I’ve decided to create a small series of little website translation tricks for the practitioners. This post in particular will discuss the use of localized file names so as to improve your international SEO.

Why starting with this trick? Well, a fellow website translator has been asking me lately for some advice, and at a certain moment he asked why I was insisting so much on link verification. Finally I realized he was not aware that for proper SEO translation I also translate the website file names so as to improve the search engine ranking of the translated site.

First, some SEO basics: There is some dispute among SEO practitioners about how much it helps to use your keywords in your file names, meaning naming your web pages with file names such as:

  • website-translation.htm
  • website-localization.html
  • high-quality-website-translator.shtml
  • resources-for-website-translators.asp
  • web-page-translation-and-international-SEO.php

From my experience, providing such SEO-friendly file names to your translated web pages will not necessarily get you to the top ranking. But it helps, all SEO practitioners agree on that. My own experiments have shown that changing one page name pushed a particular page from not being even in the top 1000 to page 8 in Google. Ok, so it’s not page 1, but so what? It’s a factor, and that is what counts. We should not neglect a ranking factor when there is so much competition, even if it is not the most important one.

Now, given that SEO-friendly page names have an impact on SEO, the website localization professional should also keep this in mind, and the real pro will also translate the web page file names for improved SEO. Search engines “recognize” the text in file names, and if that file name happens to be a keyword, then that will obviously help your position in the SERPs.

But why translate a file name? As I pointed out in my post How Search Engines Recognize Language, one of the methods that search engines use to identify the language of a page is by means of dictionary methods. If I use the word “translation”, then that will be identified as an English word. Übersetzungwill be identified as German, and traducción will be in the Spanish dictionary. But you would not use a page “website-translation.html” file name for a page in German, Spanish or Chinese. Why? Because the keyword is not in the same language, and therefore does not contribute to your SEO (it looks like a different keyword), and on top of that may even lead to an incorrect language identification of your page, which will ultimate impact your ranking.

Thus, translating the file names with the selected keywords in the target language will support your international localization and SEO efforts. But there is a trap for the people that do not realize that this has further consequences: You cannot simply copy links across from the original website. Most professional translators will be extremely careful to retain and not corrupt the original page links. But only the professional SEO translators will be aware that, because the page names change into SEO-friendly names for the localized site, the links will also change, or your customer will start encountering the dreaded 404 Error on his translated pages.

This means obviously that translating the web page names is hard work – it’s not just simply changing a file name that represents a keyword by the translated keyword – you have to change all links, and then test  the whole translated site for link integrity. Your customer expects from you a turn-key solution that he can just upload to his server to have his localized pages ready to show. Though only few translators provide this, it is one of the little things that show the real artist and professional.

Finally, some additional tips regarding page name translation:

  • The file name should be ideally short and descriptive. Try using same keywords in the file name as in the page title, this will reinforce the message to the search engines.
  • Do not use generic file names or very competitive keywords. For example,  translation.htm is a bad idea, there is too much competition.  Rather use long-tail keywords, like you would in the text and title.
  • Avoid using more than 3-4 words in a file name. Two words is quite good. Curiously, in some languages (say, German) you will use only one word though the original long-tail consists of several words.
  • Do not use spaces or underscores to separate the words. Spaces (represented as %20 in html) make the name unreadable for human readers, and underscores are know to be less popular with search engines than dashes (-). Separate the words with dashes (best-website-translator.html).
  • Change ALL file names! You thought I was just talking about page names? Nope! Your images may also contribute with additional SEO juice if you translate the image file names. Check out my post on the Importance of “Alt” attributes in Website Translation, and you will understand why.
<em lang=”es”> …. </em>
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