The smart entrepreneur knows nothing stands still in the digital world. That's why, when first launching a brand or business online, many focus on getting the word out via an English language campaign. Other languages tend to be put aside for later.
However, the English language no longer dominates the web. We're seeing exciting changes as the Asian market becomes a driving force online. China has now overtaken the U.S. as the biggest PC market, Singapore has a clear lead in global smartphone penetration, and Japanese and Korean app publishers now dominate the top 10 lists for app revenue.
Beyond the Asia Pacific region other shifts are taking place, with the Middle East and South America also making their mark. The diverse languages of Europe, too, can open up new markets. In the case of Spanish, Portuguese, and French, these markets reach as far afield as the Americas, Africa, and Asia Pacific.
To keep up with this new digital landscape, plan to accommodate foreign languages right from the start. Even if you opt for a mono-lingual launch, have a strategy in place for later international expansion. This will save you many a headache when going multilingual further down the line.
A global domain name
For most of us, an online presence begins with our website's domain name. This is a chance to tell humans and search engines alike what we offer, and helps potential visitors decide whether to click through to our site.
We know that a good domain name should not only be descriptive but also short, easy to spell, and easy to remember. Since non-English speakers generally search in their own language, the domain name will ideally also have a meaning that is clear across multiple languages.
Words derived from ancient languages can be a good choice. For example, the word music is derived from the Latin "musica" and is spelled or pronounced similarly across a number of different languages and alphabets. Alternatively, there are a number of English language words that are widely recognized around the world, despite being translated differently in formal language use. Computer, business, hotel, and shopping all fall into this category.
Needless to say, these kinds of names are rarely available as single words, and at a high cost. You would need several million U.S. dollars if you wanted to acquire a domain such as business.com or diamond.com. On the other hand, it's possible to use desirable keywords like these in combination with other descriptive words or even numbers. For instance, the Hong-Kong based Hotelquickly.com tells customers what it offers via a pairing of easily understood words.
Different domain names for different languages
It can work equally well to take a strong keyword or brand name and then to pair it with a second, more descriptive keyword that can be translated for each market. This does mean that you will need to purchase a portfolio of domain names, one for each language. However, provided you have secured the .com, other top-level domains are often inexpensive. They also have the advantage that content on each domain can be translated into that market's language and localized to suit geographic and cultural expectations.
It's an approach that works well with search engines such as Google that seek to offer "local" results. If they see your content as more relevant to regional users you stand a better chance of ranking in that region. Having a country-specific domain also makes it easier to attract traffic from regional search engines such as Naver in Korea or Baidu in China. An added benefit is that you can tie a geographic domain to geographically targeted social media activity, for instance, your Japanese Twitter account can link to your .jp domain, or your Orkut profile to a website optimized for India.
Foreign language SEO beyond the domain
A strong domain name is only the beginning. SEO needs to be part of your multilingual content too. If your domain name uses high-competition keywords, make sure the subtitles, menu headings, and main body of content target less competitive keywords and long-tail key phrases.
A word of advice here. Identify the terms that are actually being searched for, rather than settling for dictionary translations of English keywords. Particularly between Asian languages and English, language differences can mean a lot is lost in translation. In any case, even a perfect equivalent for a popular English search term might not serve you in a foreign market. The way people search in different countries is influenced by a whole range of factors, from the alphabet and the web device used to cultural preferences in buying.
Simply put: there is no substitute for knowing your international markets. Adapt keywords to suit each one's needs and you'll be ready to take your place in the global marketplace.
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Christian Arno is the founder of translation services provider Lingo24, Inc. Launched in 2001, Lingo24, Inc. now has more than 200 employees spanning four continents and clients in more than 60 countries. Follow Lingo24, Inc. on Twitter: @Lingo24.
December 12, 2013
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