When expanding your search campaign to a new digital marketplace, be it mature like the U.S. or more exotic like Asia or the Middle East, you need to do some groundwork before your website is visible in the target countries. This groundwork covers product research, to see which products actually have potential to convert in these new markets, setting up the required business/legal infrastructure and creating an operating model. However, for the purposes of this post I’ll leave that to the experts in business operations…and start with the website. It needs to be transferred into other languages.
How should I approach this?
Google UK provides you with 347,000,000 results when typing “translate my website“. Searching for “localize my website” shows 10,700,000 results. Compare website translation against localization (or localisation) in Google Trends – there is not enough data for website localization compared to website translation for the former to appear in the graph:
So I get my website translated, right?
Let’s assume our fictional website is within the travel sector and has a page about hotels in London, target keyword ”Hotels in London“ (UK search volume Mar `11 exact match: 90.500). The website is then transferred into German.
Speakers of German will agree with me that “Hotels in London” can perfectly be translated into German as it stands in English. As a translator without SEO knowledge, I would translate it into German as “Hotels in London“. But does that have the same connotation (high volume) in my target market? No – it doesn’t.
It seems that German users tend to prefer a singular term and leave out the ”in”: “Hotel London“ has the largest search volume in this category (8,100). There you go – German efficiency.
That is what localized SEO campaigns are about – producing an effect (trust, conversions, traffic etc.) in your target market.
Similarly, localization does not only apply between two entirely different languages, but also between various types of English. Australian users generally prefer the term ”accommodation“ when searching for places to stay and resort to ”hotel“ when looking for a specific hotel.
Localizing your keywords does not only create a foundation for a successful search campaign in a new market, it also helps build trust among new users – because you adhere to local convention.
Linguistic conventions also include foreign letters and accents – or the lack thereof, e.g. English. A German website in the travel sector will have no problem transferring “flights to Berlin” or “hotels in Munich” into English. Simply because there is an English name for these cities. If you need to target places like Lüneburg or Gießen in English, you need to think about how to approach the transfer as neither ü nor ß are part of the English alphabet. There are 3 so-called ‘umlauts’ in German: ä, ö and ü. If you know that, you can transcribe them as ae, oe and ue, and ß as ss, you have a solution: Lueneburg and Giessen. You will find instances online, where the umlaut dots are simply left out – also an option. I prefer the former to keep things grammatically correct. Choosing one or the other does have a difference in search results, i.e. competition. Transferring French or Spanish accents is a bit different as they cannot be transcribed. Why not just leave them?
Enough about language matters. Let’s move on to the technical side. Your website should be compatible with IE, Firefox, Chrome and Safari for a Western market as they are the most popular ones in that region. But when venturing into the Russian market, make sure your website is also compatible with Opera, the second most popular browser in Russia:
Now, you can achieve good results with your search campaign by using sub-domains, but can you also gain users’ trust? In some markets users do not see you as “present” in their country if you are not using a ccTLD for your website and you may see low conversion rates.
Everything is set up. How do I promote my website outside the UK?
As with everything, you need to conduct research. When applying traditional link building techniques in search, you may find that many Russian web directories want a back link, or press releases have more effect in some European countries than others. You may need personal connections to webmasters in the Middle East – or traditional techniques may not work at all. Don’t resort to the same link building sites you already use in other, major markets, because you need local links for a successful campaign.
When using the social media channel to promote your new website, you need to be where the locals are, both to gain exposure and – again – trust. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has his blog on Livejournal and Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki are both more popular social networks than Facebook in Russia. The latter is mainly used to “show off your contacts”, so you may want to consider if your target audience is present there.
So it’s as simple as that: imagine you stumble upon a website you’ve never seen before that offers a product you want to buy. It has a foreign domain, half the content is in foreign characters and you can’t find it on your favourite social media channels. Would you buy?
Be where your customers are and where they put their trust!