The growth of the internet means it’s never been easier to reach a truly global market. Your products or services are now accessible to anyone with internet access from Birmingham to Beijing but just because the potential for reaching a new audience exists, that doesn’t mean the connection will be made without properly localizing your approach for your multilingual market.
Geographical barriers might not mean as much these days, but linguistic and cultural barriers remain. English is still the single most widely used language online, according to Internet World Stats, but it’s the native language of only 22% of web surfers. Consider also research showing that the majority of multilingual internet users place more trust in websites written in their own native language, and it’s apparent that a multilingual approach to online marketing is essential.
Targeting your market
The first thing you have to decide is whether to target markets by geography or by language. It may well be cheaper and easier to target several territories that share a common language – for instance, Spanish will provide accessibility to users in Spain (naturally) as well as vast swathes of South America, while French will provide inroads within France, Switzerland, Belgium, parts of Canada and former French or Belgian colonies such as Senegal and Gabon.
You should bear in mind, however, that linguistic usage can vary tremendously from one area to the next. Just as the English spoken in England, India and Australia varies in vocabulary and especially colloquialisms, so does the Spanish spoken in Spain and Latin America, and the French spoken in France and Quebec.
If targeting by language, you should ensure that all content is understandable across the board and avoid any culture-specific references and jokes that might not translate. Targeting individual markets by country will help you avoid losing your message in translation – and it also opens up a number of marketing and SEO options.
Country code domains
The algorithms used by Google and other search engines take location into account, so investing in a separate country code top level domain (such as .de for Germany or .fr for France) hosted in the target country for each localized version of your website will considerably boost your rankings on Google other local competitors.
If you decide to have a single top level domain (such as www.example.com) you should at least set up separate subdomains or subdirectories for each localized version of your site. An example of a subdomain would be de.example.com and a subdirectory would be example.com/de/.
Google’s Webmaster Central blog advises that you keep your multilingual content separate – don’t mix languages on one page – to avoid confusing Googlebot. [Editors note: This is not true in all cases. You could technically have a Canadian site and have French and English user generated content on the same page.]
Handily, the same content in different languages is not considered duplicate content for listing and ranking purposes – and Google also has a Geographic Targeting tool in Webmaster Tools that allows you to specify particular geographic targets for different subdirectories or subdomains – so your Indian subdomain, for instance, can have its location set as ‘India’, and it will be turn up in the results when web surfers in India search for your keywords.
There are several ways to translate your content. The most effective is to employ the services of a native speaking translator, but if your budget does not stretch that far, then you could also use machine translation for content which is not business critical.
Regardless of whether you opt for machine translation or a professional to translate your website content, though, you should never rely on a straight machine or dictionary translation of your keywords.
This is because synonyms, colloquialisms, abbreviations or alternative terms may be the more popular keywords in any language. By all means use the direct translations of your English keywords as a starting point, but be sure to thoroughly research the alternatives in each target market. This may involve a brainstorming session with a native speaker from that country, and should definitely involve using Google’s keyword tools to check what results each keyword yields in that market.
Either way, multilingual SEO is an ongoing process of researching and refining, just the same as English language SEO, but if you’re willing to invest the time and money in expanding your market with localized multilingual websites, then the rewards can be beyond your wildest dreams!
About the author
Christian Arno is the founder and Managing Director of global translation and localization agency Lingo24. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 4000 specialist translators worldwide, operations spanning four continents and clients in over sixty countries.
Contact Lingo24 with a translation request mentioning www.katemorris.com before 30 October 2010 and you’ll receive a 10% discount on your first order.