According to Internet World Stats, as of June 2010, China is home to 21 per cent of the world’s Internet users, although a mere 26 per cent of its population is currently online.
With a staggering 86 per cent of Internet users now coming from outside the United States, businesses need to move forward with globalization plans. Before they do, however, they must consider what search engine optimization (SEO) means in the international arena.
Businesses know that customising their websites to suit the linguistic needs of regional markets can result in significantly increased Web traffic, as well as increased revenue per order and improved international brand recognition. However, merely translating a website into another language is not enough to take advantage of the potential for expansion in foreign markets. International SEO (ISEO) is a key ingredient to success, and it’s accessible enough for any retailer willing to honestly answer a few important questions.
Have we launched a website that will attract customers?
International search marketing relies on an informed marketing strategy that evolves along with a website, not as an afterthought. It requires meaningful and fresh content that is keyword-specific. It demands descriptive tagging, rich media, social media distribution, and internal and external links. There is little value in going live with a website that is not optimised with these needs in mind. Only when international SEO and design are done in conjunction can a business be certain that customers will find it online.
ISEO extends to messaging in pay-per-click ads as well as in website content. Companies must adapt their English-language ads and keywords. Doing this requires more than machine translation. Rather, businesses should research and validate terms to meet the parameters of regional dialects and search engine methods. Professional translation services are a key resource when it comes to predicting the terms users will likely search for in specific markets.
For example, a mobile phone maker eager to break into China might consider merely translating English search terms to plug into a Chinese campaign. However, the highest volume searches for cell phones in that country come from a slang term, not the direct translation of “cell phone.” Furthermore, the locally used Baidu search engine works on a completely different algorithm than Google, which dominates much of the rest of the world. This is one reason why enterprises should embrace an integrated approach to ISEO that determines the right wording and creates consistent, relevant messages in ads, landing pages and search engine marketing to boost traffic and reduce bounce rates.
Do our words and images convey the right message?
The work behind maintaining the message and feel of the original language takes knowledge and skill that can only come from human involvement. Machines cannot support all the details involved with localisation projects, and when companies rely on machine translation, their ISEO shortcuts become obvious. organisations that deploy such solutions are almost putting themselves at a greater disadvantage than those that don’t translate at all. Machine translation is not adept at catching subtleties, which can make or break a campaign. Total automation can only take a company’s brand messaging so far.
Similarly, businesses need to focus a trained eye on the imagery they select for international markets. The wrong picture can broadcast an unintended message abroad that could sink an otherwise sound marketing program. A company that peppers its site with photos of impressive structures, for example, might unknowingly harm its own reputation if one of its randomly selected pictures conveys waste, corruption or failure in a specific region.
Have we given our website visitors language choices that meet their needs?
The latest American census results contained some important data for marketers. The fastest growing segments in the U.S. are minorities, including Spanish-speaking residents. There is a largely untapped domestic market that is waiting for e-businesses to meet its needs with greater choice in multi-language content. At home and abroad, businesses should extend choice in language preference. Depending on the country, any given website visitor might prefer French over English, or Arabic over Spanish, or any number of other possibilities. Don’t guess which language might be best. Instead, offer a dropdown language menu to reduce visitor frustration and increase the site’s effectiveness.
ISEO Becomes A Business Necessity
With Internet use growing at a far greater pace outside the U.S. than inside, businesses are compelled to extend their websites to promising markets in other regions. Doing so successfully requires not only careful and skilled translation services, but also an informed ISEO strategy that unfolds alongside website development. For businesses of all sizes and in all industries, smart ISEO can result in greater online visibility in the short term and faster return on investment in the long term.