SEO and Multilingual Marketing

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As useful as a single marketing strategy covering every industry and every consumer demographic would be, the chances of success with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach are close to zilch.

Every aspect of every online marketing initiative, from the banner ads to localized websites, must be considered with the target market in mind. What looks clever and cool to a group of marketing executives might be well wide of the mark when it comes to engaging the target audience.

With international markets, the waters are even murkier. There is a whole host of linguistic and cultural complexities to consider and you must understand your audience and address them in their own language.

There are over 200 indigenous languages in Europe, 23 of which are official languages in the European Union (EU). Over fifty percent of the EU speak English to some degree, but German has plurality in terms of native speakers with 18%, followed by English and Italian with 13% and French with 12%.

But the plot thickens when you consider the different dialects within individual languages. Take French, for example, which is spoken in France, Belgium, Switzerland and, if we want to look beyond Europe, Canada.

For all intents and purposes, there isn’t a great deal of difference between the French spoken in these countries and, for the most part, natives of each country can talk freely with each other without much trouble.

However, from a marketing standpoint, there is no room for complacency and the differences in the dialects must be addressed when targeting each individual market.

For example, ‘seventy’ in France is soixante-dix, but in Swiss and Belgian French it’s septante. And déjeuneris ‘lunch’ in France, but ‘breakfast’ in Switzerland and Belgium. Similarly, the French spoken in Canada (Québéquois) also has its differences from the French in Europe. Perhaps the most notable distinction is that Canadian French tends to translate English terms literally, rather than importing the terms directly as Anglicisms. To illustrate this, ‘weekend’ in France is simply le weekend, whilst in Canada it is fin de semaine (lit. ‘End of the week’).

There are many such examples between the different French dialects. And there are a number of notable differences too between the German spoken in Germany and Switzerland. For example, Switzerland avoid the ‘ß’ (Eszett) symbol, using ‘ss’ instead. And grammatical gender can be different between countries too, with Switzerland opting, for example, das email rather than die email, which is the form used in Germany.

So we’ve established that there are a lot of linguistic factors to consider when targeting different markets and you have to look beyond the language of the target audience and dive head first into the culture: localization is the key to succeeding abroad.

Research has shown that two thirds of marketers in Europe planned to increase their use of SEOin targeting new customers this year. Search is an important marketing tool in domestic markets, but internationally, there are other issues to consider before launching any SEO campaign.

Whilst setting up a foreign language website is a crucial part of any international marketing strategy, you need to think about how you’re going to optimize the content. Whilst it’s fine to simply translate the content of the English language website using a suitably qualified translator who is native to the target country, the keywords are a different issue altogether.

As a general rule of thumb, keyword translation is a bad idea. Even if the dictionary translation of the phrase is correct, it isn’t necessarily what people use to search for a service or product in a particular country.

In English, for example, ‘car insurance’ is a high-ranking search term on Google. A not-incorrect translation of this into French would be ‘l’assurance automobile’, but if you check Google’s keyword tool in France, you can see that web users generally don’t use that term at all, and tend to use assurance auto or assurance voiture instead. So by taking just a few minutes to research the correct keywords in a local market, a major SEO dilemma can be avoided.

Once you have established the correct keywords for your target market, you simply incorporate these into your translated website and you have an organically optimized, foreign language website. It’s also worth adding that, in theory, you should be able to rise a lot quicker in foreign search engine rankings, simply because there is less competition for the keywords and the saturation is nowhere near what it is on the English language internet.

A multilingual marketing and localization strategy should underpin any international campaign, with SEO playing a central role. By using inappropriate style, terminology and grammar, key messages are often lost and overall confidence in a brand diminishes.


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