As a company that markets directly to international students, one of the biggest challenges we face is communicating to our visitors in their native language. We’ve spent a lot of time refining the process we use to optimize for multiple languages and here are some of the things we’ve learned along the way.
Our choice of back-end framework lets us quickly and efficiently add new languages and update existing ones. There are few different methods for presenting translated content. The first, and most rudimentary, is to simply create a sub-directory for the language that you are translating for (example /espanol/) and then have someone translate the content on the pages. Simple, effective and works for a content that never changes. What happens when you have a site that has constant updates to the content? We opted for a more sophisticated approach and use the power of the framework to automatically replaced strings on the page with values stored on the back-end.
Having a native speaker translate your content is preferable to depending on an automatic tool like Google Translate. The automatic tools are adequate for getting the gist of a page but nothing beats having your content translated “by hand”. There are online services you can hire todo the translations, with various methods for pricing the service; by the word, page, or hour. InternationalStudentInsurance.com is an example of a site that we’ve made available in multiple languages. We currently offer the entire site translated into Spanish and Chinese, this includes everything, site menus, contact forms, etc. When you do have your site translated, make sure to provide the service or translator with a complete manifest of content, don’t forget pop-ups, tooltips, form hints, dynamic content, error messages and confirmation dialogs. We’ve found that providing a spreadsheet of the content to the be translated works well, English content in one column and ask for the translated content to be added in the adjacent cell. This is an especially effective way of having menu and navigation strings converted.
There are a couple of different approaches to handling the URL for translated pages; using a sub-domain like es.internationalstudentinsurance.com, add the name of the language to the URL like http://www.internationalstudentinsurance.com/espanol/seguro-para-viajeros/ or pass an identifier to server with a parameter like www.internationalstudentinsurance.com?lang=es. For various reasons we decided on using a URL structure like /espanol/ instead of the other methods, the primary one was to give the visitor a clear indication of the intended language target, plus we get the additional benefit of easy segmentation and reporting in our analytics tool.
On-Page and Technical Factors
Identifying language in header with lang=param. Although Google only uses the visible text on a page to determine the language, we still set the parameter to inform the browser for any locale settings it may apply. A list of acceptable country codes can be found here. Don’t forget to translate the META tags like title and name! Each page of our site has a list of available languages in the header, we try and provide the most efficient method for visitors to reach the page they are most comfortable reading.
Results are generally positive, organic traffic for Spanish and Chinese languages are up 100% and 50%, respectively. Two of the Spanish language pages are now in the top-20 pages of organic search results. Our Chinese language pages are newer than the Spanish ones but they’ve also started to garner organic search results and we anticipate a further increase as we improve our language marketing efforts.
(These are just snapshots from 30-day windows to illustrate the traffic improvements)
On our flagship site, InternationalStudent.com, we use the IP address of the visitor to display targeted ads. We’ve found that this approach isn’t very effective for changing the main content, but for small marketing blocks, it’s very good. Ads targeted by country and language perform 3-4x higher than none-targeted ones.
If there’s anything I’ve missed or if you have suggestions from your own experiences, please leave a comment and share your knowledge!