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Gemma Birch

The Importance of Localisation in International SEO

8th May 2013 SEO 4 minutes to read

LocalisationGemma Birch looks at the best ways to localise a website by region, content types and keyword research as well as how to get that content found.  

Localisation, and indeed international SEO, means different things to different people. For some it’s simply translating a few pages of content, along with the keywords and bingo, you have a localised website. Yet this approach will be very unlikely to bring any results when it comes to driving traffic to and conversions on your website.

Think about how you browse the web; how do you interact with websites and make decisions on whether to purchase from them? If you come across a website that is poorly written, where you can’t relate to the content or that doesn’t instil trust in you that they will deliver what you need, when you need it, I’ll guess that you’re unlikely to fill in your card details or send an enquiry.

This is true for the majority of web users, anywhere in the world. A couple of pages, translated word for word, will not be enough to convince them that you are a credible, relevant provider. And it’s not just the users, but also the search engines to which you need to appear local – if you want your website to succeed internationally.

I’m going to highlight just some of the things to think about when you’re deciding on a localisation strategy for your international websites.

Localise by Region, not Language

The attitude of “We’ve got Spanish pages, so that’s Latin America covered” is not uncommon, but it’s one of the deadly sins of international SEO. As a language moves across borders, and in some cases, oceans, it evolves and adapts to each locale to become a variation rather than a replica. The Spanish word “Cuero” means leather in mainland Spain but this is too nice a blog for me to tell you what it means in the Dominican Republic. Not only might you confuse or alienate users if you don’t use their local terminology, you might actually offend them.

Localising by region is also important to keep the search engines happy. As we all know, they don’t like duplicate content, so merely replicating a language page in multiple countries will see you penalised by Google and friends and reduce the impact your site and brand will have in all your target markets.

Think about ALL Content

So we’ve established that creating unique content for each country is a vital element of any international SEO activity. This doesn’t mean starting from scratch; in some cases the variations will be very minor but they need to be enough to convince both humans and engines that the content is intended for the region you’re targeting.

There is a much greater chance of a user engaging with your website if they can connect with it, and local references, relevant products and descriptions will make a connection more likely.  However, it’s not just the words you use that count. Every element on the page needs to reflect the locale – from currency, to contact phone numbers. Even if all your copy is perfectly translated, if users are seeing a foreign currency and an overseas contact number, they aren’t going to feel particularly compelled to take the next step. Also, think about the fact that you may be competing with local businesses which are, by default targeted locally. You need to demonstrate that you can offer the same local service and experience.

There’s no substitute for native Keyword Research

If you’ve heard just one thing about international SEO, it’s probably that you should never ever translate keywords. This of course doesn’t mean just leave them in English, rather that you need to research your keywords individually in every language, for every market to guarantee that you’re actually targeting terms that people are looking for.

Again, think about your own search behaviour. It’s unlikely that you consult the Oxford English dictionary before you perform a search and more likely that you’ll use abbreviations, slang terms, colloquialisms – and in many cases just type the first words which come into your head. Understanding exactly how users in each target market search for your brand, products and services is vital to enable you to actually offer them what they are looking for – and of course appear in relevant search results in the first place.

Go where the people are

I mention this, because it’s all too easy to get carried away by the global dominance of Google, and Facebook, and forget that any other search or social site exists. But they do, and in some countries, local players such as Baidu (China ), Yandex (Russia)and Naver (South Korea) hold significantly more market share than Google. Failing to embrace and use these local sites, will seriously harm your SEO efforts, as you’ll miss out on a large percentage of traffic – and potential customers.

This is not a comprehensive list, but a guide to the kind of things you need to be thinking about when you’re making the decision to target new international markets. While the basic principles of SEO remain the same everywhere in the world, the importance of localisation when it comes to international SEO cannot be stressed enough. It is more than translating content. It’s about adapting your entire brand presence and marketing activities to be as relevant and appropriate for each local audience you want to target and giving search engines as many signals as possible to ensure every potential customer sees the most appropriate and enticing page for them and their needs.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author so may not represent those of the Koozai team.

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Gemma Birch
About the author

Gemma Birch

Gemma Birch has been working in international search for 5 years and leads WebCertain's marketing team. She is responsible for managing WebCertain's online marketing activities, as well as organising and programming the International Search Summit event, which runs across Europe and the US. She contributes regularly to the multilingual-search.com blog and is also part of the State of Search blogging team. Gemma holds a Professional Diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a BA Joint Honours Degree in French and German.


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