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Making Your Multilingual Web Site Work
Posted on Monday, September 17 @ 05:19:13 EDT
Topic: Localization

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-Search Engine Marketing in multiple languages
You can hear the sighs of relief as the web site localization project comes to a close, or enters maintenance mode. However organised the client and however professional the localization vendor, web site localization is a painful process. Now it’s over, at least we can tick the box that says ‘have multilingual website’. After all, is that not the reason we localized in the first place?

In the late nineties companies wanted their first web site for the same reason – to tick the box. However, they soon started to judge and optimize their web site based on hits, then page views, then unique and repeat visitors. Now, any web marketer worth their salt will be working to maximise conversions. A conversion on a web site can be a sale on an e commerce site, the completion of a ‘contact me’ form on a company information web site, or whatever action you want your web visitors to make as a result of visiting the web site. Conversions must be clearly defined and tracked, then the site optimised for maximum conversions. The major part of this process is search engine marketing.

The localization project should not stop once the site is translated, since a localized site with no conversions was a waste of all that pain. It is now that web site marketing should begin. In fact, to do the job correctly, web site marketing should have begun prior to the first translation.

To consider web site marketing in other languages, let us first describe web site marketing on the English site. This can consist of a number of channels:

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

SEO is tailoring the content and the structure of the site and pages so that the search engines rank the site in the natural search listings. The natural search listings on Google appear in the area of the screen marked with an ‘A’ in the diagram.

Pay Per Click (PPC)

An increasingly important method of driving traffic where the company bids money to appear high in the search engine’s sponsored listings. On the diagram this is the area marked ‘B’. Bids are placed on keywords which show advertisements when an internet user types that word into the search engine. The highest bid shows at the top of the list and the company only pays the bid price if the user actually clicks on the advertisement and visits their web site.

Google Search Engine
Banner ads, Affiliate marketing and others

Many other channels exist that add to the mix of methods of driving traffic and conversions. Their suitability depends on the nature of the web site that is being promoted.

Multilingual Web Marketing

We will concentrate on the main two methods, SEO and PPC, to see how a multilingual site could be marketed.

There is normally some success on the English language (or whatever the source language of the site) before the multilingual marketing begins, so it is important to understand: what can we re-use from the source language marketing; what source language marketing can we simply translate, and which elements must we entirely start again?

Some major false assumptions that are made when considering promotion of the multilingual versions of the site are:

1. For SEO, Optimize the English site then translate it well and it will be optimized in-language by default.
Multilingual search engine optimization is often ignored because of the belief that if the English site is optimized for search engines, the language sites will be too. This is not the case.

2. For PPC, simply translate the ad copy and keywords.
Imagine a set of English keywords for a site selling a glass replacement service for cars. The marketing specialist or PPC executive would use their knowledge of the industry and the language to expand out a set of keywords that a user might type in to a search engine. They might come up with terms such as:

'vehicle glass replacement'
'car windscreen fixing'
'windshield repair' etc.

For this simple service there are a multitude of ways of describing the window, the vehicle and the replacement service that spawn a large number of keyword combinations. A good translator would take each one and translate to the most common, most sensible alternative in their language. Unfortunately, this will lead to a reduction in keywords. Windscreen and windshield may translate to the same common term in French. Replacement and repair may translate to the common term used in French for glass replacement. This is not what is required.

3. Google is the most common global search engine and therefore the one to consider
True, Google is the most important player in the global search engine market, but in Russia the search engine Yandex is significantly outperforming Google, likewise for Baidu in China. Whatever your target market you need to consider the engines in that country.

How to Localize a Site and Remain Search Engine Friendly

Fortunately, there are some simple steps that can be taken to ensure the site remains searchable in language. However, similar to your English site, in order to maximize the return on investment from the localized sites, further steps will maximize your returns.

Translating the Site

1. Find a quality localization company.
Ensure you ask for examples of web sites that they have localized before and have your in country people (if you have them) validate the translations on the reference sites.

2. Get your page-by-page keyword glossary translated and approved FIRST.
Much effort went into the generation of keywords for each page of the English site. Your English pages are rich with these keywords. Put the same effort into the translation of these keywords. This should be done first, before any localization of the pages begins. These translations should be approved by your in-country marketing representatives if you have them, or be double-checked by your translation company (using specialist marketing translators) if not.

3. Ensure the site is professionally localized.
The site must be well formed (no broken HTML or other code), be translated well, and must not contain broken links (links to pages that have not been migrated to the language site and therefore throw an error). Quality localization requires a quality localization company using specialist filters to protect page code, and to check it once the localization is complete.

4. When translating the web site, use the keyword glossary electronically.
Do not leave it to chance. Your translation company should be using the translated keyword lists in electronic glossaries so the translators are automatically prompted with the approved language version of the keyword whenever they are translating an English equivalent. This will ensure that any chosen keyword for which this page is optimized, regardless of how contrived the sentence is (in order to use that keyword), will be translated in the same way each time this keyword appears. This ensures that the translated pages are equally as rich in the desired keywords.

Following these steps will ensure that the site gets the basics right and can be effectively indexed on the correct keywords by the engines. However, to maximize your returns and to ensure you are getting the correct prominence on the search engines, you need to read on.

Advanced Multilingual Search Marketing

If you want to perform in your foreign markets, and fully capitalize on your localization investment, you may want to consider the following:

  • Engine-Specific Optimization
    This involves the identification of important engines by country for your target market. Google is not necessarily the dominant player in all countries. In order to identify, and then optimize and monitor for these engines you will probably require support from external specialists.
  • Pay Per Click (PPC) in each locale
    PPC is the fastest method to achieving search engine prominence in any country. PPC gets further attention later in the article due its potential in multilingual markets.
  • Recreation of Page Titles
    The page title is one of the most important pieces of text for most search engines. It can be a very worthwhile exercise, following localization, having the page titles re-written for the local market. This should be performed by web marketing specialists.
  • Link building campaigns
    In the same way as you have build vast numbers of links to your English site, the language version is a rich and often untapped source of links.
  • ROI Tracking
    The great thing about your search campaigns is that using the latest analytics tools you can determine exactly where each internet order has come from. You can track which keyword was used on which engine and tie these back to the profit you received for the order. ROI tracking is essential and it will determine where next month's focus will lie for your in-country search engine spend.
Multilingual Pay Per Click

Using PPC you can achieve instant success. A campaign can be set up and can start receiving visitors and orders as soon as it goes live. A company selling golf equipment can buy their chosen keywords, create some ad copy (the text that shows when the user searches for those keywords), and start receiving visitors straight away. Using PPC advertising, the golf equipment supplier can tailor their message on the search engine to attract the user and can choose which position they would like to appear in the list (as long as they can afford the clicks). Contrast this with normal SEO work where position in the list and the text that displays to the searcher is largely up to the discretion of the search engine’s algorithms.

Using PPC you can also instantly waste money. The keyword ‘cheap flights’ achieves millions of searches every month in the UK, with some companies bidding over Ј2 per click. Imagine the spend on clicks on this keyword if few people actually booked on your site.

Using pay per click, each click can be tracked to completion so it is possible to see, for each keyword, how many clicks it received, how much it cost, how many orders were achieved from those clicks, and how much profit was made on those orders. Pay per click marketing can therefore be analyzed precisely to the penny and then adjusted to try to maximize the return.

In order to manage a PPC campaign a marketer needs to:

  • Create a keyword list including every phrase a user may type in who may be interested in their product or service.
  • Organize these keywords around ad text that will show when those keywords are searched.
  • Set budgets so that costs do not grow too quickly, but so that conversions are maximized.
  • Track and monitor the impressions (number of times the ad showed due to that keyword), clicks, conversions, costs and profit on every individual keyword.
  • Change bid prices, ad text, landing pages (the page at which the user arrives when the ad is clicked), match types (keywords can be matched in multiple ways to search text) and other variables to optimize the performance of the whole campaign.
The above is not easy, especially considering that even a small campaign selling one or only a few products can easily spawn over a thousand keywords.

Now imagine the campaign in multiple languages. The management problem gets a whole lot worse when you can’t even read the keywords or ad text.

Keyword lists must be created in language. Simply translating the English text is not the correct approach. Translating keywords leads to a reduction in keywords, whereas a good keyword list explores all colloquialisms, common misspellings and all terms for all items. See the simple example below of, as we would say in the UK, ‘Car Hrire’. In English, there are a number of ways of referring to a car (I have chosen four), and a number of ways of referring to the act of renting a car (again I have chosen four). This four-by-four matrix would multiply up to sixteen possible keywords (although for simplicity I have included only four). A good French translator may choose the best translation for each of these terms independently and would arrive at ‘location de voiture’. You can see the keyword reduction illustrated in the diagram.


Even instructing a translator to ‘have a think’ while translating is not good enough. What is required is a systematic expansion of every possible term. It requires an understanding the web site’s aims, knowledge of searching, and tools to help the process.

Ad Text must then be created. Again, this is not a translation job. There are restrictions on the length of each line so each character has to be used wisely to sell the product or service. While some ad text works well to generate conversions, other ad text may not. The worst ad text is that which generates clicks but not sales! Subtle changes can cause large swings in success rate.

The entire campaign must be managed going forward. This involves making decisions about the performance of keywords. Masses of keyword statistics need to be analyzed to ensure that they are all performing at their chosen bid prices. As competitors change their bid prices this process is constantly evolving.

The great news is that very often the price of clicks in other languages is much lower than in English so you can expect a better return on click spend in non-English markets. It is therefore well worth the effort.


Some basic and low cost steps taken during and after the localization process will ensure that your site remains largely search engine friendly. If you really want your multilingual web site to work for you and pay back the effort, you need to put the same degree of investment into the promotion of the language versions as you do with the English version. For this you will probably need expert help.

The quickest route to market is normally Pay Per Click, but solid search engine optimization should underpin any search marketing initiative since it will provide sustained results for the long term.

Simply translating English PPC campaigns is a route to wasted opportunity or worse. Campaigns must be created by in-country specialists and ideally, managed centrally for consistent reporting across your global organization. Rewards for doing it right can be significant.

About the Author

Ian Harris is the co founder of Search Laboratory and can be reached at ian.harris@searchlaboratory.com. You can visit his website via this link Multilingual PPC Management.

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