Optimizing Your Site For Foreign Languages

My online business has recently started receiving unsolicited orders from clients in a couple of foreign countries, so I’ve decided to create translated websites for each of those countries to see what the demand is like. The problem is, I’m not sure exactly how I should optimize these sites properly so they’ll rank in the foreign language search engines, especially since I don’t speak either language! Any advice?

Dave’s Answer:

First off, congratulations are due for deciding to take the step into the foreign language internet! I think you’ll find that, once you’ve gotten over the language and cultural barriers, marketing your business online in foreign languages is actually easier than in English, since there’s less content online in other languages, and therefore less competition.

Depending on which countries you’re aiming to target, there will be different search engines for which to tailor your SEO strategy – for instance, in Japan Yahoo! is the most popular search engine, while in China it’s Baidu. Each search engine has slightly different rules – Yahoo! likes a higher ratio of keyword density to Google, for instance – but there are three simple rules that will help you to rank across all search engines: Keywords, Location, and Links.

Keywords: Your first step before you begin to build your translated websites is to work out what your foreign language keywords will be, as these are the fundamental building blocks of your SEO strategy.

There’s a simple three step process to this: Translate, Research, Analyse. First off, take your list of English keywords and translate them into the foreign language. You can use a dictionary for this, but you will get better results using a native speaking translator, as sometimes the most effective keyword can be slang term, an adoption from English or any other term. For example, the literal translation of ‘weekend’ in French is ‘fin de semaine’, but this is only used in French Canada – in France, they use the term ‘le weekend’.

Once you have your translated keywords, brainstorm a list of alternatives by searching for synonyms in a keyword research tool such as Wordtracker, and by checking the websites of competitors in the local market to see what terms they are using. You can either do this yourself using Google Translate, or outsource to a translator or multilingual SEO professional.

Last, but not least – analyse. Use the relevant keyword research tool for your search engine to check what levels of traffic each keyword receives, and decide on a list of both long and short tail keywords. For instance, if you are selling baseball caps to the French market, you might use short tail keywords such as ‘casquette’ and long tail keywords such as ‘vêtement hip hop Paris’. You should now optimize each web page on your site for no more than two keywords, by including the keywords in your page titles, introductory paragraphs and Meta Data.

Location: languages used on the web 2010Most search engines – Google in particular – now place a lot of emphasis on location when ranking search results. So, if we take the aforementioned example of your business wanting to sell baseball caps to the French, then it will help your rankings greatly if you have a French country-code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) such as www.yourcompany.fr hosted on a server in France.

This may not be financially feasible, however, so you can also create a subdomain off your main site for the French language – in this case, you should use the Google Webmaster Geotargeting tool (or the geotargeting tool for the appropriate search engine) to set the location of your French pages as France.

In either scenario, it will also help to have location pages within your site. Let’s say that you have done your market research and discovered that the greatest demand for baseball caps in France is in Paris, Marseilles and Lyon. In this scenario, it will help to have separate pages on your site optimized with region-specific keywords such as ‘acheté casquette Paris’ or ‘acheté casquette Marseilles’.

Links: The final essential element of SEO is to gain back-links to your site. Google in particular relies heavily on evaluating the number and quality of back-links to a website when judging that site’s relevancy.

The easiest way to get back-links is to find out what the respected online directories and catalogues are in the local internet and posting business profiles there, with a link back to your site – for instance, www.pagejaune.fr (the Yellow Pages) or www.lesannuaires.com in France. Alternatively, you can write content that is related to your topic (for instance, an article ‘How to choose the right baseball cap size’), translate it using Google Translate and post that article to article directories in the local web, including a back-link to your site.

The more complicated (but also more effective) version of this strategy is to pitch expert articles to respected blogs and websites in the local web, offering original content in exchange for a back-link. This increases both your back-link ratio and your brand exposure, but it requires both language skills and experience in writing and public relations, and is an activity best undertaken by multilingual online PR professionals.

I hope these tips have been of assistance – and good luck on your forays into e-commerce in the foreign language internet!


By Dave Taylor

Dave Taylor has been involved with the Internet since 1980 and is internationally known as an expert on both business and technology issues. Holder of an MSEd and MBA, author of twenty books and founder of four startups, he also runs a strategic marketing company and consults with firms seeking the best approach to working with weblogs and social networks. Dave is an award-winning speaker and frequent guest on radio and podcast programs. AskDaveTaylor.com http://www.intuitive.com/blog/

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