Update: the developers of the Transposh plugin appear to have resolved the issue identified in this article - you should now be able to rank translated pages using Transposh.

I was recently asked to look at a site which was having problems with getting translated content to rank. The symptoms were odd - pages appeared in site searches, but could not be found when querying the words on pages directly, even for very specific searches. Searching the same words in a site: search returned the content. This is most commonly a penalty symptom, but I had no reason to suspect a penalty. Despite some technical fixes, the symptoms did not go away.

A little while later, I was looking at a separate site, and noticed that despite an array of translated content, none of that content appeared to be attracting any referrals. I then realised that both sites ran Wordpress, and that both used the Transposh plugin for translating.

So, I figured this warranted further investigation. A good starting point, I decided, would be Transposh's own website.

First, I confirmed that Google had a copy of a translated page, and used the stripped cache (javascript disabled) to check text was read correctly:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:transposh.org/de/&strip=1

Screenshot of Google cache showing translated text

Notice that the URL in the header is correct, and the words are rendered correctly). Now, we can test indexing by searching for a brief sentence from that page:

Google shows no results for a phrase of translated text

No results found for that phrase. Maybe something with the accented characters perhaps? Some other tech issue? We can test that with a site: search and the exact same query:

For a site: search, Google shows results for the same phrase

Now we have three results.

Transposh has a readily detectable footprint. the search phrase below shows over 40 million pages containing that footprint. That's a lot of installs!

"Transposh - google translate and bing translate plugin for wordpress"

By spot-checking sites in the results, I was able to see if other sites were experiencing the same issues. I could not find a single site that Google was indexing normally.

What's the cause?

I confess I don't have an answer to this one. I'm confident that it is not a robots exclusion or other tech issue unless I have overlooked something subtle. Indeed, we can prove Google retrieves the pages correctly via the cache and via site searches. 

I suspect that Google might regard these as auto-generated pages and this undesirable, perhaps taking the stance that this is all well and good in a site-specific search, but that it does not want such pages in its results for general searches. Understandable enough for machine translations. In some cases, however, content will have been manually translated.

What does it mean?

Put simply, if you're using Transposh as a way of creating localised content for search, you may well be getting no results whatsoever. It also means any links (internal or external) to such pages are unlikely to be providing any benefit to your site. You would be well-advised to see if this is happening to you.

What you should do next

If you're using Transposh, and hope to get international search coverage by using it, follow these steps:

  1. Find a text-only cache of a translated page (search cache:URL and then hit the 'text only' button).
  2. Search Google for a phrase for the page, wrapped in double quotes
  3. If you get no results, search for the same phrase but restrict results to your own site (site:MYSITE "translated phrase")

If you appear in site searches but nothing else, you are experiencing the problem described above. if Google has taken some sort of action against Transposh in general, then you would have no option but to implement an alternative solution for your translation requirements.

Note: we have alerted the developers of Transposh to our findings.