Guest Article: Multilingual Marketing and the World Wide Web

Multilingual Marketing and the World Wide Web

A beginner’s guide to SEO and Localization

Paul Sawers, Communications Executive, Lingo24

English may still be the dominant language in terms of content on the Web, but the majority of the world’s internet users’ first language isn’t English. And this disparity creates a rather lucrative opportunity for those seeking to enter new markets: the competition for key search terms is much less on the non-English language internet; therefore it’s usually possible to attain high search engine rankings more easily than in English.

There are over 6,000 languages in the world, 96% of which are spoken collectively by a mere 4% of the world’s population. In Europe alone, there are two hundred indigenous languages, twenty-three of which are official languages of the European Union (EU). German is the most commonly spoken native language of all the EU countries, with 18% speaking it as a mother tongue. English, however, is spoken by over 50% of the EU, if we take into account those with second languages.

In spite of the popularity of English, it’s well documented that internet users are four times more likely to buy from a website that’s in their own language. Even if they are perfectly fluent in English, the chances are that they will start their search in their native language.

Consider the following facts too: Asia accounts for over 40% of the world’s internet users, and China alone has 30% more internet users than the US. And crucially, 75% of the world’s population speaks no English at all. That’s a lot of potential customers.

So the need to talk to the international community in their own language is imperative: and it all starts with a fully localized and optimized website in the target country.

First though, you have to consider the domain name. Your choice of name is entirely up to you, though you may want to consider something that is suitable for the country that you’re targeting. Your brand name may work just as well abroad, but you are best using the services of a specialist translation/localization company who can research any potential negative connotations of your name in your target market.

You’ll also want a local domain extension, such as .fr in France, or .de in Germany if you’re targeting that specific country. A consumer that remembers your company name may use a local extension if manually entering the URL, plus a local domain extension helps to demonstrate that your presence is indeed local.

You’ll also need to consider your choice of web host as the server they use should ideally be located in your target country; this can reduce latency and improve download speeds for end users, and Google may consider the IP address of the server in its ranking algorithms, so make sure you ask where a hosting company’s servers are based before committing to using their services.

For any business looking to go global, the need to “think local” means you should be aware of the multitude of cultural and linguistic complexities that you will face when entering foreign markets.

For example, the French in France and the French in Canada (Québéquois) is largely the same, but there are enough dialectal differences between the two forms of French to mean that distinct marketing strategies are essential when targeting each market. By way of illustration, “weekend” is simply ˜le weekend” in France, but in Canadian French it is “fin de semaine” (literally, “end of the week”). And “courriel” is email in Canadian French, a contraction of “courrier lectronique” – but simply “email” in France.

So assuming you have a fully localized website ready to load onto your country-specific domain, what other issues should you consider from an SEO perspective before you launch your site? One of the main ones is the proper translation of keywords. When you’re having your website translated for the target market, it can be tempting to translate the keywords directly, but this can result in huge missed opportunities if the direct translation doesn’t match user behavior. The correct dictionary translation of a keyword or phrase may NOT be what people use to search for the desired product or service locally: they may use abbreviations, colloquialisms or a different word that means the same thing. So in the same way as you identify your industry’s highest ranking keywords for the English market, such as via Google’s free keyword finder, you have to research the keywords for each target country, to ensure your foreign language website is properly optimized.

The term “car insurance”, for example, is a very common search term on Google. A precise French translation of this is “assurance automobile”. However, by checking the keyword tool on Google France, it’s clear that most consumers search with “assurance auto” or “assurance voiture” instead. So it certainly pays to research the keywords for each country rather than translating them.

It’s clear that SEO and localization play an integral part of the globalization process, and any business that fails to market itself internationally is missing out on lucrative growth opportunities.

About Lingo24
Lingo24 is a global translation company that also specializes in website localization. It has over 100 employees based in North America, Europe, Asia and Australasia, and a network of 4,000 translators. Its projected turnover for 2009 is $6m USD.

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One Response to “Guest Article: Multilingual Marketing and the World Wide Web”

  1. Josh Says:

    There are some pros and cons to using localized top level domains (.uk, .ca, .asia, etc.). The pros are identified above as helping with local SEO and recognition by users as a local (and thus often preferred) site. The primary concern applies mostly to multinational organizations that are vying for rankings on very competitive keywords where backlinks are exceptionally important. “Spreading” a site across multiple domains can divide up backlinks that might be more helpful if focused onto a single, internationally dominant site. On the other hand, if an organization is sufficiently well known, both the international and local sites may be cited together. Each case is different, and you should consult a professional to evaluate your particular circumstances.