So you’ve translated your web pages. You hired a smart and competent translator, also knowledgeable in SEO, and he has made a good job of on-page SEO. Your localized pages are the best of the best. So why are you not getting any visitors? Why do your translated pages rank at page #30 of the search engines? Let me whisper you a little secret in your ear: Your existing backlinks might be totally worthless for your localized pages.
There are several issues with your existing back links. The first one is so obvious that most webmasters do not realize it: The back links point to existing pages in the original language, which might not be even the native language of the visitor or –even worse– not a language that he speaks. Thus, every visitor that comes hoping for a page in his native language will be just one click away from leaving, unless he sees at a first glance that there is a localized version in his own language. A flag with a link to the localized version is a good help here.
The second issue is similar to the first one, but from the opposite point of view, and most webmasters don’t realize this point either. Ok, so you have a link from a high ranking page to your localized page, so why are there so few conversions? The reason is evident when you reword the sentence as follows: If you have a link from an English high ranking page to your localized Chinese page, why are there so few conversions? Well, obviously a Chinese speaker is unlikely to find the English high ranking page in the first place; he might not even speak English! He will obviously make his searches in Chinese, not in English, so the page from which you link (and therefore your incoming links) will not even appear.
Take it also from the visitor’s point of view who does understand English. Assume he is German, or Spanish, and clicks on the link expecting something in English. Do you understand Chinese? Well, I don’t. How long will I stay on a site that is in Chinese? Perhaps a couple of seconds if something catches my eye, but usually I will be gone before the webmaster even realizes I was there. If I spot a flag in one of the languages I understand I might be tempted to click on it, but don’t count on it. Nice way to lose visitors, to present a visitor with something he can’t understand.
Another subtle aspect is that the anchor texts of those incoming links will be also in a different language, so it will not help you at all in your SEO – your page will score for target keywords that your audience might not understand in the first place! The times where on-page SEO were sufficient to score well are gone, and if you mess up with off-page SEO (say, by performing it in a different language), you will never rank as #1 in the target language. And why would you want to rank well in a language that your visitors cannot understand.
So your existing links – coming from pages in the original language– are essentially worthless for the localized pages. Your link building should target the destination language, not the original one. Thus, you need links from pages that are in the same language as the one into which you translated your pages. If you translated you site into Chinese, you need links from Chinese pages, not from English or Spanish ones!