Spin a Global Web
The potential in the global marketplace is huge. By 2007, 1 billion people will have access to the Internet; 70 percent of these people will speak a language other than English. In fact, there currently are 128 million Chinese-speaking Internet users alone. This number is predicted to double within the next five years.
Studies show these Internet users are just like the rest of us: They heavily rely on Web sites in their native language to perform most tasks. What does this mean for marketers trying to reach these markets via the Web? Something many companies are not paying enough attention to: localization.
To reach non-English speaking markets, marketers need to have Web sites that speak to their target audience in their language. But speaking to customers in their own language is only the beginning. There are more than 80 million Web sites on the Internet, so marketers need to understand precisely what it takes for customers to find them in this bustling marketplace.
“Launching a new Web site is like opening a store in the North Pole,” says content management guru Gerry McGovern.
Indeed, unless you are actively promoting your Web site, very few people are going to find it. This problem particularly rings true with Web sites translated from English into foreign languages.
Search engines generate close to 90 percent of a Web site’s traffic. Most searchers don’t look past the first three pages. If your Web site doesn’t rank within those pages, you have very little chance of being found.
So, how does a multilingual Web site achieve higher rankings on search engines?
There are numerous factors that can affect search engine rankings. The first is to realize how important it is to hire a translator who is not only adept at translation, but who is savvy at search engine marketing. Why? Much of the search work can be undone by translators who have very little knowledge of how search engine marketing works.
Search engines need to know the language of your page. If your page is not correctly identified, you could be losing valuable referrals because the page will be missing from searches that should have included it. There are several different methods that search engines use to determine the language of your page.
The first is language encoding. It is crucial for translators to use the correct language encoding to ensure that text displays properly. This is a major concern for languages such as Chinese, Japanese or Arabic, which use non-roman characters. When the language encoding is done incorrectly, not only will your searchers have difficulty viewing your page, but search engines may also have problems categorizing your site.
For this same reason, it is also critical that your site uses the correct meta tags. Meta tags appear at the top of the HTML code view, and identify the language of your Web site. Search engines simply check the tag and display the site for the appropriate language.
Unfortunately, meta tag usage on the Internet is spotty at best, and even when sites use the tag, the syntax often is incorrect or the language designation is wrong. As a result, search engines look at the tag, but do not consider it the only factor when determining a site’s language. They also look at the language encoding. If both the language encoding and the language meta tags are correct, it’s safe to assume that the site will display correctly in that language.
Hosting your Web site in your target country can also greatly improve local visibility because local sites tend to rank higher on search engines. If your Web site is hosted in Spain, for instance, a local search engine will find your Web site more relevant to a searcher in Spain than a similar web site hosted in China. Having a top level domain and hosting your site in your target country/region are widely considered the most search engine friendly ways to achieve visibility.
Using the correct keywords used by your target audience is another critical factor to getting your multilingual site ranked by search engines. For example, you might know that notebooks and laptops are the same thing. But search engine spiders do not necessarily work that way. If searchers are looking for laptops, and your site only mentions “notebooks” and never uses the word “laptop”, your page might not be found.
In Portuguese, for instance, “computador portátil” refers to a portable computer. A translator can translate it into English as a notebook computer or a portable computer. Both are correct, but there is a big difference between the numbers of searches for each term. In May 2006, 952,839 searches were conducted for the term “notebook computer,” while only 50,198 for the term “portable computer.” That’s a huge difference.
Research your competitors and find out which keywords they are targeting. Meta keyword tags, found in the HTML headers, are usually a good place to start. Also, analyze your own traffic logs and find out which search terms are currently bringing people to your Web site. Traffic logs help you refine the keywords and meta tags that you use. Your Web hosting company also can provide you with your logs.
When it comes to search engines, the more popular you are with others, the higher you are ranked. On the Internet, popularity is measured in links. Links are external votes of confidence cast on your site. Having many Web sites link to your Web site usually says a great deal about your site’s content and quality.
When identifying the quality of links to your site, a good criterion to use is whether the link can send you a volume of quality traffic. Ideally, you want links from:
• Sites with high traffic. The link is less valuable if the sites linking to your site have low traffic.
• Sites that are highly relevant to your target audience. For example, a site selling digital cameras would want links from camera review sites, photography magazines and photo software sites.
• Sites with fewer outbound links. The more outbound links there are, the less effective they are for your site. Do not get lost in a list with hundreds of other links. Look for a page that has the fewest outbound links possible.
The best way to get other sites to link to you is to provide quality content. Offering a useful tool for free on your Web site is one good way to generate links.
Optimizing Web sites for search engines requires research in all the markets you are trying to reach, as well as training for the Web and translation teams.
To avoid having your translators undo all your search engine marketing efforts, establish a workflow that allows close collaboration between search engine marketers and translators. Translate your keywords first and check them against search term databases. Once they are finalized, you can distribute it as a glossary to your translators.
Then, once the preliminary translation is finished, set up a quality assurance process during which translators can check to make sure all the title tags, alt tags, and meta tags are properly translated.
A solid search engine marketing strategy takes a great deal of human and financial resources to implement. The last thing you want is to see all that work undone in your international markets.
In the words of German Chancellor Willy Brandt: “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying from you, dann müssen Sie in meiner Sprache sprechen.” (Translation: “Then you must speak my language.”)
Huiping Iler is the owner of Wintranslation.com, a professional translation company in Ontario. She has just released a 16-page whitepaper on search engine marketing for multilingual Web sites, which is available on her Web site at www.wintranslation.com