Many businesses believe that Search Engine Optimization is something that is done once and then updated only occasionally. But the truth is that it is an ongoing struggle, a marathon race that never ends, its success measured on each search.
What many if not most businesses do not consider is that the SEO process, to be most effective, needs to be repeated in each relevant language and for each local market. In other words, the challenge is not just translation but the localization of content.
What is the difference between translation and localization? Simply stated, translation focuses on the linguistic aspects of converting from one language to another. This is important, but it is not necessarily sufficient, either for effective communication and successful SEO in various languages.
Think, for example, about the differences in sensibility between American and Brits, Aussies and Canadians, South Africans and New Zealanders. Each of them speaks a different variant of English, but their cultural and regional differences go far beyond that. They use different currencies and some use different system of measurement. When one localizes a website or mobile app, these differences need to be taken into account.
The same holds true for French speakers between France and West Africa, or Spain and Latin America, Portugal and Brazil. Every country, and in some cases every region, must be considered a distinct local target. The better you adapt your content with this in mind, the higher your SEO scores will be. Because Google is trying constantly to personalize its targeting, and rewards publishers that personalize their content with higher rankings.
Every company with a website – and which company doesn’t have one these days? – needs to keep this fact in mind to do effective international marketing. Optimization starts with a strategic approach to website translation and website localization.
Those responsible for digital marketing strategy and reaching out to a global audience need to map out a plan of how they will localize. While there are best practices, tips and tricks for effective localization, they add up to this: a global strategy should consistently have methods and standards for creating tailored experiences as well as contextually accurate and appropriate content for each target audience.
While website translation may seem a straightforward task, there are plenty of pitfalls and considerations that should be taken into account before problems occur.
It may be a no-brainer for some, but there are more speakers of mandarin Chinese than of any other language in the world, more than a billion in all. Does the fact that Mandarin is the world’s most spoken language mean that it should be the first language you should target for your website localization project?
Before you rush to translate all you website’s English to Chinese, think strategically. Are Chinese people likely to buy your company’s products and services if they understood them? Or is language not the main barrier to conversion?
Also, consider the effort and economic cost of translation. It’s not merely the case of converting English texts to mandarin. It’s also the need to revamp your website to accommodate the pictograms and textual orientation of Chinese. And there’s one more strategic factor to take into account: Google isn’t even allowed into China, so you’re going to need to learn, or more likely hire someone who knows, the SEO of Chinese search engines. A Chinese translator or a translation or localization agency that specializes in Chinese SEO and translation is likely to become your new best friend.
If you’re unwilling to spend a dime on translation or localization, it’s not hard to translate a web page. It would be easy enough to just copy and paste the content into Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, DeepL or any of the other machine translation online services. Many do just that. There are even software-driven services that know how to translate a website with a click.
These online automatic translation services have vastly improved in the last five years, since AI-driven neural machine translation technologies have been applied to the task. In most cases, they can achieve results that are comprehensible. But is comprehensible really your aim and milestone for success?
We hope not. But more relevantly, Google hopes not too. You will be penalized by search engines if you try to pass off machine-translated content, unimproved, as original. Google isn’t stupid, and neither are (most of) your foreign language readers. They will know that your content was translated by a machine. And that always looks bad. You basically are telling your readers: you’re not worth the trouble.
The alternatives are hiring professional localization and translation services. It’s probably not as expensive as you think, and the benefits for SEO and increased revenue per page from clickstream sales and advertising (both Google Adwords and Bing ads) probably will more than justify the effort and costs of working with a translation agency.
If you’re on a very tight budget, consider working with freelancers who are mother-tongue speakers of your target language. You can find them on freelance marketplace platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr. One tip is to actually hire two freelancers for each language, one to check the work of the other, or as a backup in case one runs off to Vegas without notice.
A professional translation agency or experienced freelance translator is probably highly SEO conscious -- or had better be. Check that when you vet your translation or localization professional. Also, make sure they know how to use the Google Analytics dashboard and other website traffic checkers.
The bottom line is that, to rank highly on each foreign language search engine, you need to hire expert teams in each of those target languages. The good news is that the cost of translation and localization services has come way down in recent years. Cut-throat competition means that you can cherry-pick from highly qualified candidates.
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