SEO in Foreign Languages – What’s the Best Approach?

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On Friday, September 28th, 2012

global foreign seoSEO, or search engine optimization, is a way of increasing your visibility on search engines like Google and others. The higher the ranking, the more visible your website.

There are various tools and techniques you can employ to make your website as highly ranked as possible. Search engines like Google change their algorithms fairly frequently which means SEO is constantly evolving, but the three principle approaches are: Keyword search, content optimization and back-linking.

Localizing a website offers an opportunity for your brand or company to reach a new market and boost your income. Yet while many recognize English as the lingua franca of the internet, in fact it only represents a quarter of its usage. Browsers and consumers are much more likely to trust a website if it’s written in their own language. This presents a conundrum, especially if you are looking for customers to spend money on your site. To make your website more visible to a search engine in this new market, should you opt for SEO by language or by country?

Targeting by language

Think of all the languages spoken in the US. Just because a website is in English, it doesn’t mean it is the first language of everyone in the country. Language isn’t governed by geographical boundaries. Have it in, say Spanish, though and you’ll be able to reach Latin America, Spain as well as the many Spanish speakers in the US. How about French? You don’t only reach consumers in France, but also the Middle East, parts of Africa as well as smaller countries like Belgium.

This presents a huge advantage for companies, particularly if they are looking to get established quickly and cover a larger area. It is cheaper, as they only have one site to set up, and much quicker.

However this is not an option without disadvantages. A consumer may speak Spanish in both Spain and Mexico, but there will be linguistic differences, use of slang terms and colloquialisms. The correct Spanish translation of a word can be very different from one country to the next.

Say your company rents out audio-visual equipment for events and concerts, and you want to expand. You translate the search terms for a Spanish speaking market but you run into a problem. The word for loudspeakers, or speakers in Spain is ‘bafles’ or ‘altavoces’. In Mexico it is ‘bocinas’. Which do you choose?

This problem can be avoided if you opt to target SEO by country. When researching your keywords you can do so by location; so ‘altavoces’ for Spain and ‘bocinas’ for Mexico.

Another advantage of this technique is that search algorithms often work by location. If you consider Google’s geo-targeting tools, the search engine is trying to figure out, by looking at your IP address and website, where you’re based. It places more importance on providing browsers with local results. Google Tools can help you define your website and sub-domain location. This can be boosted by purchasing a Top Level Domains, say .es in Spain or .mx in Mexico. You appear as a locally listed website, featuring in local directories. If you have a server in the same country this improves your search results even further.

The principle disadvantage of this approach is cost. It is more expensive. It will also take longer to invest in the language research and to implement the findings, as well as setting up the domain.

When setting up in a new market you want to be able to reach that market as effectively as possible. SEO is vitally important if you want to be as visible as possible online.

In truth, a combination of both targeting by country and language is the most effective option. Research into target markets will help define which areas are better suited for your company and where you will be successful. Create localized sites in these areas, with a greater investment in both time and money. For other areas where you want an online presence then a generic Spanish or French site will suit.

You can use this combination for a first phase as well, trialing the effectiveness of the localized sites to define what works. Generic sites can be used as a “holding pen”. If the localized approach helps win you more customers, then the next stage of expansion, i.e. converting some of the generic sites to more localized ones in more countries, can begin. Incorporating SEO by language techniques helps to cover a wider market, while localizing by country makes it easier to tailor sites to each market. Consumers trust the “local” site while you also reach a wider market, benefiting both sides.

About the author

Christian Arno is the founder of Lingo24, a provider of top translation services. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 170 employees spanning three continents and clients in over sixty countries. In the past twelve months, they have translated over forty million words for businesses in every industry sector, including the likes of MTV, World Bank and American Express. Follow Lingo24 on Twitter: @Lingo24.

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