Ask Yoast: Publishing in another language and SEO

If you’re creating content for a website, you might want to, occasionally, publish an article in a language different from the language of your other content. However, it’s difficult to rank with one specific article that’s written in a language that differs from the rest. So what should you do to improve the SEO of that article? In this Ask Yoast, I’ll help you out and explain when to optimize your metadata in another language, when to use hreflang and what more to do to help that article rank!

Justin from VPNgids.nl (VPNguide.nl) emailed us with this question:

“I’ve got a Dutch blog but I want to publish an article in English. What should I do? Should I just add an hreflang tag or something else?”

Check out the video or read the answer below!

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English article on a Dutch blog

In the video, we explain what options you have to improve the SEO of an article in a language that’s different from your other content:

“In this case, the hreflang tag isn’t even really necessary. The only reason you would use an hreflang is if you had a Dutch version and an English version of the same article. If that’s the case, then you should use hreflang on both articles. In case of a separate article in English, what you should make sure of is that on the English article all the metadata shows that that is an English article and not a Dutch article. Unfortunately this is quite hard to do in WordPress, if you’re not running a multilingual plug-in.

But to be honest, if you’re going to publish in English, maybe you should just make a separate section of your site for it that is completely in English. Adding some more content to it would give you a lot more chance for ranking, than just having one article in English. Of course you have to start somewhere. So by all means create that English section, start with that one article and then slowly add on to it.

It’s always a good idea, if you’re Dutch and your English is good enough, to switch to English. The Dutch language area is only very small and the world is a lot bigger, with a lot of English speakers. So I would really encourage you to start doing stuff in English. Just like we did! I started blogging in English eight years ago, which is why Yoast is so popular now.

Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from followers. Need some advice about SEO? Let us help you out! Send your question to ask@yoast.com.

Read more: ‘hreflang: the ultimate guide’ »

Metadata and SEO part 3: social, internationalization and more

Literally, metadata is data that says something about other data. You can use particular metadata to send information about a webpage to a search engine or a social media channel, and thereby improve your SEO. In the first two posts of this metadata series, we discussed meta tags in headof your site and link rel metadata. In this last episode, we’ll scrutinize on metadata that can improve the sharing experience on social media. And last, but definitely not least, we’ll describe why metadata likehreflang declarations are a necessity if your business serves multiple languages and/or countries.

Posts in this series

Metadata #1: meta tags in the head

Metadata #2: link rel metadata

Metadata #3: Social and international

Social metadata

We have written about Open Graph and Twitter Cards before. These tags, or this information, is definitely metadata. It will help you tell social networks like Facebook and Twitter what the page at hand is about in an orderly, summarized way. It will allow you to control the way your articles or pages are shared.

OpenGraph

OpenGraph is a standard used by a number of social networks like Facebook and Pinterest. If you’re using our Yoast SEO plugin, these tags are added to your page automatically, and of course, you can control the contents of these OpenGraph tags (in the social section in our meta box below on edit pages).

Twitter Cards

The same goes for Twitter Cards. They add metadata to your pages that are convenient for Twitter to read and understand. Our plugin adds Twitter Card metadata as well. If there is no Twitter Card data, Twitter will fallback to OpenGraph data, but you obviously want to make things as simple as possible for that Twitter.

If you’d like a preview of how your page, shared on either Twitter or Facebook would look like, please check our Yoast SEO premium plugin, as that one adds these social previews right in your WordPress backend.

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But wait, there is more important metadata!

If you thought that all the things previously mentioned are all the SEO related metadata for your website, think again.

hreflang tags to indicate other languages

For those of you that have multilingual sites, this one is really, really important. If you have a site or page that is served in more than one language, be sure to add hreflang tags to your page.

With hreflang tags, you can indicate the language variations of the page at hand. That looks like this:

<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/" 
      hreflang="en" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-gb/" 
      hreflang="en-gb" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/de/" 
      hreflang="de" />

As you can see, these can be used for variations of the ‘same’ language as well, like the British English in the second line. Note that hreflang isn’t a substitute for the rel=canonical we discussed. Be safe, implement both. More information on how to implement hreflang can be found here.

Alt tags

If you think about it, any extra attribute you assign to an image, like the alt or title tag, is metadata. Google uses it to scan the page and see what’s on there, so be sure to add these alt and title tags and optimize ’em.

Microdata for breadcrumbs

For a better understanding of your site’s structure, you should add some kind of microdata to your breadcrumbs. That can be done by adding schema.org data for breadcrumbs, for instance by JSON-LDRDFa is another option to add this type of metadata to your website. Again, install Yoast SEO for WordPress and this is taken care of.

Language declaration for the page at hand

Let’s wrap this long list of metadata up with another language related metadata element. At the very top of your HTML, we find the, indeed, html tag. This one wraps all the code of your <head> and <body> and can contain the language of the page at hand. That is done like this:

<html lang="en">

Makes sense, right. Some might say that adding a meta tag for Content-Language is also an option, but following the W3C guidelines, that meta tag should not be used anymore. Use the lang declaration in the html tag instead.

That concludes this series with a lengthy list of metadata you can use to tweak your SEO. I am confident you can come up with even more metadata, as there is plenty. Feel free to leave your additions in the comments!

Read more: ‘Metadata and SEO part 1: the head section’ »

Use hreflang for multilingual websites

Use hreflang for multilingual websitesThe hreflang tag is used to tell Google and other search engines the language used on a specific page on your website. Search engines use the hreflang tag to ‘redirect’ the visitor to the page in the right language. Hreflang is also referred to as rel="alternate" hreflang="x".

When I was discussing post subjects with our site review team, Annelieke pointed out that hreflang was mentioned on our website, but that we never did an article about it. Perhaps that is because for most sites, hreflang isn’t a ranking related issue. For the larger sites it could be, by the way. In this post, I’d like to explain a bit more about multilingual websites and how hreflang is important for these sites.

What is multilingual

Let’s start at the beginning. What is multilingual? In our online context it basically means that content is available in more than one language.

This can be cross border, for instance French or Chinese, but there is a bit more to that. It can also mean a language variation (so to speak) is available, like our next door neighbors the Belgians have. In Belgium, some speak Flemmish (which is like Dutch) and some speak Walloon (which is like French). More on this later, as we discuss hreflang types. Of course multilingual can also mean people speaking Spanish in an English speaking country. Yes, you can target those as well. It’s all multilingual.

International rankings

In an ideal world, you would have a separate website with it’s own TLD (Top Level Domain) for each language you want to target, like amazon.de and amazon.co.uk. Ideally, these websites would be hosted on a server in the country you want to target. And all should be linked using the hreflang tag from the start. It’s similar to ranking locally: if you are in the location your target audience is in, you’re probably relevant to that audience to Google as well.

All this might be the preferred way to do things, but it has its limitations. What to do when the TLD is already taken, for instance. It also requires you to purchase more domain names, of course. It’s the best way, but also the way that requires most effort. A lot of international websites have grouped their online activities in one location, one country, and manage all the different languages from there. In that case, you can still use hreflang to your benefit, as hreflang can target both language and country for you.

Lastly, you should also tell Google your preferred geo-audience in Google Webmaster Tools. You can find that at Search Traffic > International Targeting > Country > Geographical Target.

Hreflang is your friend

If your website serves pages in multiple languages, or your website itself is served in more than one language, you should make hreflang your friend. There is a number of ways that hreflang can help Google understand these variations.

Google mentions the use of rel="alternate" hreflang="x" at least in these three cases:

  • Translate only the template parts, like the navigation and footer, while using one language, f.i. English, for the content. This could be the case for website that consist mainly of user-generated content like a forum.
  • There are small regional variations, but most of the text is the same, like variations of English used in the United States, Great Britain and Ireland.
  • The entire site is translated into other languages than the original.

I’d like to add one. You can also add hreflang="x", where x is the language, to a link. In that case, the hreflang attribute should reflect the language of the page in the link. That way, you are telling Google that there will be a different language at the other side of that link. This is especially useful for sites that actually tell the visitor the site or page is available in other languages as well by linking these pages.

Locations of hreflang

Besides in the link mentioned in the section above, there are a couple of ways to tell Google about the language variations:

  1. Place an HTML link in the header. You could add a language alternative to your <head> like this:
    <link rel="alternate" hreflang="nl" href="http://nl.example.com/" />
  2. In your HTTP header, for instance via your .htaccess file. This is mainly for non-HTML files like PDF’s and might look something like this:
    Link: <http://nl.example.com/>; rel="alternate"; hreflang="nl"
  3. XML sitemap. You can also add language alternatives via your sitemap. This is a bit more technical; read more about it in Webmaster Tools.

Examples of language indicators

Let’s go over a number of variations to make this all just a bit more clear. For starters, you want to make sure all languages are covered, even the ones you are not targeting. You can easily add a ‘default’ page by setting an x-default hreflang element:

<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/" hreflang="x-default" />

This simply indicates that if none of the alternate links is matched, this page should be served.

That x-default can be replaced by a language and a country like this:

<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-gb" hreflang="en-gb" />

That is a hreflang setting for all English speakers in Great Britain / United Kingdom (UK). This also points out the importance of the x-default, as this line only targets the visitors that come from the UK (server side) and prefer the English language (client side).

As mentioned, alternative could be:

<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-us" hreflang="en-us" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-au" hreflang="en-au" />

By the way, I have seen en-us and en-US, for China it could even be zh-Hans. I don’t think there is a right and wrong in uppercase/lowercase. Even Google uses both in one article. I have also seen brave tries to use en_GB, but that underscore won’t work; it needs to be a hyphen.

One more thing

To finish things off, you also want to add a notice of these alternative pages via OpenGraph:

  • The locale these tags are marked up in. Note that OpenGraph does use an underscore.
    <meta property="og:locale" content="en_GB" />
  • An array of other locales this page is available in.
    <meta property="og:locale:alternate" content="fr_FR" />
    <meta property="og:locale:alternate" content="es_ES" />

More on that for instance on the Facebook developers pages.

Hreflang and SEO

The big question for us of course is “what will this all do for SEO?” Well, that seems to depend on for instance the size of the site and the way the content in the original language is already indexed.

I have read a number of case studies, and have discussed it with colleagues. If your website ranks well, and has a significant size, adding a new language and hreflang tags might indeed help the rankings of the ‘new’ website. Google might even index all as one (if it’s one domain), which means a lot more pages for the main domain will be indexed. If these are all of quality, that obviously won’t hurt.

Having said that, the other way around also seems to be the case. Low rankings for your main site won’t help the language alternatives. And for smaller sites, the overall impact seems to be very little.

Should you add hreflang? Yes, you should. Will it help your SEO / rankings? It might.

Some of the case studies that led to that believe:

Your call

I hope this post brought you some more understanding of the hreflang tag. If you have a multilingual site, it will help Google understand your site. And that alone should be a reason to add it.

Next to that, I’m very much looking forward to reading your thoughts on this subject and even more to your own case study or studies. Feel free to link your hreflang case study in the comments!

Thanks for reading

This post first appeared as Use hreflang for multilingual websites on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!