Five Lessons for Making the Most of International Search Engine Optimization (ISEO)

There are a lot of benefits to being first to market.  You get to define your space, set the bar for followers and enjoy some relative comfort in your singular position, at least until the competition catches up.  At that point, being first no longer matters.  Being the best becomes far more important.

First-movers in many industries have learned this evergreen lesson anew as more and more companies have harnessed the power of the Internet to globalize their businesses and tap revenue streams from across the world.  In countries with less competitive Internet markets and less refined search engines, it used to be enough for a first-mover to simply translate its English copy into the local language and start doing business.  With so few companies doing it, there was no competition for e-business or Google rankings.  This is no longer the case.  Most businesses today realize that focusing on the consumer base of only one country is a sure way to quickly plateau revenue and growth.

Any company with websites in international markets – whether they have been there for years or are just launching – should be aware of international search engine optimization (ISEO) best practices in order to make the most of their localization efforts.

What is ISEO?

Clearly, website visitors are more comfortable reading, browsing and converting in their own languages.  Businesses know that customizing their websites to suit the linguistic needs of each national market can result in significantly increased web traffic, as well as increased revenue per order and improved international brand recognition. However, merely translating a U.S.-based website into another language is not enough to take advantage of the potential expansion in foreign markets. ISEO is a key ingredient to success, and it’s attainable for any retailer willing to embrace a few important lessons learned by first-movers and recent innovators.

Lesson #1: Consider ISEO first

There is little value in going live with a website that is not optimized for international search engine optimization.  Companies might be tempted to start with website translation first and optimize later to keep initial costs down.  However, this phased approach is actually more expensive in the long-term. Building multilingual websites should not be done in staggered attempts.  Rather, ISEO best practices should guide a company’s entire content development and site-architecture strategy.  Otherwise, it is building a website based solely on what looks good, rather than what conveys the most accurate information.  Only when foreign SEO and design are done in conjunction can a business clearly answer the question: “Have we launched a website that will attract customers?”

Lesson #2: Automation is great, but make sure you have human experts, too.

Relying solely on software to translate website copy is likely to fall short of overall localization goals.  The work of maintaining the message and feel of the original language takes knowledge and skill that can only come from human involvement.  Machines cannot support all the details involved with localization projects, and when companies rely on machine translation, their ISEO shortcuts become obvious. Organizations that deploy such solutions are almost putting themselves at a greater disadvantage than those that don’t translate at all.  Machine translation is not adept at catching subtleties, which can make or break a campaign. Total automation can only take a company’s brand messaging so far in the arena of customer communications.

Lesson #3: Your website is your virtual storefront. Craft your signage carefully.

Copy optimization and proper keyword selection are the first items that should be on the minds of companies moving into foreign markets.  It is vital in website localization projects to validate keyword choices before going live in other languages.  Just as an upscale boutique wouldn’t hang a discount store’s sign over its front door, businesses operating in foreign markets must choose the words that best convey who they are, what they do and why customers should care.  Localizing communications for other cultures must be handled carefully by professionals who understand the nuances of word choice and connotation in any given language.  Settling for anything less puts the effectiveness of international campaigns and foreign SEO at risk.

Lesson #4: Choice is appealing in any language.

Localizing content for foreign markets is all about making global audiences comfortable with your company and open to receiving its messages.  In your eagerness to reach that goal, don’t remove the visitor’s option to choose his or her language preference.  Depending on the country in which you are working, any given visitor might prefer French over English or Arabic over Spanish or any number of other possibilities.  Don’t guess which language might be best.  Instead, offer a dropdown language menu.  This will reduce visitor frustration and increase your site’s effectiveness.

Lesson #5: Translation is about more than words.

Images count, too, and they might broadcast unintended messages abroad that only a trained professional can identify. For example, the company that adorns its site with images of notable buildings around the world might run into a problem if one of its randomly selected photos conveys waste, corruption or failure in a specific market. A picture is worth a thousand words.  Make sure they’re the words you want to convey.

Whether a company already offers its website in multiple languages or is simply in the planning stages, it is vital to understand how investing in international search engine optimization (ISEO) can result in greater online visibility in the short term and faster return on investment (ROI) in the long term. Professional translation services set a strong foundation for companies that want truly localized communications that reach the intended audiences with the intended messages and lead to conversions.  That goal is easy to understand in any language, and as international competition grows, companies need to take their website efforts to the next level with careful, informed localization and optimization.

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