Not so long ago, there were only a few companies out there that bothered to customize their websites for foreign markets. Those who chose to do so made minimal effort—they simply translated their English copy into the local language and started doing business. Their incentives to create more sophisticated, tailored offerings was minimal; with so few companies doing it, there was no competition for e-business or Google rankings. This, however, is no longer the case.
In the past, only the big players could afford to invest the time and strategic resources needed to localize their websites, and even they didn’t always invest enough to do it well. But today, more and more retail companies are harnessing the power of the internet to globalize their businesses and tap revenue streams from across the world. From Blue Nile to Yves Saint Laurent, retailers are taking steps to reach consumers in a wide array of languages. The stakes have changed since the early days of e-business. In this age of global business, engaging only one nation’s consumer base is a sure way to plateau your company’s revenue and growth.
As companies look outside the U.S. for more business, many struggle to manage the challenges and harness the opportunities of multilingual search engine optimization (MSEO). They understand that customizing their websites to suit the linguistic needs of each national market can result in significantly increased web traffic, as well as increased revenue per order and improved international brand recognition. They just don’t know how or where to begin.
Other organizations are a few steps ahead, having waded into the waters of MSEO. Unfortunately, many of them are ill-equipped. In their efforts to do something, they often follow flawed strategies by simply translating their English keywords, rather than performing a complete review of objectives and opportunities for each target market. As most who have done any SEO work know, just because a particular word relates to one’s product, it doesn’t mean that the majority of searches for it apply.
Better translation choices, better MSEO
Simply put, to be successful, companies need to use the information gathered during a source language SEO campaign and adapt that to work in global markets. As competition and international revenue grows, companies must take their efforts to the next level with website localization and optimization. Whether a business already offers its website in multiple languages or is simply in the planning stages, it is vital to understand how investing in MSEO can result in greater online visibility in the short term and faster return on investment (ROI) in the long term.
There are several issues to keep in mind, regardless of whether your company has launched international websites or is planning to do so.
You say “copy optimization,” I say “proper keyword selection.” However you put it, the words on your website serve as a virtual shop sign for potential customers and visitors. And just as a restaurateur wouldn’t hang an antique store sign over his front door, businesses operating in foreign markets must choose the words that best convey who they are, what they do and why customers should care. Therefore, copy optimization and proper keyword selection is the first item that should be on the minds of companies moving into foreign markets. It is essential to validate keyword choices before going live in other languages.
The right words, for the right markets, at the right times. There’s a reason why the literati applaud when a new, improved translation of a great foreign novel is released. The work of maintaining the nuance, connotation and mood of the original language takes knowledge and skill. Machines cannot accomplish it, and when companies rely on machine translation, their shortcuts become obvious. Organizations that deploy such solutions are almost putting themselves at a greater disadvantage than those that don’t translate at all. For example, “refreshing” might sound like a great keyword for a drink in English, but in another language, the direct translation might connote something quite negative, like “pond water.” Machine translation is not adept at catching these kinds of subtleties, which can make or break a campaign.
Visitors know what language they prefer. Let them choose it for themselves. Just as a company should avoid auto-translations, automatic redirects to particular language sites may also put you at a disadvantage. For most situations, it is a good idea to choose a dropdown language menu instead. With automatic redirects, customers have the website language chosen for them, which can cause frustration and decrease your site’s effectiveness. For instance, just because someone lives in Quebec doesn’t mean they prefer French over English. The same is true throughout the United States, where many non-native English speakers might appreciate the option of selecting content in alternate languages.
SEO now, SEO forever. Building multilingual websites is not a task to be done in staggered attempts; there is little value, for example, in going live with a website that is not optimized for SEO. Some companies are tempted to start by translating their websites and optimizing them later to phase in resource investments. However, this phased approach actually costs more money in the long-term. MSEO is not a strategy one should employ after the fact. Rather, it should guide content development and site-architecture strategy. Otherwise, you’re building a website based solely on what looks good, rather than what conveys the most accurate information. Only when SEO and design are done in conjunction can a company clearly answer the question: “Have we launched a website that will attract customers?”
If a picture is worth a thousand words, you better make sure that image gets translated, too. When companies consider the steps to take in localizing their websites, they often overlook images. This can be a mistake with severe consequences. For example, the financial services firm that peppers its site with pictures of impressive buildings around the world might run into a problem it does not recognize or understand when one of its random photo selections carries a local association with waste, corruption or failure.
The payoffs for globalizing and localizing e-business are great. To reap those rewards, though, organizations must put in appropriate effort on the front end of their website projects. This demonstration of authentic interest in local markets is directly related to increases in revenue and sales figures, which don’t need to be translated to be clearly understood by any business.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.