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January 25, 2008

PPC and SEO For Multilingual Web Sites

Moving your web site into another language involves many steps and many choices. Getting this process right is critical, and this article deals with each aspect of the process from translation of the site to marketing the site on the search engines used by your target customers.

Translating Your Web Site

Much time, effort and money goes into web site localization. A professional web site localization project can involve:

  • Finding good translators (or a good agency)
  • Choosing the correct target language ‘flavors’ for your target markets (e.g. European Spanish, Latin American Spanish etc.)
  • Protection of HTML and other code
  • Localization of graphics
  • Text extraction from program-driven areas of the site
  • Change detection for frequently changing web sites
  • On going localization of changed pages (without retranslation of the whole page)

Simply translating the site, regardless of how professionally this is done, does not guarantee that your site will be seen by the global audience you expect.

In the same way that search engines should be at the forefront of everything you do on the English site, this same ethos must be used on the translated versions of your site.

Ideally, the planning for global search marketing should start before the site is first localized, but if not it is important to know what steps can be taken to rectify the situation.

This article describes the process of bringing visitors to your multilingual web site. Typical Multilingual Search Engine Optimization

Most Global organizations have a search-engine-optimized web site that they then localize, ignoring the optimization of the localized sites.

Most webmasters are not employed for their linguistic skill and therefore the localization of the site is a painful and intimidating process. Following this process, entering the further unknown area of search engine optimization or multilingual pay per click management is ignored or actively avoided.

There are two common misconceptions around web site marketing for multilingual web sites:

1. Optimize the English site then translate it well and it will be optimized in-language.

Multilingual search engine optimization is often ignored because of the belief that if the English site is optimized for search engines, the language sites will be too. This is not the case.

2. For PPC, simply translate the ad copy and keywords.

Imagine a set of English keywords for a site selling a glass replacement service for cars. The marketing specialist or PPC executive would use their knowledge of the industry and the language to expand out a set of keywords that a user might type in to a search engine. They might come up with terms such as ‘vehicle glass replacement’, ‘car windscreen fixing’, ‘windshield repair’ etc. For this simple service there are a multitude of ways of describing the window, the vehicle and the replacement service that spawn a large number of keyword combinations. A good translator would take each one and translate to the most common, most sensible alternative in their language. Unfortunately, this will lead to a reduction in keywords. Windscreen and windshield may translate to the same common term in French. Replacement and repair may translate to the common term used in French for glass replacement. This is not what is required.

If a site is simply translated with no regard for in country search engines, it will support an English language searcher arriving at the site and then switching to their desired language. However, it will not readily support a user finding your site in their language.

It is these new customers finding your site on foreign search engines that will bring the most incremental business from the localized site. How to Localize a Site and Remain Search Engine Friendly

Fortunately, there are some simple steps that can be taken to ensure the site remains searchable in language. However, similar to your English site, in order to maximize the return on investment from the localized sites, outside help may be required. Simple steps

1. Find a quality localization company.

Ensure you ask for examples of web sites that they have localized before and have your in country people (if you have them) validate the translations on the reference sites.

2. Get your page-by-page keyword glossary translated and approved FIRST.

Much effort went into the generation of keywords for each page of the English site. Your English pages are rich with these keywords. Put the same effort into the translation of these keywords. This should be done first, before any localization of the pages begins. These translations should be approved by your in-country marketing representatives if you have them, or be double-checked by your translation company (using specialist marketing translators) if not.

3. Ensure the site is professionally localized.

The site must be well formed (no broken HTML or other code), be translated well, and must not contain broken links (links to pages that have not been migrated to the language site and therefore throw an error). Quality localization requires a quality localization company using specialist tools to protect page code, and to check it once the localization is complete.

4. When translating the web site, use the keyword glossary ELECTRONICALLY.

Do not leave it to chance. Your translation company should be using the translated keyword lists in electronic glossaries so the translators are automatically prompted with the approved language version of the keyword whenever they are translating an English equivalent.

Following these steps will ensure that the site gets the basics right and can be effectively indexed on the correct keywords by the engines. However, to ensure you are getting the correct prominence on the search engines, you need to read on. Advanced Multilingual Search Marketing

If you want to perform in your foreign markets, and fully capitalize on you localization investment, you need to consider the following:

1. Domain

Geolocating your site in Google’s eyes involves more than changing the language. Changing the language does not guarantee that your site will appear in local searches. You should consider the domain. Some companies build a .com website, with folders or sub domains for several languages (IBM) whereas others build local versions of the site using the top level domain of each country (Nokia). The first option can be cheaper and easier to implement because it means that you can use one content management system for all content on one server. However the top level domain gives Google additional information that will provide weight in the search results.

2. IP Address

Google maps the IP address to the country and when looking for relevance in search results, will score locally hosted domains higher than non-locally hosted. In other words, it is better to host the French version of your site in France. This can be awkward and expensive, so you need to consider whether you are able to beat your competition without this. It is not the only factor that Google considers so do not think that this is essential.

3. Webmaster Tools

It is now also possible to select the geographic location using Google’s Webmaster Tools. But for now only full sites can be geolocated, not individual folders, although that is promised for the near future.

4. Links

In the same way as you have build vast numbers of links to your English site, the language version is a rich and often untapped source of links. Local links from local domains in the local language are important. You may need outside help for this, and again, the question is what you need to do to beat your competition. As with English SEO, links are a major part of success.

5. Engine-Specific Optimization

This involves the identification of important engines by country for your target market. Google is not necessarily the dominant player in all countries. In China, for example, at the time of writing, you won’t find Google in the top ten sites. An engine called Baidu is by far the most used site. In order to identify, and then optimize and monitor for these engines you will require support from external specialists.

6. Pay Per Click (PPC) in each locale

PPC is the fastest method to achieving search engine prominence in any country. Professional multilingual PPC allows you to quickly succeed in a foreign market, but is also a fantastic keyword targeting method so you can discover the most powerful keywords in your target language. Running a PPC campaign may also not require the full localization of the web site which can be an expensive exercise. It is often effective to localize only a landing page. However, ensure your landing pages are culturally optimized because they are critical to gather conversions.


We hope this article has shown that there are some basic steps that can be taken during the localization process that will start the search engine optimization process on the right track. These basic steps will fall easily into place if your localization company know the details of search engine optimization. Make sure you test them out.

Author:  Dave McEvoy writes for Search Laboratory who are Adword experts with years of experience in Multilingual ppc management. For more information please come and visit our site.