On-page optimization – or everything that can be done to boost your ranking on and within the web page itself – isn't the only step in your multilingual SEO campaign, but it’s a crucial one.
By concentrating a little extra effort in the following areas, you’ll help give your site the edge over the competition.
Keywords Still Count
There used to be a great deal of debate in SEO circles on the subject of keyword density. These days choosing the right keywords is still hugely important, but repetition is less so.
You certainly want the most effective long- and short-tail keywords. Solid keyword research is an essential part of both the optimization and wider SEO processes.
Once you have them though, the trick appears to be to use them in as natural a way as possible. Google and other major search engines are getting better at recognizing synonyms as well, meaning you can mix things up and no longer have to juggle content to make it appealing to both web crawlers and the human eye.
You should resist any urge to use keyword stuffing. The recent Google Penguin update to Google's search algorithm was designed to deal with keyword stuffing among other spammy techniques.
When dealing with foreign language content, it's essential that you don't rely on straight “dictionary” translations – for your content in general and keywords in particular. A literal French translation of “car insurance”, for example, is “l'assurance automobile”. Running this through Google's keyword tool, however, indicates that the term yields very poor results.
Alternative terms such as “assurance auto” or “assurance voiture” are much more successful. You may find that colloquialisms, abbreviations, and regional variations all out-perform your translated English keywords.
Don't jettison previous research. Use it as a jumping off point and brainstorm alternatives, preferably with the assistance of a native speaking translator.
Organize Your Domain and URL
One place where you can use those painstakingly researched keywords is in your URL. This isn't crucial but can give a small boost in the rankings.
Additionally, both Google and Yahoo will display the portions of your URL that match the search term entered in bold in the SERPs. This can serve to catch a human eye even if you aren’t at the top of the SERPs for that particular search term.
Google uses the content of the page to determine its language. They don’t use code level information such as lang attributes so ensure the language is obvious by avoiding having side-by-side translations or content in one language and navigation in another. You can, however, use the URL to provide clues to visitors about the page's language and content.
The following URLs, for example, use fr as a subdomain or subdirectory to clearly indicate French content:
Using a country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) such as .fr for France or .co.uk for the UK can also be useful when it comes to targeting your content to a specific country. This can also have the added benefit of giving your localized site a more “local” feel, which can help to engender trust. If you decide to avoid the expense of a new domain name, you can still use Google's geotargeting tool to specify a country or region.
Use Titles Consistently
Titles and subtitles are important positions for keywords. Search engines pay particular attention to what lies between the HTML heading tags, so make sure there's at least a H1 containing the primary keyword for every page of your site.
Do this for every page of every language or localized site. You can also double up on any subtitles you use by including them in a contents list of clickable links.
Don't Forget About Meta Tags
When Google recently announced it was (sort of) bringing back the keyword meta tag it was like a blast from the SEO past.
It's long been accepted that using the keyword meta tag can generally do more harm than good as it's often seen as being on the spammier side of good practice. For the most part this advice still stands as the Google announcement pertained only to the news_keywords meta tag for Google News-accredited clients.
If that isn't you and you're not flagging a news story, continue to steer clear of the keyword tag. Optimizing your title tag and the description meta tag can be extremely useful however in providing additional information to the search engines on how a particular page should be indexed.