Provided you have a product that works and good visibility online, it is not too difficult to expand your business in other European markets where cultural and socio-demographic differences are relatively small, such as Germany. For starters, translating the site into the local language and leveraging SEO to generate “free” traffic can help gain some market share – even if that won’t be enough to really take off in the new target country. By choosing the right tools, partners and “workflow”, we can easily get a good return on investment from this operation. Well, where to begin ?
1 / Choose the structure of the multilingual site: ccTLD, subdomain or subfolder?
The first two options should be reserved for sites of a fairly large size and with a well-supplied marketing budget. Creating a new ccTLD (example.de) or subdomain (de.example.com) comes from almost 0 SEO level. Choosing a subfolder (example.com/de/) allows you to take advantage of the popularity of the original site and observe SEO results very quickly, if not immediately. With a ccTLD, it will surely take 6 to 12 months and invest a lot in communication to see its organic traffic take off. You can always migrate example.com/de to example.de later.
To avoid : Use URL parameters to manage the new local site (example.com/lang=de), as Google points out. The reason is simple: URL parameters were not designed for this and search engines may not recognize international versions of the site, and therefore may not index them correctly. The consequence is to reduce to zero its chances of being visible on search engines abroad, which is a bit of a shame.
Tip: You can easily locate a subfolder via Google Webmaster Tools, which makes it easier for search engines to show the different sites in the right local indexes. This article explains the process very well: http://www.webrankinfo.com/dossiers/conseils/ciblage-geographique-google.
2 / Set up the different multilingual sites in sub-folders
There are two main tools on WordPress to do this without too much difficulty and technical knowledge:
- The first (free) solution is to activate WordPress Multi User. This amounts to creating a new independent entity from the same WordPress theme in a subfolder (example.com/de). This tool works very well and can be adjusted in no time. It is however not very practical to manage translations and content updates of all international versions. It does very well for a relatively small site translated into a few languages.
- If you plan to translate your site into ten languages, or even more, it is better to turn to WPML (costing 195 € at once). It does almost the same job as WPMU, except that it automates translation workflows, which saves a lot of time in the daily management of international sites. To go further, we can add the WordBee extension to WPML (whose site is paradoxically available in one language only) to almost 100% automate translation workflows. This tool automatically detects passages of text added or modified in the original version (PDF included) and sends the missing parts directly to the translators. The time saved by the tool is well worth the investment (it takes at least 5000-6000 € per year).
To summarize, both solutions work very well, but WPMU will require more management time. In any case, it seems to me that the investment of 195 € for WPML is worth it.
To avoid : Free Transposh style plugins. This kind of plugin is often unstable, impractical and not SEO-friendly at all. By choosing this option, you will surely risk wasting time and ultimately switching to WordPress MU or WPML. To be reserved for truly amateur sites.
Tip: The WordPress SEO plugin (the free version is sufficient) is compatible with WMPL and WordPress MU. It allows you to perform basic on-page SEO optimization very easily and without touching the site code.
3 / Translate the content
A freelance translator can be a good option to get started. It can be quite difficult, however, to find the right partner if one does not speak the language fluently. The best is to find a second provider to proofread the work of the first to avoid mistakes. Price level, it’s a bit of a jungle, but to have a work of a minimum quality, count at least 5 cents per word for a beginner and ten cents per word for someone more experienced.
A translation agency is a possible alternative, but not necessarily better in terms of quality. The advantage is that it often operates on several languages. It is therefore possible to delegate all the work to a single partner, which saves time from an administrative point of view.
To avoid : TextMaster and Great Content platforms. With remunerations for translators of 1 to 2 cents per word, the texts are often sloppy (which is quite understandable). Difficult to trust these platforms, because you never know who will perform the translation of your text (concept of self-service platform).
Tip: Invest in keyword research. This will allow you to position your site on queries that are sought by Internet users in the target country. Take the example of the term “washable diaper”. The literal German translation “waschbar windel” is searched an average of 10 times a month on google.de while its synonym “stoffwindeln” is searched an average of 6,600 times a month. If you have washable diapers on your site and your translator uses the first phrase, there is little chance of getting a lot of qualified traffic from the search engines.
If things are done right, creating a multilingual site that is well optimized for SEO should bring a little extra in terms of traffic and sales. But to really take off your organic traffic, you will then have to start communicating on the targeted market to obtain a minimum of backlinks on local sites…
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