Tips for Creating a Multilingual Digital Presence

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While English is the most prevalent language in the United states, according to the American Community Survey conducted in 2011, over 60 million Americans do not speak English at home. The majority of them speaks Spanish. Of those people, 25.1 million reported that they also do not speak English very well. Many American communities have begun to embrace their new neighbors by conducting business in their native language. This offers opportunities for both parties. This article focuses on websites that deliver content in multiple languages within one country. International website requirements are not mentioned here, but can be learned about here.

Base Requirements to Market your Firm Online in Another Language

The first step to creating a digital presence for a business in another language is to make sure that the business has the human capital to handle acquiring business in another language. For law firms, this means that the client’s preferred language will need to be used from the time someone calls the firm to the time their case is resolved. However, this does not mean that a firm must have a completely multilingual staff to operate in another language.

Most importantly, you must have an attorney who can speak the alternate language fluently and can understand the needs of the client and the specifics of their situation. A paralegal who is fluent in the alternate language is also vital, since the paralegal will assist with the case and answer questions from the client. Having a bilingual receptionist is very helpful but not necessarily a requirement in the digital marketing world. There are many answering services and chats with skilled operators who can perform screening and intake duties for firms in another language.

Quality Content Creation and Translation

Duplicate content has long struck panic into the hearts of SEOs, as it has been cited as a reason that search results can be filtered from a search. However, duplicate content is not something to be afraid of. Google’s algorithm has become much more savvy in recent years, and typically gives priority to the original source, not the duplicate versions.

The most important thing to keep in mind when translating the content for your secondary language page is to make sure that the content is individually translated instead of using an auto-generated translation. Content created in one language will not be a mirror copy when translated into another language due to differences in sentence structure and figures of speech. Former head of web spam team at Google, Matt Cutts’, verifies this information in a Q&A video posted to Google’s YouTube page and embedded below. Typically, Google rewards webmasters who keep the end user’s experience the top priority.

The content should also be catered to the demographic you are trying to reach. If you list resources and/or agencies on your website that should have accompanying links, you should try to link to the language associated with the page.  If you have already done business with this group but want to expand your reach online, think about any frequently asked questions that non-native English speakers frequently ask. One of the most common questions we hear with legal clients is related to how firms help undocumented immigrants and if they will be deported for bringing a claim. Answering questions like this will help you curate content that is related to the community and may cover some of their initial concerns.

Technical On-Page Optimization

New Domain vs. Subfolder vs. Subdomain

Where the newly translated content will live is an important part of operating in another language. The three options are to create a new website: newdomain.com, to create a subdomain of your current website: spanish.domain.com, or to create a subfolder of your website: domain.com/spanish/. While you can use any of the three options, they do have their pros and cons. Creating a new domain means that you are starting from scratch and that none of the work you have done to build the authority of your current website will be transferred over to your new website, which is a real bummer. However, this method is useful if you want to completely separate your current brand from your other language’s brand or use a domain name in the target language.

Subdomains are similar to creating a new domain in that you will not transfer any of the existing domain’s authority over to your new subdomain. Your new language pages will be easy to navigate for users and webmasters, and a website set up like this can be easy to remember.

While the first two choices do have their silver linings, creating a subfolder is typically the best way to go. The domain authority is transferred to the existing pages and the existing page templates are also available to make building the website within the website easier.

HrefLang Tags

Since the content in the alternate language was individually-translated by a native speaker and there is specific information that is pertinent to your target audience, the content should be good to go, right? Not quite.

There is one more step to take that will help you inform Google which page to serve based on the language the searcher is using or what their browser is set to. This step is called added in HrefLang tags. These tags are simple to set up, but if you are working on a large site or a site with multiple language variations, they can be cumbersome. Yoast has created an in-depth guide to creating HrefLang tags that can walk you through every step.

The HrefLang tags that you add to a page will have the same number of lines as the number of languages you are translating. For example: If you have an English page: domain.com and a Spanish page: domain.com/es/ that are roughly the same content translated, you would add this code to the head section of both pages (if you are using HTML integration):

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://www.domain.com” hreflang=”en” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://www.domain.com/es/” hreflang=”es” />

This specifies that the English (en) version of the content is found at http://www.domain.com and the Spanish (es) version is found at http://www.domain.com/es/.

This guide created by Aleyda Solis can help you quickly create tags and reduce the likelihood of making errors.

Page Structure and Navigation

When creating these new pages, we have to take into consideration that every element of the page needs to be customized for visitors who speak the targeted language. This includes body content, titles and meta descriptions, taglines, copyright information, forms, buttons, testimonials, etc.

To help users navigate the site, create a header, footer, and sidebar in the new language, as well as a way to access the site in the alternate languages. It is a good idea to wait to launch and promote the new mini-site until you have all of the most-essential pages created to make a main menu.

Example: On the English version of this site, they have a header area with a menu, banner, and contact options in English, as well as a prominent button that leads to the En Espanol version of the site. The site also has a footer with an alternate menu and contact information in English. If you click through to the Spanish version of the site, you will see the same options in Spanish. Since the Spanish site is newer, they do not have as many practice-area pages as the English version, but they do have the base pages as mentioned before.

An easy way to structure your page URLs for a Spanish website is to create a homepage for the alternate language using an abbreviation such as: domain.com/es/ for Spanish and domain.com/fr/ for French. You can then mirror your main site’s content for subpages of the new language’s home pages.

Routing Communication Using Code

Luckily, with digital marketing, we can easily route calls for specific pages to specific numbers or signal for a chat box to be opened by an operator in an alternate language. For example, on the English Workers’ Compensation Page of this site, the chat box appears in English, but on the Spanish Workers’ Compensation Page of the same site, the chat box appears in Spanish and will open a dialogue with a Spanish-speaking operator.

If you had a business where you did not have someone who is bilingual to operate the phones, you could use a specific phone number on those pages to route to an answering service.

Building Trust

Creating a mini-website for an audience who speaks a language other than the one commonly spoken in your area is simple, but ensuring that your visitors come to a website that meets their needs in their language is not always as simple. The steps listed above will help you get started, but really investing in the community is a key piece of this puzzle not mentioned. Hosting events where your staff and attorneys can get out into the public and talk face-to-face with your target community and giving back via charities or other philanthropic endeavors are essential to growing a brand in a new language.