One of the most cost-effective ways to expand your business to newer countries and markets is through international search engine optimization.
As the VP of Customer Relationships & Growth at Translate by Humans, I’ve worked with 100+ global brands and businesses to boost their International SEO using localization of their content, websites, games, apps and more.
We have created this guide to help you master localization for International SEO along with the steps and strategies used by some of the famous brands we have worked with.
In plain words, SEO is the process of improving your website’s visibility for users to know about your business and increasing the reach to your website.
“International SEO is the process of optimizing your website for search engines to easily identify the countries you are targeting and the languages you use for business.”
International SEO focuses on optimizing and localizing your website to increase your visibility in different international markets to target global users.
For instance, if your users are located in China, they would prefer interacting with the Chinese version of your website.
Likewise, when visitors elsewhere are searching for the same thing, you wouldn’t want them to see the Chinese website.
That’s where international SEO comes into the picture – it helps your business reach the right audience using web pages specifically for them, to enhance the performance of your businessonline.
This article covers:
As you consider expanding your business to other markets, check the top search engines in each of these markets.
While Google enjoys a market share of 87% in no less than 21 of the top 31 countries, there are several countries where other search engines dominate.
In this article, we focus on countries using Google as the search engine of choice.
The initial keyword search allows you to identify the top countries, languages, and markets bringing in major traffic to your website.
Prioritize markets with a high or medium organic search visibility, positive trend, and above-quality conversions – while entering a new market.
Markets with minimum organic search visibility and traffic don’t mean that you leave them aside. It rather means, if there isn’t enough organic search volume for them, you will need much more resources and time to gain the desired search visibility.
The initial research helps validate the starting point and the growth potential for each international market. This allows you to prioritize and set your targets.
The tools which would help you with this are:
Along with giving relevant keyword ideas, they show data about the “official” organic search volume and trends provided by the search engine. Use these numbers as a reference.
Select the relevant country and language from the options to get more accurate data for the specific market.
In addition to “Top Sites” list, it helps you identify websites with the highest traffic for any country and sector – to know the potential competitors for every international market.
For each of the listed sites, SimilarWeb provides information about the search keywords and search traffic channels that you can further use for your keyword research.
Take the websites identified using SimilarWeb – to search for ideas and volume with a keyword and on any website. SEMRush supports 25 countries.
From all this, it is clear that you would need native support for accurate keyword research, even if it’s your own language in a different country.
After selecting the most relevant keywords ranking in different search engines of your international target audience and knowing their organic search volume, it is now time to verify the difficulty in ranking them.
Based on the popularity and relevance, Moz Keyword Difficulty tool identifies the competitive level of the keywords.
After knowing the level of competition, check the current rankings for each of the selected keywords. Tools such as Authority Labs and Advanced Web Ranking help you check the rankings for the targeted countries.
Now that you’ve identified the search potential of a keyword for each country and language, let’s target countries with sufficient organic search volume.
Select countries that have sufficient organic search volume consisting of relevant and competitive keywords to compensate for your SEO efforts.
Suppose the selected keywords do not have enough organic search volume in the targeted country. In such a case, you can target the language instead.
Let’s take the example of a country like Sweden. According to the European Commission’s Eurobarometer of 2012, 86 percent of Swedes speak English.
If the traffic volume here is too low but much higher when targeting the language (English), then start by targeting the language.
However, the location would be a much more important factor for an e-commerce website such as Amazon than for a software offering service such as Skype.
The country targeted approach maximizes a website’s chances to connect with the audience and succeed.
Research published in the Harvard Business Review shows that native language can influence our behavior and purchasing habits. The results were:
Another report published by the European Commission found 90% internet users in EU preferred visiting a website in their own language when given a choice.
No business could ignore the possibility of adding 90 percent of a country’s internet users to their list of prospective customers.
Now that you’ve identified the keywords, language and the country to target, translate (if the language is targeted) or localize (if the country is targeted) different elements of your website using keywords and phrases identified.
However, there’s a huge difference between translating the actual meaning vs simply converting words from one language to another.
Despite all the advances in AI and machine learning, authentic human translation beats machine translation. This is because the goal of localization is to reach out and leverage the culture of people in your target market.
Slang, slogans, and idioms are best used to convey your message and should be translated such that they resonate with the audience in a more personal way.
Google Translate and other machine translators are capable of word-to-word translations but often miss out on getting the meaning right.
Even some of the top brands have been a victim of inaccurate machine translation. The resultant translation comes off as impersonal which damages the brand’s reputation.
Your website and software need a professional translator to trigger an intimate bond with the reader. A machine cannot properly sell your product.
For example, Google Translate cannot understand your company’s slogan or tagline. It can translate an idiom in its literal meaning. But a native translator adds context and tone of voice to your text.
If you need to know the Mandarin term for “mollusk”, (its Ruǎntǐ dòngwù) Google Translate will help you. If you need to understand the crux of the sentence, headline or content, Google Translate works fine. However if your end goal is to professionally translate content for marketing purpose, hire native professional translators. A professional translator is well-versed in the native language and specializes in translating content into the local language. Since they are closely acquainted with the nuances of that language and culture, they are the most reliable resource to localize your content. Along with the content, local translators ensure the images are culturally appropriate and relatable.
This boosts your company’s ability to connect with the website visitors and foster a healthy relationship with them.
Let’s take the example of Zynga Japan, the company who built Farmville and Cityville. They incorporated Japan’s flag in their homepage banner. Clearly, the website is localized, taking into consideration the Japanese audience.
As a reader, if you encounter poor translation and grammatical errors on a website or advertisements, you immediately doubt the credibility of the company. Your content becomes boring, robotic and the visitor would be far unlikely to buy your product or engage with the content.
There are greater chances of a user engaging with your app, website or software when there are local references, relevant products displayed and relevant descriptions written. This is an important parameter for a visitor to connect with your brand.
Every element counts – currency, date, contact number and colors.
If the text is perfect and the currency foreign with an overseas contact number – do you think the visitor would be compelled to take the next step?
Remember, while entering a local market, you are competing with businesses who are already targeted locally.
You need to demonstrate that you can offer the same local service and experiences.
Brands such as Rakuten are so particular about localization that they take into consideration that audiences in different countries interact differently with a website.
Let’s consider their English and Japanese website layouts.
While western websites have clean designs and interfaces, the Japanese sites are full of text images, animations, vibrant colors, and scrolling layouts. Rakuten’s website has different layouts in both English and Japanese.
The truth about internationalizing SEO is that you need to do this individually for each culture/country you are targeting. You cannot ignore this while undertaking globalization of your brand or product.
Without keyword research, you are minimizing the chances of greater visibility on search engines.
While taking the language into consideration, target groups of people along with the nation. People are not limited by borders, nor should your targeting be.
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