Making your website stand out among millions of others is an uphill battle. There's no doubt that the Internet is a crowded place these days - at least in English. By thinking beyond a monolingual audience, many marketers are discovering an easier way to climb the search engine rankings.
The idea that English is the universal language of the Internet is becoming less and less true each day. The last decade has seen an explosion in web use around the globe, mainly among speakers of other languages. Chinese is expected to soon overtake English as the dominant online language. According to Internet World Statistics, the use of Arabic has increased by 2501 percent in the last decade, compared to just 301 percent for English use.
Despite these figures, many companies still concentrate on the dwindling proportion of English speakers. Roughly one in four web users speaks it as their mother tongue, yet a December 2011 study by W3Techs shows that 56.6 percent of web content is in English.
This imbalance offers a wealth of untapped opportunities for international search engine marketers. It takes less effort to achieve those elusive first page rankings in other languages, simply because there's less competition. You can potentially get a huge return on investment by taking advantage of new and emerging markets.
Considerations When Translating Your Site
It's hardly surprising that most consumers would rather browse the web and make purchases in their native language. The European Commission found that 82 percent of online consumers were less likely to buy goods if there was no information available in their native language.
Translating your website is only the first step to reaching international customers. While some of your existing SEO strategies will work in other languages, it's important to consider local differences. For one thing, Google doesn't have the same dominance in every country: most Chinese people prefer Baidu, while Yahoo is still the leader in Japan.
One of the first considerations is whether to target your translated websites by country or by language. It might be tempting to create a single French website to cover France and Quebec, but it's unlikely to perform as well as individual sites. Most search engines give preference to websites that have a local domain name and are hosted in country.
Furthermore, you might run into problems due to differences in dialect and language. Just as British English differs from American English, the German language varies in spelling and meaning across Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. Localizing each website for a particular country gives it a more authentic feel, inspiring confidence in users. The downside is the increased cost, but it's usually worth the extra resources.
Keywords won't necessarily be direct translations of English equivalents. You might be surprised to find many Italian users prefer English search terms. Once more, differences in dialect can be a potential pitfall. For example, in Spain coche means car, while to most Latin American Spanish speakers it means baby carriage.
Free tools such as Google's Global Market Finder can give you an idea of what people in different countries are searching for. Check your list of keywords with a native-speaking specialist to avoid any embarrassing mistakes.
Differences in Search Engines and Link Building
Targeting the right search engines is a must. Anyone considering marketing in China should become familiar with Baidu, which has a reported 75.5 percent market share. In South Korea, Cyworld is a key player, while Russians prefer Yandex.
Each search engine uses different criteria to rank pages. Recommended for all foreign websites, a top-level, in-country domain name is particularly important in China, since Baidu requires sites to have a Chinese domain name and be hosted on a server within the country.
Although Yahoo Japan is powered by Google, its algorithms aren't exactly the same and it delivers slightly different results. It tends to prefer a greater keyword density than Google: 7 or 8 percent, compared to 2 percent. Yandex is phasing out paid links, but these still count in its rankings.
Once your site is up and running, building in-country links is the next step to increasing its prominence. International PR and marketing experts can help ensure that it is listed on local directories and receiving coverage on industry websites.
Link building is important for most search engines, but some handle it in different ways. Baidu values incoming links, but places less weight on the authority of the linking site - meaning quantity could matter more than quality. For Japanese marketing, getting listed on Yahoo directories is an important way to stand out from the crowd.
Finally, don't forget that the site must appeal to real human users as well as search engine spiders. Creating well-written, engaging copy and a professional-looking site is more important than squeezing in as many keywords as possible. The end goal of any SEO strategy is to increase the conversion rate - whether that's filling in a contact form or placing an order. No matter the language, the key is finding the right balance between SEO and usability.
This article was originally published in SES magazine. Get the complete magazine here.
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March 19, 2014