Did you know that there is one translation mistake that can destroy your search engine rankings? And I don’t mean only the rankings of your foreign language site. If you commit this error, you can actually hurt your Google rankings for your foreign language site AND even your English language site connected to it.
So don’t make this mistake.
Do Your Good Intentions Cause Bad Results?
If you take steps to win customers from around the world with a foreign language website, you are wise.
That’s because native English speakers account for only 25% of Internet users. The following largest user groups by language are Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic at 19%, 8%, and 5% respectively.
That means that most of your potential market doesn’t speak English.
What’s more, research shows that 55% of consumers prefer to buy from websites in their own language.
So Let’s Just Use Google Translate on the Website, Right?
Google Translate on website is deceptively attractive for several reasons:
- It’s free
- It is thought that speakers of other languages will be able to read it
- It is thought that it will attract foreign language searches because of the foreign language words on the site
- It will look impressive to English speaking customers that will see that your company is an international company with a localized website
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Some people may think, “Google translate for websites is free, and even if the quality of the language is not great, at least people will understand a little. It can’t hurt, right?”
Using Google Translate on websites for localization is the translation mistake webmasters commit that hurts their search engine rankings across all their pages.
And again, they are not just hurting SEO ranking in the foreign language. They can hurt their SEO across all their connected websites—Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and yes, even English.
What Do These Words Mean? A Glossary:
SEO: Search Engine Optimization. This refers to efforts taken to increase the number of web searchers coming to your website. Typically this focuses on getting traffic from Google, but other search engines such as Baidu and Bing can be important as well.
Search Rankings: This is the position that a site ranks in the search results for a keyword. So for example, a company like IVANNOVATION strives to appear at the top of Google when a user searches for “construction translations.”
SERPs: Search Engine Results Pages. These are the pages that search engines such as Google or Bing show the user when they search for a term. They list the results of the search.
CTR: This is the percent of web searchers who search for a term and then proceed to click on a particular result. Generally, the higher the search ranking, the greater the CTR. However, websites not only have to compete on the SERPs against other websites for clicks. They also have to compete against other SERP features that Google and other search engines put on the page such as advertisements, maps, images, videos, shopping results, Q&A, etc.
Deindex: Google removes a page from its database of pages that it shows in search results.
Bounce: A user accesses a page and then leaves without taking any action.
What Do You Have to Lose?
Before we tell you why or how Google Translate hurts your Google rankings, let’s look at what you have to gain or lose in concrete terms.
- Let’s imagine that you have a page that moves from position 6 to 5 on the SERPs.
- Your Click Through Rate (CTR) will go up by 53% according to Brian Dean of BackLinko. If you were getting 100 clicks per day before with that search term, now you will get 153 clicks per day.
- Let’s say your webpage’s conversion rate is 2% (which is about average according to Larry Kim at WordStream) and each conversion is worth $100 to you.
- That means that before the position change, you were making $200 per day from that search term. But afterwards you are averaging $306 per day.
- With this one example scenario considering this one keyword, per year you could gain or lose $38,690.
If you have dozens or hundreds of keywords from which you are getting conversions and they all go up or down in Google rankings, how much money do you have to gain or to lose?
Depending on the size of the company, there could be millions of dollars of revenue at stake.
So how does Google Translate hurt your English language website? There are a couple of reasons it can lower your search engine rankings over your entire site.
Spam Penalties Hurt! $#*@!
First, Google actually says directly that websites translated with Google translate can be deindexed.
That means that the webpages will no longer show on Google at all.
Why is this?
Google’s goal with search rankings is to provide highly relevant and useful content to human users. However, automated content proliferates especially from spammers.
Therefore Google needs to filter out those spammy, useless results. That’s why, according to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, it removes any pages with content that it deems to be “automatically generated content” from its search index.
On the page that defines “automatically generated content” it includes, “Text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing.”
In other words, Google Translate.
The pages from your site that are deindexed will not show in search results—not at the top, not at the bottom, not anywhere.
So that will affect only the Google Translate webpages, right? Surely, it won’t affect your English webpages, will it?
Actually, it might lead to your entire website being deindexed by Google.
John Mueller at Google said:
In general, when we determine that a page contains only auto-generated content, we may remove it from our index. If we determine that the largest part of a site consists of auto-generated content (such as when it’s automatically translated and crawled & indexed like that for several languages), then we may opt to remove the whole site from the index. This may sound a bit harsh, but auto-generated content that is created for search engines is a really bad idea and a waste of our resources.
He continued with a suggestion:
As John Mueller suggested, what if we use the Google translate plug-in on your website in order to automatically translate your webpage?
The good thing about this method is that none of the translated text is submitted to Google. It’s only a translated overlay that the end-users can view.
This solves the deindexing problem mentioned above, but unfortunately it may still hurt your rankings across your entire website. (More on that later.)
Maybe you’re thinking, “It might hurt my rankings, but at least it will help my foreign language users, right?”
First, remember, none of that translated text is open to Google for indexing—it’s only an overlay. So it won’t bring in foreign language searches with foreign language keywords.
Second, many browsers such as Google Chrome have Google translate built into them anyway, meaning that foreign language users can see a Google translate version of your website in their browser even without your Google translate plug-in on your website.
If they want to read a shoddy translation, they don’t need your help.
The damaging difference can be seen in this comparison:
- If the user has Google Chrome translate the webpage, they recognize that it’s THEIR browser doing the translation. It doesn’t reflect on you.
- If the user clicks on a button on your webpage to translate the material, that is a translation that YOU are providing on YOUR website. YOU have to stand behind it, and it reflects poorly on YOUR brand.
John Mueller explained the problem best when he said:
I love Google Translate, but if you publish the results and get them indexed without having them reviewed, you’re not showing a lot of respect to your users…
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But How Can Google Translate Hurt Search Engine Rankings of My English Website?
So let’s say you have Spanish text provided by Google Translate on your site, how could it possibly hurt the Google ranking of your English webpages?
When the foreign language user clicks on the language selector and they find their language, they will see shoddy, nonsensical content. Most likely they will then close the tab, close the window, or click on the back arrow. Google registers this as a bounce.
What is a bounce? Tim Cameron-Kitchen of Exposure Ninja says, “The easiest way to think of this is that a single user opens one page on your site and then closes that page without taking any action.”
The lower the bounce rate on your website, the more it seems that users enjoy your website, and the higher Google will place it in search rankings.
The higher the bounce rate on your website, the less relevant and useful your site is to users, and the lower Google will place it in search rankings.
In his article The Most Vital SEO Strategy I Learned Came From a Google Employee, the SEO guru Neil Patel said:
Now, if you use an automatic translation software and your translations are done poorly, your user metrics will probably suffer and there is a higher chance you’ll suffer from a Google penalty. So translate your content manually.
In his video about the topic he said:
What I found is if you create bad translated content . . . it can actually hurt your rankings for all your whole site—all your languages—because if your user metrics—your click through rates [and] your bounce rates—are terrible. What will happen is your English site will start ranking lower and lower as well. Hence you need to transcribe [sic] your content and make it super relevant or else your whole site gets hurt.
(In the quote above, Neil probably meant to say either either “translate” or “transcreate.” Transcreation would involve researching what search terms are actually used in that language so that the correct foreign language words would be targeted by international SEO. More on this topic in a future article. To be alerted when future articles are published, sign up for tips here.)
Is Website Localization Worth It?
So translating your website for “free” can drag down your entire website in search engine rankings, but properly localizing a website costs money. Is it even worth it?
For many companies the answer is, absolutely!
Let’s take the case of Neil Patel, who localized his website into eight languages.
After Patel’s ad agency opened in Brazil, for example, it made over $1 million in revenue within the first year.
“But,” you may be thinking, “Brazil doesn’t have as much money as the USA. It can’t be that lucrative.”
True, Brazil’s GDP is currently lower, but so is the number of competitors online.
Patel says, “Google has tons of content to choose from when it comes to ranking sites in English but they lack a lot of high-quality content in other regions.”
It’s totally worth the trouble. “It takes time to do well within each region when you localize the content, but it’s worth it because there is literally no competition,” he says.
In fact, Patel is so confident about the potential of having a website targeted at other regions that he thinks they can be more valuable than English sites.
“If I were starting all over again,” he says, “I wouldn’t create a website in English. Instead, I would pick a region in Europe, like France or Germany, where it isn’t as competitive and where their currency is worth more than the dollar.”
The message is clear—if you are willing to invest in localizing your site into other languages, you might be able to absolutely dominate the search engine rankings in some other languages.
But you can’t go halfway with a shoddy, half-hearted Google Translation on your website. You must commit with a quality website localization that will move up in the search engine rankings, improve international conversion rates, and earn the respect of customers around the globe.
We translate millions of words of web content every year. If you want to dominate Google in other regions and drive revenue around the globe, let’s talk.
Read Other Posts on Website Localization
- 5 Steps of Website Localization
- How to Build a Multilingual Website? Here Are the First Steps [Complete Guide]
Darren Jansen, business development and content manager for IVANNOVATION, has a lifetime love for tech and languages. At IVANNOVATION he helps software developers get professional localization for their apps, software, and websites. On his time away from the office, he can be found hiking the Carolina wilderness or reading Chinese literature.