Are Languages A Google Ranking Factor?
You might have heard that it is better to create content using the language of your target audience rather than translating original content from one language to another language. So, if you operate in the US and you are targeting a market audience in Spain, you will create original content in the Spanish language instead of translating your English content to Spanish. You get to create content that resonates with your target audience, which helps them trust your brand, unlike if they can sense that the content was originally written in another language. That is a solid argument, but it raises SEO concerns; is language a factor for ranking on search engines, will using different languages affect your organic search rankings?
Before we answer the question, let’s talk about the concept of creating content in the language of your target market. Why websites publish content targeting another language region and how they do so
Why Websites Create Content In Multiple Languages and How
When you start thinking about expanding your reach to another region where a different language dominates, you have to consider creating content using their language preference. Your English content will not connect to a Chinese or Spanish audience simply because most people from either country don’t understand English. As a result, your English content will struggle to rank on Google in the Chinese or Spanish region.
Targeting other language regions doesn’t end with publishing content in their language preference. You also have to inform search engines of the country you are targeting with your content to stand a chance of ranking in the search results of the target country. Here are the methods you can use to inform search engines of your target country and language.
Hreflang Attribute: You can use HTML’s hreflang attribute to tell search engines the target country and language for the content page. For example, when targeting a Spanish audience, your code will have this;
Content Language Meta Tag: You can also use the content language meta tag, which serves the same purpose as the hreflang attribute. For example, when targeting a Chinese audience with the meta tag option, your code will have this;
Top-level Domain Names: Big brands usually create a dedicated top-level domain name to target a specific country, which informs search engines that the whole website is targeting the country. For example; https://website.es/, which targets Spain.
Subdirectories: You can also create a separate content URL structure on your website targeting a specific country and language. This will still be part of your website but entirely dedicated to a specific country and language. For example, https://website.com/zh-cn/, which targets China.
What Does Google Say About Using Different Languages?
Google explains how to manage multilingual and multi-regional websites in the Advanced SEO section of Google Search Central. The section gives in-depth explanations about how to inform Google about different language versions. Google also explains in a statement how the search algorithm works regarding language;
“Search settings are also an important indicator of which results you’re likely to find useful, such as if you set a preferred language or opted in to SafeSearch (a tool that helps filter out explicit results).”
To explain better, if an internet user whose IP location is set to the UK chooses English as their language of preference, they will mostly get websites targeting English-speaking people in the UK. Websites that target the UK and English using any of the methods we mentioned above will stand a better chance of ranking in the UK than other websites that don’t specify their country and language target
Additionally, Google recommends using canonical tags in some cases.
“If you provide similar or duplicate content on different URLs in the same language as part of a multi-regional site (for instance, if both example.de/ and example.com/de/ show similar German language content), you should pick a preferred version and use the rel=“canonical” element and hreflang tags to make sure that the correct language or regional URL is served to searchers.”
Google explains further in the documentation how language and canonical tags work together. In consolidating duplicate URLs;
“Different language versions of a single page are considered duplicates only if the main content is in the same language (that is, if only the header, footer, and other non-critical text is translated, but the body remains the same, then the pages are considered to be duplicates).”
For the do’s and don’ts of canonicalization, Google suggests in this statement that you should;
“Specify a canonical page when using hreflang tags. Specify a canonical page in same language, or at the best possible substitute language if a canonical doesn’t exist for the same language.”
In addition to the Advanced SEO documentation on Google Search Central, Google also talks about language in its page on how the search algorithm works.
So to answer the question, will using different languages affect your organic search rankings, the answer is not conclusive. Google doesn’t say as a matter of fact that language is a factor for ranking on its search results. However, country and language specifications can boost the visibility of websites, particularly for internet users who select country and language preferences. Websites that specify their country and language targets will enjoy some benefits from doing so. Although the number of internet users who set country and language preferences might be few compared to the number of internet users who don’t.
Bottom Line About Languages
Things don’t always have to be clear-cut to provide opportunities because language is very nearly a confirmed ranking factor on search engines. As long as you can earn positive rewards from specifying your target country and language, you can hold onto that as a good reason to keep doing so.
Lastly, if you are trying to reach another market audience with a different dominant language, there is no better way to connect with them than creating content in their language. And it will be more rewarding if your content ranks in the search results of your target country.