Google Penalizes Bad Machine Translation

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& 10 tips for good international SEO

Planning to translate your business website into another language? Free, automatic translation tools like Google Translate might seem tempting, but here’s one more reason to avoid relying on them: Google doesn’t like it. And if Google doesn’t like it, you’d better not do it, at least not if you value your website traffic.

It seems odd that the search engine gods would issue penalties for using Google’s own product, but apparently search engine spammers have been publishing lots of awkward, error-laden machine-translated content.  To keep their results as accurate as possible, Google classifies automatically translated content as “automatically generated content,” which violates their webmaster guidelines.

That means that poorly translated content could seriously impact your rankings.  Also,  as Ariel Hochstadt pointed out in Search Engine Land, if you’ve monetized your site using AdSense, your account could be disabled for including “websites with gibberish content that makes no sense or seems auto-generated.”

Ironically, Google itself has started using automatically generated content on its own properties, like the Google Play store. However, as Search Engine Land points out, it appears that Google is using some sort of new and improved Google Translate that’s not available to the general public.

Why not release the latest and greatest Translate tool? Hochstadt speculates:

My best bet is that Google is afraid of mass spamming that could be hard to identify. Nevertheless, if they think it is good enough for them to publish it on their Android and Chrome stores, why wouldn’t they allow others to do the same in Google Translate? Knowing Google, you probably are aware that their rules sometimes oblige us, but don’t apply to those located in Mountain View.

Fair or not, you’re better off using a professional translator, or at the very least having the final product reviewed by someone who is fluent in your target language and able to correct any mistakes. To help you out and keep you the right side of the Google police, we have put together a collection of 10 International SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) tips that you can employ to help boost the performance of your multilingual site.

10 Tips for SEO Friendly Website Translation

If you have a fully-functioning, SEO optimised website for your company then congratulations are in order. You’ve taken a huge step toward growing your business and making it accessible to a wide range of clients. However, you may not realise that, despite all of your hard word, you’re only really available to about a quarter of the internet population.

That’s right, according to data released by Internet World Stats in June 2016, English speaking internet users made up a mere 26.3% of the total. That means that 73.7% of internet users can’t interact with your business because they can’t understand the language.

The obvious solution is to put some machine translation to work making your website readable across cultures. After all, professional website translation can be expensive and time-consuming. However, if you ask anyone whose business has run afoul of Google’s webmaster guidelines, you’ll quickly learn why the obvious and easiest solution is often a massive mistake.

Are You Ready for International SEO?

The answer is probably yes.

Maybe you’re raising an eyebrow at this idea. After all, not every business needs to or is even able to operate in other countries. Maybe you’re a real estate firm selling houses in the United States or a delivery service catering to people in England. What possible use could you have for reaching an international audience?

If it helps, think of international SEO as multilingual SEO. Then consider the fact that some of your potential real estate clients could speak another language. There are, in fact, more than 40 million Spanish speakers in the US and, depending on your location, they may be even more highly represented. And the United States is not the only country with a somewhat diverse language base. According to the British census published in 2013, some 40% of residents said their native tongue was not English and 1 in 5 residents living in London said they actively spoke a language other than English.

If you’ve decided that international SEO and professional website translation is a good investment for you, it’s time to get started.

The Problem with Automatic Machine Translation

You might be tempted to go the easy route and use a machine translation tool like Google translate. After all, these types of services make it cheap and easy to translate your site into a wide variety of languages, even some of the more obscure dialects, like Yiddish. But what you might not realise is that the text these systems output is often unfit to be called a translation.

When you run a site a site through one of these translation plugins, you tend to get a literal word for word translation. But without the idioms and other expressions endemic to that language, you may not actually be reaching the people you want to. What’s more, statistical translation systems like Google translate may fail to recognise proper nouns, genders, and spelling errors, making for even more garbled content. Your website will likely be confusing and difficult to read, driving potential business elsewhere.

What will Happen if You Choose Machine Translation

Aside from having a site that is both inauthentic and ineffective, you risk getting hit hard with an indexing penalty, tanking your Google search rankings. In other words, people won’t have to be confused by the language on your site because they likely won’t be able to find it at all.

Thankfully, the following tips for implementing an international SEO strategy will help you appeal to a multilingual audience in a thorough and dynamic fashion. By the end of this article, the SEO benefits of good translation should be very clear.

1. Identify Your Market

If you’re going to put the necessary effort into translating your site, you’ll need to make some choices about what languages you want to target. As you’ll see, true international SEO is more complicated and nuanced than a simple algorithm. Therefore, you’ll want to be selective about the languages you choose, making sure that they are sound investments.

Think about your market. What languages are your potential clients or customers likely to speak? However, don’t stop there. You should also be considering future growth. Where might your business be going and what languages should you invest in to encourage growth? Consider the economic potential of appealing to new and varied communities.

2. Do Your Research

This can’t be stressed enough. A website that is fully SEO optimised in one language may not be so in another. Keywords and other metadata can change across languages and cultures. After all, just as idioms change, so too do common search terms and phrases. Know what your audience is likely to search for and make sure that the foreign language site has written content that speaks to that.

Of course, the SEO benefits of good translation can only get you so far. Once your potential client or customer is on your page, it is up to you to keep them there. That means understanding more than just idioms and expressions.

You need to understand the cultural norms and values of the audience you want to reach. Understand if they are likely to be offended by photographs or content that may seem innocuous to you. Remember that it isn’t enough to just translate your website. The target audience changed and the content must change with it.

3. Design Culturally Specific Content

Start with your blog content. What has your research taught you about what your target audience wants to read? What keywords can you incorporate to boost your site in the search engine rankings?

Consider your layout. In some cultures, namely Middle Eastern ones, the language is read right to left. It stands to reason that their eyes may be drawn toward the right side of the webpage. For an optimised experience, flip more than just the writing. Switch images and layouts so that what was once focused toward the left is now focused toward the right.

Restructuring your site doesn’t have to start and stop with that. Consider everything from your website’s colour schemes to the phrase or word you use as a call to action. Try to create content that your target audience might want to see.

4. Respect Cultural Norms

In our third point, we mentioned that certain images or other content that may seem inoffensive to you could be extremely offensive to someone of a different culture. It bears repeating that it is important to be aware of these differences. After all, offending a potential client or customer is worse than not reaching him or her at all. Consider this negative business as they are likely to tell others about the offending content. The SEO benefits of good translation can’t help you if you aren’t sensitive to cultural differences.

5. Create a Local Presence

Imagine going to a website that, in all other respects, seems totally accessible and legitimate. But wait, they’re asking you to call a foreign number and their business address is in the next continent. Sure, you could email them. This isn’t totally business lost. But wouldn’t you be far more likely to go with the company that, all other things being equal, has the local number?

Get a local number, plain and simple. Display that contact information prominently on your website. Make it easier for people to get in touch with you.

6. Use Hreflang Tags

Hreflang tags or hreflang “attributes” are code that allows you to distinguish between pages with similar content. These pages may be similar but written in different languages or they may be written in the same language but targeted at different areas or regions.

For your purposes, a hreflang tag will likely be there to tell Google what language your site or page is in. Google then uses this information to make sure that the correct version of your site is displayed to the correct users.

For example, a hreflang tag for an English language page targeted toward the United States might read as follows: hreflang = “en-us”. The “en” refers to the language and the “us” refers to the country or region.

This would be placed inside a larger string of code like so: <link rel = “alternate” href = “website” hreflang = “en-us” />. “Alternate” refers to this being an alternate version of a similar site. The “website” should include a “.com” (like

This may feel high maintenance, but it is imperative that you help Google properly interpret that your site is duplicated only because it is attempting to reach a different audience. Otherwise, it may be flagged as duplicate content and you could be penalized in the search engine rankings no matter how good your translation is.

7. Decide How You Want to Structure Your Site

Hreflang tags are not the only tools that you can and should use when helping Google properly interpret your sites. Consider applying some ccTLDs (country code top-level domains) to more clearly organise your sites.

A ccTLD shows up at the end of your URL. For example, Amazon, a company based out of the United States, has “” as its base URL. However, if you wanted to access the French Amazon site, you would go to “” Along the same lines, “” would take you to the Canadian site and “” belongs to the British site.

Because it is so important that online shoppers get directed to the correct version of the Amazon website, Amazon has applied ccTLDs to help Google know which site is appropriate for which region. While we can all type in a URL and get taken to any of these sites, someone casually searching via Google in their own country will automatically be routed to the relevant site.

Again, this may seem like a bit much. But consider the potential for lost business if foreign internet users find the wrong version of your site and get confused.

8. Don’t Get Lost in Search Engine Rankings

Hreflang tags and ccTLDs can both help you avoid doing exactly this. However, there are still more measures that you can take to increase the likelihood that the right versions of your site are being displayed to the right people.

Show Google that you are “local” to whatever country or region you are trying to connect with. This could mean hosting your foreign language site with a local IP address. It could also mean linking to local content in your site’s blogs or other resources. In short, make it as clear as possible that your site belongs in that country’s rankings beyond just the language.

9. Don’t Just Focus on Google

It may be hard to believe, but there are parts of the world where Google is not the foremost search engine.

If you are looking to reach a Chinese market, consider investigating Baidu and finding ways to boost your rankings in their search engine as well as Google’s. Never heard of it? Baidu is one of the largest internet companies in the world and reportedly claims more than half of the market share in China. In short, if you are appealing to a Chinese market and you’re only concerned about Google, you are likely not going to reach people at all.

China isn’t the only country with significant alternatives to Google. In Russia, Yandex is the ruling search engine. Naver is the go-to search engine in South Korea. And even Bing enjoys a wider audience abroad. Basically, don’t mistake everyone else’s online experience with your own.

And while we’re on the topic of other search engines, remember that just as Google penalizes bad translation, so too might these other services. Acquaint yourself with their processes for ranking websites and incorporate that into your international SEO plan.

10. Look for Expertise

It should be clear at this point that we’re not just talking about changing words from one language to another; we’re talking about pulling out all the stops, SEO and content wise, to appeal to a different market, one with different values, interests, and internet behaviours.

Therefore, international SEO and professional website translation is not a one and done affair. It’s complex and must be maintained. Website translation professionals are skilled not only in languages but also in the infrastructure that you’ll need to make an ideal foreign user experience. They can help you touch all the important bases and develop a plan for maintaining content.

Look No Further

K International offers professional website translation. Choose from over 250 different languages for your website and leave it to our experienced linguists and copywriters to handle your content.  What’s more, our team of developers will help ensure that your website is SEO optimised, so you won’t get lost in the search engine rankings. Our approach is thorough and proven, ask any one of web clients, including Visit Britain, Visit Scotland, Transport for London, Araldite, and more.

Allow us to help you start thinking about the future of your business.