Multilingual SEO: Don’t Be a Tourist!


Ed Langley


Going global with your company is a big move and demands a huge amount of research and investment. Despite the significance of such a move, many companies manage to completely overlook the necessary preparation for their search marketing, simply applying their English language search strategy to their multilingual SEO campaigns. Even more surprising is the fact that even larger, more experienced companies often get it wrong. Its important to bear in mind that the culture of SEO is not only affected by the algorithms of search engines but also by the local culture and language, so its never safe to assume that strategies that work in one market will work in another.

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While many are aware that East Asian markets for example are dominated by search engines other than Google (e.g. Baidu in China and Naver and Daum in Korea), many are unaware that even in Europe, there’s another big name playing the search game. Yandex is Russia’s own answer to Google and its arguably got a bigger brain. The general consensus is that Yandex search results are generally free from spam and feel much more natural (even if the layout can be a little cluttered): extremely high quality content is the key here  – Yandex is far less tolerant of spammy content than Google has been and it also happens to be much better at Russian. This is down to a very clever algorithm and a massive team of human reviewers (used for years before Google got round to releasing their QR update). The whole system has been built in Russia, specifically for the Russian market and although Google has attempted to clean up its act with its Panda updates and has made an effort to get better at Russian, it seems it has been too little too late. So if even Google can get things wrong, what needs to be considered when entering a foreign market?

The most important factor is cultural difference. Even if you’re not setting up an overseas hub, you’ll need to be aware of how people use the internet in the market you are targeting. Figures can tell you a lot, but you can only get the full picture if you consult a native of the market in question. This is particularly important when carrying out keyword research – English keyword translations won’t always be the best converters, so its advisable to do the homework on this before you build or translate a whole website.

Another key factor is language – again that native touch is what you’re looking for. The wording of the site must be suitable for the target market – a translation is not the only thing you will need: the site should also be fully localised. Many companies spend thousands of pounds translating and localising their sites, only to miss out swathes of content, such as the blog or news feed, which makes the target language site look half-baked and can turn off any potential link prospects. This is regularly a problem with languages which cost more to translate, such as Japanese, Chinese and Korean, as companies look to find economies, but ultimately end up shooting themselves in the foot.

Global SEOContent and link-worthy resources are as vital in other markets as they are in English speaking ones. Again, its very common to find multilingual sites which have no blog or resource page in the target language to benefit visitors or to show off to potential link prospects. In this post-Panda/Penguin age, this can make building links in Google-dominated Western Europe more difficult than it should be. In East Asia too, where online brand presence is heavily affected by offline brand presence, a blog can help build trust in your company name. The content on your blog should not only be well-written by a native, but should also be engaging and should feature images and videos where possible. In this way, your blog can help you build your brand and make your site appealing to people who may otherwise not be interested in your products or services and should inspire people to link organically. Get your on-page SEO right and you could be laughing your way through your off-page.

East Asian markets represent a unique challenge to many companies in other countries, as in the case of China and South Korea, where Google is not the dominant search engine. It is not necessarily advisable to swan into these market brandishing the latest Western Googleist SEO strategy. Even in Japan where Google does have a dominant market share, a unique approach is needed: in most markets, guest blogging is a popular method of building links and increasing social interaction with a clients site, but in Japan, this is not the case. As guest blogging is not an established practice, its no surprise that its taken Google so long to release the Panda update, with no clue as to if or when Penguin will be rolled out in It would seem that Google are treating East Asian countries differently and it would seem that treating each market on an individual basis is the key to understanding how to put together an effective SEO strategy. There’s that native knowledge again!

In summary then, it is vital that you understand your online market, as well as your offline one. Cutting corners to cut costs is a false economy and just because English is the lingua franca, doesnt mean you can get away with being a tourist in your chosen market. A blog is a must in any market and that all-important native knowledge is not to be neglected.