If you are a website owner and you want multilingual pages, such as a Spanish version of your site, I have only one piece of advice: there is NO substitute for getting your content translated or written by a native speaker or a really good translator.
If you are doing SEO on a multilingual site, read the above again – but I do have some tips for you.
Tip #1 is always hire a translator or native speaker.
Software-based translation tools will not be sufficient as a standalone solution. I’ve been corresponding with a person in Italy – he speaks no English, I speak no Italian. We are getting by through using a “pretty good” online translation tool at www.systranet.com and Google’s Language tools, but still – they are only good enough for us to understand each other. Absolutely by no means are they good enough to convey a message correctly and professionally. If you’re a website owner who wants multilingual versions of your site pages, then you are asking to be in the big league – expect to pay a translator!
Tip #2 is to take advantage of your own linguistic knowledge to help you improve results you’d get from automated translations.
IF you happen to have at least some background in the foreign language you’re trying to work with, you can work with software or online-based translation tools. It will be better than nothing… but only if you have some working knowledge of the language. You’ll be able to tell when something isn’t quite right, and try something different for a translation that seems to make more sense.
Tip #3 is to cross-check what you’re trying to translate by vising some sites in the other language.
For example: an initial attempt at translating something as simple as “About Us” from English to French might get you “au sujet de nous”. Though technically linguistically correct, a little surfing around some actual French websites will tell you that they use “A propos”, sometimes with an accent on the A, sometimes not. With the accent appears to be more professional – but the way you find this out is to actually enter the world of your viewers.
Tip #4 is to copy & paste.
If you’re lucky, the pages have been properly translated and your assignment is just to write the Metatags. But what if you’re really up against the wall, and you’re responsible for writing those Page Titles and Descriptions without the help of a native speaker?
Assuming you have no knowledge of the other language at all, you can borrow the text from a header or a sentence at the beginning of the webpage, and use that as your Title. If you leave out Description and Keywords entirely, that’s OK – search engines will display a snippet out of the site page’s copy as a substitute. In fact, if you’re not confident in a machine translation for Description purposes, you are better off leaving it out of your Metatags.
Tip #5 is to sharpen your focus on the keywords and phrases even more than you would in English.
Inherent Problem: search engines were (apparently) originally designed with English in mind, but other languages often require more words than the ideal minimums.
For example: How you do say “piano humidity control” in German? Well, how about “Klavier Luftfeuchtigkeit Kontrolle” or ‘Klimakontrollsystem für Klaviere”. You see what I’m getting at. We’re used to using abbreviations and the minimal number of characters and words to optimize metatags. Other languages definitely DO present some challenges in search engine results!
Use the company name on some pages, but not on others. Use exactly the few words you’re aiming at, and tailor that to each page within the site.
Over the years I have built and optimized sites in Spanish, French, German, and Japanese… and I’m working on the Italian I hope these tips will help out site owners, as well as SEO folks who are confronted with optimizing multilingual pages.