While English is arguably the most widely spoken language in the world (with some estimates putting Mandarin Chinese slightly ahead), the majority of the world’s population speaks no English at all. Of those that do, many speak it as a second language and studies have shown that web users place more trust in sites written in their own native language, especially when it comes to making purchases online. A multilingual approach to website design and marketing will obviously increase your chances of reaching the global market that the internet puts within your grasp.
There are a number of ways to translate your content. The simplest is to install a translation widget like Google Translate, allowing visitors to translate content to a language of their choice at the click of a button. Inline translation code provides a more intuitive automatic translation but all machine translation is prone to linguistic, grammatical and contextual mistakes. Using a translation service provided by a native speaker from your target market will help avoid mistakes but this will almost certainly be the most expensive option.
However you decide to translate your content, you should never rely on a straight ‘dictionary translation’ of your keywords. Keywords that are successful in English might not be in another language, as many alternative terms can be used. A literal French translation of “car insurance”, for example, would be “assurance automobile”. This yields very few results on Google’s French keyword tool, whereas alternative terms like “assurance auto” and “assurance voiture” are far more successful.
There’s no need to ditch your carefully researched English keywords entirely. Translate and then use them as a jumping off point to research alternatives, with the assistance of a native speaker if possible, and take a sneaky peek to see which keywords your local competitors are using.
The ways in which a single language is used can vary from place to place. There are many differences in vocabulary and especially colloquialisms between the English spoken in the UK, USA, India and Australia. Similarly, there are differences between the Spanish spoken in Latin America and that of Spain. If you decide to group territories together by a common language and target them by language alone, you should ensure that your content is able to cross those geographical and cultural divides.
Targeting your markets by country will not only address this problem but will open up a range of options when it comes to SEO. One option is to invest in country-code top level domains (ccTLDs) for your localized sites. Using ccTLDs (such as .de for Germany or .sa for Saudi Arabia) will boost your rankings on Google’s local search engine and any other local competitors. You’ll receive a further boost if you ensure that the site is hosted on a server located within the target country.
You can also use geolocation to identify a visitorâ€™s location by checking the country in which their IP address is registered and then direct them to the appropriate localized site. Establishing links with sites located in the target country will also help with SEO. In practical terms this could involve sourcing local sites that are highly ranked on web traffic information site Alexa and posting, say, forum posts in a Russian site to link back to your own Russian pages.
Subdomains and Subdirectories
If you decide not to invest in ccTLDs you should at least set up your localized content in separate subdomains and subdirectories. An example of a subdomain would be de.example.com and a subdirectory would be example.com/de/. Google has a Geographic Targeting tool in Webmaster Tools that allows you to specify particular countries as the relevant audience for different subdirectories or subdomains.
Other Search Engines
While Google is the most popular search engine in most markets, others are dominant within their own local markets. Baidu is the most popular search engine in China for example, while Seznam is the most widely used in the Czech Republic and Yahoo! has the largest market share in Japan. The principles of SEO are broadly the same for each but there may be small yet significant differences and you should focus on the keyword and other research tools of whichever engine(s) are dominant in your target market.