With over 6,000 languages spoken around the world (over 350 of which are spoken in the United States alone!), language is one of the key things your business needs to carefully consider when it comes to reaching as many potential clients as possible.

This is not only about the “voice” you will use in your content and marketing campaigns, but the language itself.

Should an American company settle for one English-based website for the European market, or should there be multiple language versions? Obviously, the more languages you can effectively manage, the more markets you can potentially access.

Here’s a concrete example: should a company like Target, which ships products to Mexico, have a Spanish version of its website?

With only a small fraction (11.6%) of Mexicans speaking English, you might be surprised to know that Target.com doesn’t have a Spanish version. This means that not only are nine out of ten Mexicans receiving a poor user experience, Target is barely visible in Google’s search results in Mexico.

Here are four things you shouldn’t do when translating languages for your International SEO marketing strategy.

1. Don’t rely on automatic translators (like Google Translate) to rank.

For nearly a decade, Google has been warning against automatically translating content:

In one of 2018’s Google Webmaster Hangouts, Google’s John Mueller addressed this matter in more detail.

Mueller said, “So that’s something where I wouldn’t necessarily say that using translated content like that would be completely problematic but it’s more a matter of the intent and kind of the bigger picture what [the websites are] doing. If they’re essentially just spinning content and hoping that it ranks, then that would be more of a problem for us.”

Removing Google from the equation, ask yourself if your business can afford to offer automatically translated content without human review or curation. While Google Translate is getting better and better, would you let it talk to your clients?

In my case, I’m Polish using English as a second language. I have seen many international websites using poorly translated Polish. More often than not, I end up leaving these websites because I don’t feel I can trust them.

And I am not alone in this.

At Onely, we operate on the global market. For our small but humble team, we have one full-time native speaker of English. He works in-house to ensure that he isn’t just a random off-site proofreader who doesn’t understand our business and our values.

This way, we can mostly (we’re still human!) guarantee that the documents we prepare are free of English errors. However, for most businesses, having such a person might be overkill (especially when you need more people for more languages).

If you do need to just translate your static website into another language, you can outsource it to a specialized company.

2. Don’t translate content word-for-word

Content SHOULDN’T be translated word-for-word.

Instead, you should localize your content to local audiences, to fit their needs and customs. The last thing you need is something like this

And another thing, it’s fine for businesses to offer different services in different countries. And thus, it’s natural that some URLs don’t have their equivalent in different languages.

3. Don’t just copy the content across multiple markets — Google may eventually treat them as duplicates

Let’s say you have a website in the US and in the UK. The language is about the same, so why not just copy the content from the UK version to the US?

Well, Google is officially fine with this, as long as you use hreflang attributes.

But in practice, even when hreflang attributes are in place, Google may classify it as duplicate content and simply fold two or more versions together in the search results.

Mixing up the British version with the American version may not be catastrophic.

However, we have seen some cases where Google was showing an African version for British users. The conversions dropped massively.

Maria Cieślak, Head of Technical SEO at Onely, covered this topic in her article published on Search Engine Land:

“If you decide to publish the same content on both the German and Austrian versions of your site, Google may have problems with understanding what the relationship between them is. Even hreflang markup may not help, and Google will combine these URLs together.”

We strongly recommend localizing your content, at least for strategic markets.

Remember: localize. Don’t translate or copy the content across different versions.

4. Don’t give users the wrong language version of your website.

This creates the opportunity for your potential users to skip you in the organic search results and go to your competitor’s website or ads instead, which is going to cost you money in the long run.

Or they’ll reach your website and simply give up when they see the incorrect language.

You need to do everything you can to make sure Google shows the proper language version for specific users.

Also, in the event that Google does present the user with the wrong language version, instead of the user getting lost on the website, you should make it as easy as possible for them to change the language.

Wrapping up

If something as simple misusing languages can have negative effects on your business, imagine what incorrectly managing the complexity of international SEO will do. This is why you should always hire experienced SEOs.

For more information on this subject and more International SEO-related topics, you should check out my Ultimate Guide to International SEO (written for both developers and business owners in mind).