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Why Language Preferences are the #1 SEO Variable You Forgot

Episode Overview: Natural language processing is the series of parts within the greater search algorithm that takes, processes and provides answers to user queries. It’s a complex system that’s continually evolving as languages and user search intents change. Join host Ben as he concludes his Mobile Marketing Week conversation with MobileMoxie CEO Cindy Krum talking about the language settings that truly matter for better mobile optimizations.


  • When a multilingual user enters a query in one language on Google, it defaults the language the user has set as default in their search settings.
  • However, if you use a search query in a different language than your default setting, Google will display the knowledge graph using the entered language and display your default language in normal results underneath the graph.
  • Google’s search algorithm operates on the expectation that user engagement with changing their default language settings is low.


Ben:                  Welcome back to the last episode of Mobile Marketing Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this week we’ve been publishing an episode every day discussing what you need to know to optimize your mobile SEO efforts for max impact. Joining us again for a Mobile Marketing Week is Cindy Krum who is the founder and CEO of MobileMoxie, which is a mobile centric set of tools and APIs that help SEOs gain better insights into their mobile experiences.

Ben:                   And so far this week Cindy and I have talked a little bit about the overall marketing landscape, the impact of the Coronavirus, and the lifestyle changes that are happening have caused to the mobile marketing landscape. What is a Fraggle and why it’s impacting how you should think about mobility. We also talked a little bit yesterday about what the impact of zero click is on mobile analytics.

Ben:                   And today we’re going to talk about a topic that Cindy is really passionate about and talking a lot about lately, which is what language settings really matter for your mobile optimizations. Okay, here’s the last installment of Mobile Marketing Week with Cindy Krum from MobileMoxie. Cindy, happy Friday and welcome to the last episode of Mobile Marketing Week on the Voices of Search podcast.

Cindy:                Woohoo, happy to be here.

Ben:                    Excited to have you back. A little sad we’re not going to get to talk again tomorrow, but let’s make the most of it. We’ve covered a lot of ground today and today we’re talking about what you’ve been banging the drum on the speaker circuit for a little while here, which is the idea of the language that you’re optimizing for matters as much as some of the other variables and some of the content you’re optimizing. Talk to me a little bit about why you think language matters so much.

Cindy:                 Yeah. So this is something that’s fascinating and a lot of people when they see that I’m going to do a talk about language, they assume that it’s going to be about BERT and things like language understanding, but it’s actually a bit more basic but also possibly a bit more insidious because it’s something that as SEOs we often take for granted. I have looked at a lot of SEO analytics setups and the language, the search language, is something that they forget about or set and forget and it can actually change results.

Cindy:                 So, we’ve done a massive amount of testing on this and have a five part article series on the impact of language and why language is important for mobile first indexing, entity first indexing, all of those things. So it is somewhat related to those larger concepts, but it’s a bit more tactical and that is that the default language setting on a phone or the default search setting actually changes search results.

Cindy:                 So I can be sitting here with my phone and do a search for a word, let’s say pizza and get one set of results. And if I go and change the default phone language or change the default search settings to a different language and I do the exact same search, the languages that I get will be different. And Google seems to be doing more than most SEOs think to accommodate language. For instance, in cases where they can, if there’s a knowledge graph entry, the knowledge graph will always be in the setting language, even if the query is in a different language.

Cindy:                 So if my phone language is set to Hindi, but I search for something in English where there’s a knowledge graph, the whole set of results will be basically query matching on my English query but the knowledge graph will translate that query and understand it and show me the knowledge graph in Hindi if it can. Did you know that happens?

Ben:                    No, I didn’t. It’s interesting. We’ve talked so much about Google’s ability to understand context and process language and understand what you mean. You might be writing one query in order to give an answer that doesn’t actually have the keywords that you’re typing in, but Google still doesn’t have the ability to understand what your default language is. So, you can write a question in one language and they’re essentially trying to answer it in another one.

Ben:                   There is a default setting that tells Google what language you speak, even if you are bilingual or in a country that has multiple languages. Talk to me about where this matters. I’m based in Northern California. The vast majority of people here speak English, Spanish, Chinese, there’s a whole host of other languages. I’m assuming when somebody searches for pizza in the suburbs of San Francisco, we’re getting pretty much the same results. If somebody has Mandarin as their default language, is Google going to start surfacing different pizza restaurants because their language is different?

Cindy:                Yeah, they can. They can. I’ve done a lot of testing and I’ve given this talk mostly in Europe where people are more likely to be bilingual and more likely to be in a country where there’s multiple official languages that are actively spoken in day to day. And what we’ve found at least just by asking around, is that most people will put their phone language in the language that they grew up speaking, even if they’re bilingual. The thing is that Google only takes one default language settings. So, even if you’re a person who speaks three languages, only the one default language that you’ve set counts. And so, if I’m a person and I speak Italian, French, German, and English throughout my day, the likelihood of me searching in all of those languages is high, but the likelihood of me going into my phone and changing my default language before I submit a search in German is low. Does that make sense?

Ben:                    Yeah. I mean it seems like it’s very infrequent that people are going to change their default language settings. And so, that kind of leads me to the question from the consumer aspect of how do you make sure you’re getting the right results. And then from the SEO’s perspective, how do you optimize for this?

Cindy:                Yeah. So, it’s interesting. From an SEO perspective, what I encourage people to do is if they’re in a scenario, for instance, targeting searchers in a place where there are multiple languages actively spoken, I encourage people to make one long keyword list of all of the keywords in all of the languages and then set that list, that multilingual list, up in their rank tracking.

Cindy:               Let’s say they’re using search metrics or whatever it is, set it up multiple times. So if the long list includes keywords that are in English, French, Italian, and German, all of those keywords should be together and all of those keywords should be set up to track for people with English settings, people with German settings, people with Italian settings and people with French settings, but what most people do is they say, “I’m in France, so all the people speak French.” And that’s likely not true.

Cindy:                And especially if you go to a place like Zurich where they have multiple official languages that are all actively spoken, you can’t just assume that everyone is speaking one language. There is not one language. There are multiple languages. So you have to lump all the keyword trends, even if the queries are in different languages, they should be, you should put all the queries in one list and then track it. And think of the language setting in your tool as the default setting on the phone. So, we need to track all of these because we know people aren’t changing their defaults when they search.

Ben:                    So Cindy, tell me how much and where you’re actually seeing a difference in the results. Is this something that’s really worth spending the extra time optimizing for?

Cindy:               Yes. So, what we’ve found is that the language settings can change the results quite drastically when the language of the query matches the language of the content. And so this kind of speaks to the need to build out content in multiple languages and do a good job. But then we’ve also found that different language settings are sometimes more likely or less likely to have hosted inclusions like knowledge breaths and featured snippets and people also ask.

Cindy:                So for instance, German actually has a very high propensity to include a lot of hosted inclusions, whereas Italian has much less. And so if you’re in a place where both German and Italian are spoken equally, you might decide to focus heavier on the Italian SEO because there’s just more value to it because you’re not getting blocked by Google all the time.

Ben:                    So as we think about the impact that language has when you’re optimizing your mobile efforts, why is this something that specifically matters for mobile?

Cindy:                It’s something that just people forget about in general with SEO, but in mobile, the phones are so personal that people forget the settings that they have, that can change their perceptions. So for instance, people forget that they could even change the language or the search default language on a phone. Other things that they forget that are mobile specific.

Cindy:                For instance, a lot of people will change font size on their phone and then assume that everyone sees the same font size and it’s not true. There are just more things that you can customize on a phone and then forget about because you’re so engrossed in your own mobile experience and your own experience of life that you forget, but also a lot of things are I think currently wrongly attributed to location when there might be other things at play changing the results so when people think mobile, they automatically think, “Oh, but that’s different.” Because you might’ve moved a block or two North or South and it’s not the case. Even testing from the exact same location with different languages, you can get slightly different results.

Ben:                    Interesting. I think as we wrap up Mobile Marketing Week on the Voices of Search podcast, Cindy, tell me some of the things that you’re thinking about for the next year. You mentioned that you’re looking at the impact that language has on search results. Obviously there’s some environmental change. What are some of the changes that you see coming down the pike and where’s your head at in terms of your areas of focus?

Cindy:                I’m looking a lot at personalization and trying to track and figure out what is Google’s next move for personalized search results. How much are they going to be switching towards that Google Discover experience where you can follow specific topics. And is that going to be the new experience or is it going to be some mixture of both? Because like we talked about a couple episodes ago with remembering your previous query and then suggesting alternate queries, did you mean … based not on a typo, but on a related clarity. And then how this all fits back to their idea of entity understanding and how these changes make their ability to answer questions faster, easier, better and more universal because the big thing with entity understanding and entity indexing was that it was a more universal way for them to organize their data where it wasn’t query specific and language specific, it was kind of universal and language agnostic.

Ben:                    So, my takeaway here is that as the mobile environment continues to develop, as we think about moving just from the smartphone to the connected home, to all the other IoT devices and other types of voice search in your car, other environments as well, Google is going to have an opportunity to not only understand what you’re doing in one device as you move around, but also what your life is like moving through your home and some other scenarios. So being able to present you not only the right information as you’re moving around on a small screen, but in the context of how you’re consuming it, I think is something that’s going to be really interesting to keep an eye on. Cindy, will you come back and tell us about the changes in the environment before next year?

Cindy:                Absolutely.

Ben:                    All right. Great to have you back on the show. Appreciate you walking us through all your thoughts on mobile marketing and that wraps up Mobile Marketing Week and this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Cindy Krum, CEO of MobileMoxie. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Cindy, you can find the link to her LinkedIn profile in our show notes.

Ben:                    You can contact her through Twitter. Her handle is @mobilemoxie. Or you could visit her company’s website which is Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast. Head over to where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions, your SEO questions, you can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is @voicesofsearch on Twitter or my personal handle is @benjshap. And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the workweek. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed on Monday. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

Tyson Stockton

Tyson Stockton

Tyson has over 10 years' experience in the digital marketing industry. As Vice President of Client and Account Management, Tyson manages the Enterprise Client Success team and SEO Consulting efforts at Searchmetrics. Tyson has worked with some of world’s largest enterprise websites including Fortune 500 and global eCommerce leaders. Prior to Searchmetrics, Tyson worked on the in-house side managing the SEO and SEM efforts of a collection of 14 sports specialty eCommerce companies in the US, Europe and Australia.

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