Shortly after my last Multinational Search post (Global Vs. Local: How To Let Google Know How To Treat Your Site) I was taken to task by a few readers complaining that supposed global experts only talk about domains and hosting for international sites and not enough about content. Ok, fair criticism, that article was written in response to a dozen posts about hosting and domains where self-proclaimed “experts” gave a lot of incorrect information.
My post was quickly followed by a great “Content is King” article by Andy Atkins-Krüger that went into great detail about the importance of high quality local language content.
Most of my articles have been inspired by trying to answer specific questions I get from readers, trying to clarify standard thinking about multinational search, or as commentary on recent posts elsewhere that weren’t 100% accurate.
Yes, I agree that local language content is the Jan Brady of global search and all the attention and ink goes to solving problems that in the big picture lend the least to customer satisfaction and conversions. So why do we do this? Why does everyone hide from the content question? In many cases it is because we can’t change the process or get funding so we simply replicate our content by whatever means we can, and spend all off our time trying to get it indexed or ranked without worrying about whether it will convert.
Why is local content such a problem?
If content is king then why is it always treated as an afterthought or given such an insignificant part of the budget? Even the best creative, with proper editorial review, still costs a fraction of a full local presence in a country.
At a conference last month, I asked how many attendees had versions of their sites in multiple languages. Virtually every hand went up. When asked how many were using localization firms, surprisingly, only 2 hands went up as being engaged with an actual localization firm. Over the days at the conference and my recent overseas trips, I have been asking people how they develop their local content and why. The answers are surprising but not shocking. While not scientific, the reasons why people are not using a localization firm indicate we have a long way to go until we can fix this problem.
We use internal native speakers
In meetings this past week in Tokyo I spoke with a few of web teams that indicated they were creating all of their own content. For most, they were simply localizing from English into Japanese. Corporate management did not allocate any budget for outsourcing since they assumed the local native speakers could translate just as well as an agency.
Simply using internal native speakers to do the localization to save money created issues downstream. These people, unless they were hired for this role, have other functions to tend to. Yes, they can translate, but updating HTML or a CMS along with all the operational and mechanical issues involved does not seem like the best use of labor. Additionally, even as native speakers they are not often experienced in writing marketing copy and ensuring they were using the most popular keyword phrases in their translations. A better approach would be to use these precious resources for your blogs and to review the work of the external vendors.
The problem with Google translation tools
In my random surveys and clicking around the net I have encountered a frightening number of sites are using Google Translate or some other automated means of translation to create their content. While this can be a huge money saver, the quality and message is often far from what you would want to represent your company. If you do use Google Translate make sure you get the output reviewed by a experienced native speaker or professional translator, for both accuracy and quality.
I do give Google a lot of credit for what they have accomplished with Google Translate over the past six years. The free service currently supports 52 languages, and is used hundreds of millions of times each week to translate everything from web pages to email. Even some customer support personnel use it to handle questions from non-native language speakers.
One thing to note, and it is clearly stated in Google Translate’s support section, is that the “automatically translated version of your site will not be indexed by the search engines.” Based on the number of Japanese SEO quote requests for Google translated sites my wife (a native Japanese) receives, most do not know they will not be indexed.
I suspect that as more companies start to produce Google Translate versions of their site that Google might develop a solution that will allow the content to be indexed. But until then, if you are on a quest for global domination you will have to get there using something other than Google Translate.
While the use of Google Translate for business concerns me, I am impressed with Google’s attempts to develop professional localization tools in the Localization Tool Kit the company offers.
This set of tools helps content owners collaborate with translators, providing workflow and collaboration steps used to organize, monitor and facilitate the localization process. The localization collaboration functions, while not perfect, are a great way for a business to work with translators as well as their teams in the local markets to create well-written and highly optimized results.
The crowdsourcing option
A relatively new phenomenon with its roots in the open source software movement and further advanced by Wikipedia is the use of crowds of loyal supporters to develop local language content. Facebook is another great example. There are now 70 language versions created from a small army of over 300,000 contributors. The benefit is free translation thanks to the passion of volunteers. However, there is also a risk since no real experience is required other than local language ability and a willingness to work for free. For many hot tools and sites crowdsourcing can be a great first step in rapidly generating content in various languages. As content accumulates you can start running it through a proper localization process.
Content creation and localization workflows are flawed
I have written about integrating search into the localization workflow but I am still amazed at how few multinational sites do this. In another meeting in Japan I met with a company in the middle of a redesign of their global site. The local marketing team, savvy in SEO, tried submitting their local glossary that had been updated to reflect not only linguistically correct phrases but those with the most search demand. They were hoping these phrases would be integrated into the site build ensuring the best words were in the right places. Surprisingly, both the agency and the localization firm told them SEO activities like that happen once the site is live. Most of us know that it will be significantly harder to make those changes post-launch than during the localization and build cycles.
Search people, stand your ground! You know that by integrating high-demand, well localized terms and SEO friendly coding at the time of site development it is exponentially easier then ripping up the concrete once you have launched the site.
Make content creation a priority
I have written previously that 72.4% of consumers say they would be more likely to buy a product with information written in their own language. That should be motivation enough to localize our content in sufficient quantities to inform, engage and convert those interested in products and services like ours. We should have the respect not only in our customer but pride in our own brands to ensure we are putting our best foot forward and not scrimp or overlook the fundamental importance of quality local language content.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.