“Foreign” No Longer Means Under The SEO Radar

The old saying “out of sight,out of mind” doesn’t just apply to children. On multi-language web sites English keywords are often censored because they’re not “corporate,” but no one cares if very similar meaning keywords are used in other languages. The same is true of king content. If content isn’t written in the home language it probably isn’t above the radar and much less care is taken of its SEO value.

Enter the translation sector. This $14 billion a year industry (Source: Common Sense Advisory) has for years taken prime responsibility for converting the home language into all of a business’s secondary market languages—with no real thought for search marketing or SEO. At a rough cost of $120 per thousand words translated, that means the translation sector handles the production of some 118 billion words every year and increasingly these words are destined for websites.

Recently, I was invited to speak on SEO at the Localization World conference in Berlin—the first time SEO has really been on the agenda of a major translation or localization event. This tells us two things: First, that translators are waking up and second, that this phenomenon is only just in its very early stages. Why would clients of translators want to invest billions of dollars in content and spare no thought for search engines or business value?

There are three main reasons why this change is happening and the first will come as no surprise: habit. The translation oil tanker is taking a good long time to turn. The localization managers in large businesses are often located in sales, marketing or technical publications and maintaining a large corporate site in umpteen languages is already a major headache. Adding additional SEO processes is simply not at the forefront of their minds, nor is the marketing team seeing the opportunity to leverage all the investment their businesses are making and asking the translation folks to give the wheel a nudge.

The second factor is more basic: no one knows how to mix SEO and translation or has even figured out if this really adds to search engine performance. The difficulty is that this effectively involves re-training highly qualified and specialist translators to think about and incorporate keywords into texts they are working on, and there is considerable resistance to this. This reminds me very much of the difficulty newspapers had in persuading journalists to think about keywords and SEO as they wrote. No one today would contest this as the right way for newspapers to go, especially when many are struggling for survival. In the same way, translation processes must build SEO in. Global businesses which don’t do this will simply end up fighting for survival struggling against those who do.

Which brings me on to the final reason: profit motive. Despite the large amounts invested, translation is actually a less expensive way of generating content in multiple languages than re-crafting texts in each local market. But adding to its cost would, on the face of it be cost-prohibitive. Additionally, when pay per click offers a lower cost in small markets, the economics of paid versus organic search shift. In other words, it can be less expensive to maintain a smaller range of content in Slovakian and to pay for clicks, than to localize content in Slovakian and invest time, effort and money to generate organic clicks.

We have the banks to thank for moving the goalposts. As cost and especially cash flow have affected businesses the rules of the game have changed. The keyword “global SEO” is now hugely popular on Twitter and trending upwards in Google Insights confirming the evidence that led Localization World to bring SEO onto its agenda. Businesses increasingly care about their international footprint and the quality of their global SEO for economic reasons. The cost of paid search is becoming less attractive and businesses expect more from their content. Better education about search means that more are concerned about the investment they’re making in translation, in turn translation agencies are being pressured to figure out SEO.

Content remains king and all content now falls under the radar. Translation and SEO now need to join at the hip.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Multinational Search


About The Author: is a linguist who has been specializing in international search since 1997 and is the CEO of WebCertain, the multilingual search agency and Editor-in-Chief of the blog Multilingual-Search.com. You can follow him on Twitter here @andyatkinskruge.

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  • http://www.JiansNet.com briteguy

    hey Andy,

    Your article brings up a very interesting and less discovered topic, the multi-lingual SEO space. I agree with most of what you mentioned, but as for the SEO effort of multi-lingual sites, I have some more thoughts as follows.

    1) You mentioned that “no one knows how to mix SEO and translation or has even figured out if this really adds to search engine performance.”. Well, I have a Chinese/English bilingual site, JiansNet.com, that’s ranking well for both Chinese and English keywords for Google and Baidu. I got traffic from Baidu and Google both for English keywords, Chinese keywords and a mix of both.

    Of course, I translate interesting articles myself from English to Chinese, in web tech, USA economics, USA ecommerce, etc.

    2) One thing I am toiling with, I guess most multi-lingual sites are having problems with is, whether to do a separate subdomain for each language, or have all languages on the same page? Right now I am leaning towards one site that has both English and Chinese content, and have the labels, buttons to be in two languages. It works for me already, but I am just now sure if a separate English only sub-site would make more sense.


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