is also the key to gaining the visibility and establishing the trust needed to be able to compete with local businesses, who are already at an advantage due to being native speakers.

There is mounting evidence that customers and search engines are expecting more localisation and user-friendly sites:

  • 56% of consumers say the ability to access product info in their native language is a more important purchasing factor than pricing (Smartling: “The State of Multilingual Marketing”)
  • 9 out of 10 internet users always choose to navigate to websites in their native language when presented with multiple language options. (European Commission: “User Language Preferences Online”)
  • For some markets, an English-only website can lead to a swift end to your global expansion plans: according to Baidu, China’s biggest search engine, English landing pages have an 85% drop-off rate.

This article considers the importance of integrating SEO into the translation process, and provides advice on how to do it well.

Translation and SEO

Translation is needed as a first step of localisation, although translation alone will not ensure your global success online. Mother-tongue speakers have a unique range of vocabulary and knowledge of how their local language is spoken in a way that non-native translators do not. It is therefore critical to engage mother-tongue linguists to creatively and effectively explore the full variety of potential search terms that could yield results in a search or digital marketing campaign.

Today’s machine translation tools (e.g. Google Translate) are simply not up to the challenge of optimising your website for new markets. Non-native speaking human translators also fail to capture important local phrases which are key to your success, due to how they have been trained to translate from one language to another. Even someone who is bilingual doesn’t necessarily have the skill set required to ensure that the translated campaign will be optimised when translated into their second language.

Many translation agencies can translate your web pages into your required language, but they alone cannot do the job of making it market and search engine friendly.

Translating your site and then optimising it at a later date can lead to large sections of the website having to be re-written. Furthermore, relying solely on translation with no technical SEO guidance may result in future updates becoming increasingly expensive and complex because the legacy structure has made it impossible to apply cost saving tools and techniques.

Our experience is that you will gain more from your translated website if you engage a digital marketing agency with international know-how and native linguists from the start. This will ensure that your newly translated website is also optimised effectively for search. This is one of the core reasons we started, to offer translation integrated with our international digital marketing and SEO expertise from the start.

What key areas of SEO should be considered during the localisation process?

There are some key SEO elements we look at for our clients during the translation process. These include keyword research, site structure, and hreflang.

Keyword research

As mentioned above, it is vital that keyword research is carried out by a mother-tongue speaker. Many translation agencies simply translate English keywords in the hopes of helping their clients rank in different markets. This strategy fails to take account of the search volumes of those words in different markets, and the country-specific keywords with high search volume.

Here is an example:

A UK car hire company is expanding into France and is starting to explore French search terms in order to inform its search marketing strategy. Back in the UK, the company has already identified the following terms that its customers use in search engines in order to find companies offering this service:

  • “Car hire”
  • “Vehicle rental”
  • “Automobile lease”
  • “Charter motor”

Going a step further, these pairs of words can be interchanged to create sixteen possible combinations of these search terms which could all be entered into a search engine in order to retrieve similar SERPs: ‘vehicle hire’, ‘automobile rental’, ‘car lease’ etc.

In this case, it is likely that both human and automated translators would reduce these sixteen possible combinations down to one or two phrases – “location de voiture”, for example. Both are trained to find the ‘best match’ between words and phrases through which they can transport meaning from one language to another.

This is a reductive approach to translation, and is actually the opposite of what our car hire company requires for successful French SEO. To ensure its website appears on the SERPs of as many French-language consumers as possible, the company needs to identify the highest possible number of alternative search terms, not only those that are directly translated from the English.

Site structure

International websites can have either a ccTLD, sub-folder or sub-domain structure. Each option varies based on the amount of authority the domain shares, the location signalling they offer and the trust signals they give.  During the localisation process, we offer advice to our clients to help them chose a domain structure that is right for their business and future expansion plans. We go into the site structure options in more details in this blog post.


Hreflang is a HTML tag that you can add directly to the source code of a page when you have duplicate content in multiple languages. We use hreflang to help search engines understand the language of a piece of content and to help ensure it’s served to the right users in the right market. This is a vital step in the localisation process, especially if you have multiple sites in different languages. We often find our clients’ sites do not have hreflang implemented correctly and fixing this can have a big impact on online visibility.

In summary, integrating SEO and translation at the start helps increase the organic visibility of your website from the beginning. Using mother-tongue translators and SEO experts together, allows you to avoid costly rework and set your site up for success. Before launching your site, ensure local keyword research has been carried out, the right site structure is in place and hreflang has been implemented correctly.

To find out more about how translation can be integrated with SEO contact us today.

Want insights like these delivered straight to your inbox?Sign-up now


Four considerations to help determine which international market is right for your organisation

Read article