Multilingual SEO – the importance of having native speakers work on your international campaigns


Julia Dettler


With the internet becoming an ever-present phenomenon, the importance of ecommerce is growing constantly. The Internet has influenced our way of doing business, as well as altering the shopping behaviour of the consumers we target. We have now the possibility to shop in online stores from all over the world and have access to an unlimited variety of products and services; additionally we can compare prices and opt for the best offers. This transparency of choice and price, has given consumers an unexpected power. Therefore, it is vital for companies to realise the need to apply online business processes and expand internationally, in order to stay competitive. However, taking your business online is not a walk in the park – especially if it is a company that wants to offer products and services worldwide. Stumbling blocks and pitfalls are lurking around every corner.

Global Ecommerce

One of the most common mistakes that companies make is building a website which is solely in English. If you believe that this is enough for your global business, you are still wandering in an ancient era. More than 70% of the online population of the world does not search in English when using a search engine to find certain products or services. Therefore it is crucial to carry out business in a country in its respective language; otherwise, you might be missing out on a sizable bulk of potential customers. Some agencies will give you the advice to simply add translations and subsides to the English main site. However, this might not only lead to a loss in website traffic, it is also questionable how the potential international customers are going to find your translated website, as it might not appear in their search engines when typing in certain search terms.

The best way would be to built a new site and go for a local domain with a local host location (IP address). In other words, if you are planning to expand to the German market, use a domain which ends in .de, if Spain is the country of your choice, you should go for an .es extension and if you are optimising for France, your domain should end in .fr and so forth. Having said this, it is important to mention, that websites can also be ranked without having a local extension, but using a local domain makes it easier, as the Search Engines are always trying to rank the most relevant indexed web content for search results and with a local domain your site appears more authentic to local language searchers. It is worth knowing is that sometimes it is essential that the company is represented in the respective country, in order to get a local domain, for example in Germany.

Once you have chosen your domain, to the next thing to consider is the content of the page. This is where the next pitfall awaits a lot of businesses. Some companies merely make use of translation software systems or somebody who is not native to that country and is only aware of the fundamentals of that language. The understanding of the nuances that differentiate the language, is of crucial importance to the translation process.

Basic translation between languages

The differences between French and English, for example, are obvious. However the differences between the French spoken in France in comparison with that which is spoken in Switzerland or Belgium, are less obvious. There are specific facets of multilingual SEO that you have to consider carefully when translating your website into other languages, and this is where native multi-linguists come into play. Translating a website is not just about translating each word from e.g. English into German; it is also about understanding the culture and expectations of the targeted country. Multilingual SEO must be undertaken by considering the online behavioural pattern of people in different regions and countries, otherwise an international campaign is likely to fail.

The language clutter begins when choosing the right keywords. You can observe notable disparities in things like writing, terminology, punctuation, sentence structure, colloquial speech and so forth. But even the same language sometimes differs in writing or terminology, for example Spanish from Spain and Spanish from Latin America, or French from France and Canada or German from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Henceforth, it is imperative to carry out more systematic investigation on the content and devise strategies accordingly. With respect to a foreign-language website, you must identify the key search terms that are used regionally by Internet users and you should not just directly translate the keywords from your own language, as this might cause misunderstandings or lead to the optimisation of suboptimal keywords. An excellent example is the English term “mobile phone”, which is a term in English search engines with high rankings. A correct German translation of this would be “Mobiltelefon”. However, a lot of Germans would rather type in “Handy” as a search term, as this is what the majority of Germans call a mobile phone. However for other German speaking countries – the term “Mobiltelefon” would not work without its problems; for example in the German speaking part of Switzerland, people call a mobile phone “Natel” and therefore would rather use this as a search term for search engines.

To make matters even more complicated, points and commas of the numerical representation differ within Europe. In the UK the punctuation of the number would be as follows:1,000,000.00. In Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Italy and some other countries, the notation would be exactly the opposite: 1.000.000,00 and some countries, like France and Finland, never use a thousands separator: 1 000 000.00.

It is clear that your website will be ranking higher when you are using the right keywords; hence, the initial research is worthwhile and necessary. Furthermore, a multilingual marketing and localisation strategy should support any international campaign.You should only hire professionally qualified translators who translate into their native language or dialect and ideally have lived in the respective country. This is important so that they understand and can identify cultural differences, as well as inappropriate styles, bad grammar and terminology that will often lose key messages, and shrink the overall trust in  brand.

The native speakers will also be helpful when planning the right online strategy. There is no denying the fact that nearly two-thirds of web users prefer Google to other search engines. Nevertheless, you should also take the remaining one-third into consideration. It means that you have to present your website to other localised search engines as some countries might focus more on other prominent search engines than Google.Iin some countries link building works slightly differently than in others, e.g. it might be harder to get guest posts published or get in contact with bloggers, due to privacy issues, regulations etc.

Notwithstanding, link building is one of the most important parts of SEO and therefore is also very important in multilingual SEO. In order to rank highly in the search engine results, you must try to get as many inbound links from as many local domains as possible. No matter whether blog post, directories, articles, link baits or partner- and sponsorships, it is utterly important to always keep the different culture and writing styles in mind, so that the content and style fits to the target country and hence appears more authentic to local language searchers. Following this strategy also helps search engines to recognise you as a local business and will help to improve your ranking in local search engines, such as the or

In summary there is evidence to say that opting to hire a multilingual SEO company will provide you the chance to successfully and effectively expand into new, international markets. Consequently, think global and act local by embracing this latest concept of targeting multiple languages and making use of native linguists.

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