SEO / SEM Tips for Successful Global Marketing: Don’t treat it like translation
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Successful website marketing professionals know that well-thought-out SEO and SEM campaigns will drive traffic to their sites. When expanding globally, these professionals are eager to apply this experience to their foreign language websites to attract cross-border customers. However, simply applying what they know about high-quality website translation to their well-crafted SEO terms often leaves them wondering why their foreign languages sites are underperforming. Generally speaking, this is because SEO localization is not translation of SEO terms, but rather the generation of equivalent foreign language terms used by people from a specific geographic locale in their online activities. The best way to illustrate this is by example.

A popular English search term is “auto insurance.” A simple direct French translation is “assurance automobile.” However, keyword tools tell us that in France, “assurance auto” or “assurance voiture” are far more commonly searched terms – between 60 and 30 times more per month than the direct translation above. The search for equivalent terms as used online in France yielded better results than simply translating. But wait, going to Canada instead? Then note that “assurance automobile” is as common as “assurance voiture.” Vive la différence! And don’t rely on simple translation.

Even simple, unambiguous translations do not always reflect how search terms are used. Let’s look at an example when we’re translating towards English. An Italian website for a hotel talks about being:

“…una comoda ubicazione vicino ai negozi, musei e alle attrazioni principali di Roma.”

Translated correctly into English this becomes:

“…a convenient location near stores, museums and the main attractions of Rome.”

The key Italian SEO terms were negozi, musei, Roma, as in “Roma negozi”, a popular search in Italian.

The translated sentence correctly uses the word “stores” for “negozi”, so you would be forgiven for using “Rome stores” in your English search-optimized sentence. However, keyword search tools will tell you that “Rome stores” is the least searched option. The best option turns out to be “Rome shopping”, so the search-optimized sentence should read “…near shopping, museums and the main attractions of Rome.” This could only have been discovered by testing several foreign languages variations of the original term to see which nuances, dialects and local expressions perform the best.

Localized Search Engine Marketing (SEM) has similar characteristics. At the most basic level, there are character limitations that must be observed. English is a notoriously compact language, so a simple translation will likely exceed ad space limits. Experienced global marketers know that optimizing results means approaching the ad with the same insights, care, and process they used for the source English ad, and then relying on a native speaker trained in search ad copywriting to “transcreate” — to create the same message in language that aligns with the local market.

Successful SEO localization requires a custom approach for each target language/market. This becomes even more complex in the many linguistically/culturally diverse Spanish language markets when most translation efforts are centered around a “least-common denominator” strategy of using a single variant of Spanish for all Spanish-speakers. While the economics of a single variant of Spanish are understandable for a large volume of text, a focused approach to SEO and SEM for each market will produce better results.

There are many opportunities for cross-border merchants to profit from global opportunities. Optimizing website functionality, offering multiple languages, and adapting to cultural preferences are important steps cross-border retailers can take to stand out from their competition.

Working with a professional firm experienced in SEO/SEM localization is clearly a must for global website marketing. Since matching foreign language keyword requires testing many alternatives, a partner that charges by the search term or by the hour rather than by the translated word shows they understand this iterative, creative process – and are equally invested in your online success. Please contact us to learn more.