Most companies dream of expanding abroad and many find that they receive international visitors without really targeting them. But many are unable to achieve significant brand recognition outside of their country of origin, despite marketing abroad. Why is this?
Many companies copy and paste their marketing from one country to another without considering how it works across different countries and cultures. This huge mistake can destroy their international SEO.
Let’s find out how to fix this!
The most important thing that you can do to improve your international SEO is investing in a professional (human!) translator to translate your content into foreign languages. After all, if you’re trying to appeal to a wider audience, it would be good if they could actually read your content.
For best results, have your translator translate the non-visual SEO elements, like ALT text for your images, as well as your blog posts, emails, and newsletters. Your title and description Metatag are particularly important as these are what appears in the search results. Having these in one language, but content in another will result in a very bad conversion rate.
Why does it have to be a human translator? After all, they can cost a lot of money and take a lot longer than an electronic translator.
Well, it’s because even the best translation app or service will translate each word or very short phrase individually, with no care for idioms or words with dual meaning, turning your masterpiece into a confusing, jumbled mess.
To see for yourself, take any sentence/paragraph/section from this article, translate it into any foreign language, and then translate it back. Did work, didn’t it?
So hire a human translator or you might end up on a list of funny translation fails.
While translation is the biggest stumbling block to international SEO success, you’ll also need to localize your content so that you don’t isolate customers in other countries. Even for countries that share your language, you should take into account that cultural differences go far beyond language.
Take the USA and the UK for example.
Both countries speak English, albeit with slight differences in spellings and word choice (soccer versus football, anyone?), but they have very different cultures. In general, Americans are more patriotic, while Brits feel embarrassed by displays of national pride; Americans are positive, Brits are pessimistic; Americans makes jokes, Brits makes self-deprecating remarks.
While car ads in America may feature a pop-rock version of the Star-Spangled Banner; it’s hard to imagine the same thing working with God Save the Queen in the UK.
Even something as small as having the wrong date format (US: mm.dd.yy. UK: dd.mm.yy.) can trip you up.
Multilingual keyword research
Unfortunately, you can’t rely on just translating the keywords that you already use because of the very real chance that something becomes lost in translation, whether because of the word-soup aspect of translation apps or a cultural gap in search terms.
For those reasons, high-ranking keywords in one language may have absolutely no ranking in another and by starting in your own language, you may well miss the magic keywords that could have drawn people to your site.
For example, if you’re translating “étude de marché” from French to English, the most direct translation would be “market study”. In the UK, this only has 170 searches a month, whereas 2 alternatives are:
- “case study” with 5,400 searches a month from the UK or
- “market research” with 10,000 searches a month from the UK
Using these terms would not only make your content flow more easily, it would also mean that you potentially appear for over 50 times as many searches as you would using a direct translation of the keyword.
International link building
If you have a multilingual website, then it’s essential to build incoming links to your site from other relevant sites in the same language. This is partly as Dutch speaking visitors for example arriving on a Dutch website will be much more likely to continue to view your products or services and partly because search engines value links from the same language (and ideally the same country) far more highly than they do links from different languages.
When translating an article, ideally you should also adapt outgoing links to appeal to an audience in a different country. This is for two main reasons:
- Recognition: While some websites, like the BBC, are recognizable as a reliable source throughout the world, others, like the British ‘i’ newspaper, may only be recognised within its country of origin. Swap the less recognizable websites for authority websites in the country you’re targeting.
- Ranking: Linking to local sites can also boost your search engine rankings, so, for instance, if you’re looking to target people in Germany, use links that end in .de or go to German language sites for a German translation.
Design for a local market
Cultural differences across countries may affect not just your content or keywords, but your website as a whole.
Sufficient visitors in each country are likely to use mobile devices but in some countries like the USA and Japan, this is so common that having a responsive design is essential.
Different colours can evoke different feelings in certain cultures, as can symbolism, so before creating a design for another country, check with a native speaker that it works for them!
If you’re at the stage where you’re about to launch an international website, then put together a clear functional specification that includes all these essential SEO elements. If you already have an international or multilingual site, then review your site for these different elements and ask yourself which one is most lacking and focus on that one to start with. It’s also important to follow international SEO best practice – you can read more about that here.
SEO has evolved in recent years and Google reward sites with accurate translations and engaging content that also appeals to your local audience. The good news is that this also means anything that helps your user experience or drives organic traffic to your site is also likely to improve your SEO. Avoid old fashioned tactics like keyword stuffing and instead focus on a strategy that makes intuitive sense for both search engines and your target audience.
Over to you
Have any tips to add for our readers? Let us know in the comments.