We all know that search-engine optimisation, or SEO, is an essential tool for modern marketers. By producing Web content that uses the right words at an optimal frequency, your content can appear closer to the top of search results when potential customers are looking for services.
It sounds achievable–until you remember that only about 320 million people speak English. This means most of the world’s population won’t be able to read your Web site if it’s available only in English.
To complicate matters, the SEO techniques you employ for one language may not work for another. In fact, research from Harvard Business Review revealed that nine in 10 Europeans–that’s more than 740 million people–prefer traversing the InterWebs in their native language. More importantly, 85% of online shoppers won’t commit to a purchase unless the product description or company site is in the language they speak.
According to Google, half of all searches are made in a language other than English. As a result, keyword translation to ensure visibility in search results is paramount.
“Success and failure for international SEO has three major components: your marketing efforts at a country level; your technical solutions and how well you can cater for different locations; and your connection with the local team,” said inbound marketing and SEO specialist Frederic Chanut, managing director of Sydney firm In Marketing We Trust.
According to Chanut, who, in his previous role was responsible for 28 Web sites in 14 languages and grew the Asian market by 30%, to build a multilingual Web presence under a single domain, marketers should use country-specific subdomains and “hreflang” tags, which allow search engines to identify the language in which the page is written.
“This has the advantage of combining all SEO authority under one domain and reducing the effort from the tech side,” he said.
Carl Pantaleon, SEO strategist with digital agency VE People, agreed. “It is essential to know your targeted areas in relation to your products and services,” he said. “Next, identify the language of each area and if the language is also available in other regions.”
For example, you can target people in specific language areas by amending the URL. In the multilingual APAC region you might use yourbrand.com/product, for Malay speakers in Malaysia this would be yourbrand.com/my-my/produk, and for Filipino speakers in the Philippines it would be yourbrand.com/ph-ph/produkto. The more appropriate the location information you provide to search engines, the more likely your site can serve the right people in a specific country or region that you’re targeting.
“If you can map out the right location structure first, the rest of the project will be much easier,” said John Lincoln, founder and president of SEO and social media at Ignite Visibility.
This means everything from ensuring you purchase localised domains for countries and regions, to the right top-level domains (“.com” may not be enough), to site structure with the right subdomains and subfolders for regionalised content, to the appropriate code in the Web page header.
All of these considerations can add to the complexity and cost of creating and managing a Web site. Chanut suggested that some approaches are simpler than others and offer reasonable return on investment.
“Local Web sites with their own domains--.com.au, .ph, .my--deliver the greatest return for international SEO,” he said. “Quality score and conversion rate also need to be taken into consideration.”
SEO also extends beyond translation and requires an understanding of the local idiom, VE People’s Pantaleon said.
Chanut cited his experience at a travel company. “We translated our main English keyword ‘cheap hotels’ into traditional Chinese for the Taiwanese market,” he said. “We saw a surge of traffic but very limited bookings. We only realised what happened after a local agent mentioned that the term ‘cheap hotels’ in Taiwanese meant ‘brothel.’”
One Language, Many Countries
While it’s tempting to think that SEO for different countries is based on language alone, optimisation needs to be determined by country, said Christian Arno, managing director at translation company Lingo24, in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“If you translate your Web site for Latin American readers, then you’ll also pick up European users and Spanish speakers in the United States,” he said. “It’s certainly cheaper to have one Spanish Web site for all these countries, but you’ll get better results by having separate, optimised sites for each target country.
Arno’s other key piece of advice: Avoid optimising purely for one search engine. Although Google may be king in some markets, it’s not universal. In Japan, Yahoo! is very popular, while other engines, such as China’s Baidu, value the quantity of links rather than Google’s approach, which is about authoritative quality of links.