October 14, 2014
The Internet has opened up a host of opportunities for businesses of all sizes to reach new people and target international markets. Your website serves as your virtual shop window and theoretically it can be reached by anyone with an Internet connection, wherever they are in the world. In practice, you’re going to have to work a little bit harder to reach an international market. You can reach out through a variety of social media, inbound and traditional marketing methods, but SEO shouldn’t be overlooked either.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is simply a set of practices aimed at getting your website as close as possible to the top of a search engine results page (SERP) when users type in a relevant keyword or search term. Your customers can arrive at your website through a variety of means, especially if you employ a holistic approach to your marketing. A significant number are likely to find you via search engines and where you rank on the SERPs is still massively important.
According to a study by online advertising network Chitika the top result in a Google search gets an average traffic share of 32.5 percent. This drops to 17.6 percent for the second result, 11.4 percent for the third, 8.1 percent for the fourth and 6.1 percent for the fifth. In other words, the top five results gets three-quarters of total traffic for any given search term. People are even more reluctant to search through multiple pages of results. In fact, 91.5 percent of Google traffic goes to Page 1, and falls sharply to just 4.8 percent on Page 2 and 1.1 percent on Page 3.
It’s clear that appearing toward the top of a SERP is essential if you want to receive traffic from searches, but how do you achieve this, especially in a foreign market?
Create tailored websites for each market
It might be tempting to think that a single English language website will suffice for all markets. English is, after all, the single most commonly used language online and it can serve as a lingua franca or common language to a certain extent. When it comes to eCommerce however, consumers put far more trust in sites written in their own native language. According to a report by Common Sense Advisory more than half (55 percent) of consumers only buy at websites where information is presented in their language. For those with limited English, the preference for mother-tongue purchases increases to more than 80 percent. If you are targeting a market like China or Brazil, where English is not commonly spoken, localization becomes even more important.
It is sometimes possible to localize by language. A Spanish language site, for example, could serve Spain as well as emerging Latin American markets such as Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela. It’s also an official language of Puerto Rico and, according to the 2010 US Census, almost 37 million Americans speak Spanish as their primary language at home. There are variations in linguistic usage between all these Spanish-speaking territories and, in purely SEO terms, it usually pays to target individual countries. Setting up separate websites on their own country code Top Level Domains (such as .es for Spain or .mx for Mexico) will give your pages a boost in local searches, as well as lending your site a more trustworthy, ‘local’ feel.
Choose appropriate keywords
Never assume that your English language keywords will work just as well when translated directly into another language — alternative terms could be far more effective in other markets. A literal French translation of the term ‘car insurance’, for example, could be ‘l’assurance automobile‘. This performs relatively poorly as a keyword however, with alternative terms ‘assurance auto‘ and ‘assurance voiture‘ being far more popular. Don’t throw out your carefully researched English keywords entirely but run any translations through local versions of search engine keyword tools and use the local knowledge of a native speaking translator to brainstorm alternatives.
Localize your content
Once you have your keywords you should translate and localize your content, using those keywords strategically in headings, URLs, titles, product descriptions and within the body of text. Don’t overstuff or ‘spam’ keywords however. It’s important that your content reads naturally, both in terms of engaging your audience and your SEO.
As Google’s Matt Cutts explains: “We have an entire team at Google called the synonyms team, and their job is to sort of realize that car and automobile are the same thing. In general, if you are able to use synonyms or the words that users would actually type in a natural way, then you reduce or remove that uncertainty, and Google doesn’t have to somehow guess or estimate that that’s what your page is really about.”
The best way to achieve natural, synonym-rich content is to work with professional, native-speaking translators. This can help you avoid contextual errors and cultural faux pas, as well as creating a site that is both engaging and SEO-friendly.