Should You Transliterate Your Brand For International SEO?

A question which is hitting my desk on a daily basis at the moment is, “Should I transliterate my brand for greater success in China, Korea and the other double-byte countries?” The very first time I saw this I though, “I’ll just wing off a quick email to respond to this,” then discovered that my […]

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A question which is hitting my desk on a daily basis at the moment is, “Should I transliterate my brand for greater success in China, Korea and the other double-byte countries?”

The very first time I saw this I though, “I’ll just wing off a quick email to respond to this,” then discovered that my winging email was more of a jumbo jet. In other words, it took some considerable explaining! More precisely, the question people are asking now is should they convert their URLs to carry local characters.

First, we have to try and establish what is meant by transliteration?

It is, very simply put, the mapping of characters in one language to the those in another to give the best representation of the word in the target language. But no, this is nothing to do with phonetics and much more to do with custom and practice, rather than any kind of scientific logical method.

The Impact Of Localized URLs On SEO Is An Interesting Question!

Transliteration cases crop up mostly when the alphabet is changing significantly, so from Latin characters to Russian, Korean, Arabic, Japanese, Hindi, Greek, traditional and simplified Chinese. There are quite a number of other languages where it applies but these are the main non-Latin character sets which search marketers worry about today.

Transliteration does also apply between pairs of the above — Russian to Chinese for instance — as well as within different versions of a single character set — so between languages using the Latin characters and between simplified and traditional Chinese.

By now, you’re probably considering making a coffee and getting biscuits before reading on — but bear with me as it gets much more interesting from hereon in!

Andy Atkins Kruger in Cyrillic Thanks To Izvestia

Andy Atkins Kruger in Cyrillic Thanks To Izvestia

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by one of Russia’s newspapers, Izvestia (noting that I’ve had to transliterate the newspaper’s name to create a Latin-character version I can use in an English post). They had the difficulty that they needed to represent my name in Cyrillic characters for use in Russian and the above image shows you the result. Put another way, I’m now known as “Endi Etkins-Krugera” in the Russian market (a very rough back transliteration).

What on earth has this all got to do with international SEO? Well, if I mentioned that keyword domains and URLs have been known to perform better by ranking higher in search engines results pages, I might just about have woken you up?

If we went on to talk about anchor text in links which point to my site, you can see that transliterating brands may help sites to rank better — especially where their name is the keyword or for branded searches right? Wrong actually!

Don’t Ignore The Wider Impact Of Localizing URLs

Well when I say wrong, allow me to explain. First, the impact can vary quite significantly between different character sets as all have their own little foibles. Second, there are more influences to consider that impact on both SEO and traffic.

Sony Uses Latin Charactersd For Its Brand Globally - Including In Japan

Sony Uses Latin Charactersd For Its Brand Globally - Including In Japan

Check out the above example of Sony — a global brand which hails from Japan. It chooses to keep Latin characters for its global brand and sticks to Latin-character domains and URLs everywhere. You might have expected them to be more “local” in Japan — but not so.

The Other Factors To Consider When Looking At Local Character URLs

I said that there were other factors to consider when looking at local character URLs. The two main issues are:

  1. Ease of typing the URL into a browser
  2. Click through rates from the search engine results pages

I hope you realise you do have it easy typing English into a browser; the language is generally short and compact and there are almost no “funny characters” to worry about!

Most non-English situations and just a little more difficult, but those operating within non-Latin character sets could be forgiven for the number of keypresses they have to work with to deliver a typed-in address in a browser bar.

Chinese, for example, has something over 15 different major ways of inputting characters into computers — and mostly from a rather dull looking “Qwerty” keyboard — sometimes with root Chinese characters added (the use of Qwerty usually surprises westerners!)

Global Search Engines Use Latin-Characters For URLs

I wrote in previous post about the fact that one of the reasons numbers are popular as domains for Chinese websites is because they are quick and easy to input — and universal between languages.

All other methods generally involve a couple of steps to arrive at the destination. So the key point is, for typing in URLs, turning them into local versions doesn’t really make things easier — and sometimes makes them more difficult.

From an SEO perspective, first it’s worth mentioning that Yandex, Baidu, Naver and Google are all using Latin-characters for their own URLs regardless of language. But what may help with SEO is the display of local characters for the URL in the search engine results pages as this might encourage users to click the links more often.

However, this is debatable since the click through rate is much more influenced by the 10 blue links containing your own page titles — getting those absolutely right is still much more important than localized URLs.

Best Advice Is Probably To Wait & See!

The use of a keyword which is in the URL might enhance the anchor text of links — but this is just as easily solved by creating original anchor text to accompany your links so again the degree of benefit to rankings is suspect when the downsides (including the cost of adapting infrastructures) are considered.

Mostly, global companies are sticking with Latin-characters for URLs and for now my general recommendation is not to move to local URLs — but to watch and wait until the technology has moved ahead and given us all a reason to do this safely. I don’t think this is far away, but I expect that a different design for the search engine results pages is more likely where you see the local language instead of the local link, but you create this content in your sitemaps or by tagging on the page. Naver already changes the look of some of its results in a vaguely similar way.

One more point to remember — do your users actually search for the transliterated version you are considering using, or something phonetic or their own? Or do they describe your business in a completely different way? Methinks a dose of keyword research is needed too!

Overall, don’t worry, watch and wait and, as I’ll be watching this too, I’ll let you know if there is a quantum move you need to know about!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Andy Atkins-Krüger
Andy Atkins-Krüger founded Webcertain – the multi-language international search marketing services business that runs the International Search Summit alongside SMX in Europe – and also includes the in-house business which specializes in supporting internal agencies within big groups with the specialist language needs.

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