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Five Ways To Fail In Your Multilingual Search Engine Marketing


Multilingual search marketing is a service offered by many agencies, but done correctly by few with most practising outdated methods and taking a wholly flawed approach.

Throughout my career, firstly as Chief Technical Officer at a major web localisation company and now as CEO and founder of the UK’s leading multilingual search marketing company, Search Laboratory, I’ve encountered numerous international campaigns that are doomed from the off-set due to fundamental flaws.

So that those businesses selling online to foreign markets are aware of just what causes their global search marketing to be unsuccessful I’ve listed five sure-fire ways to ensure your multilingual search campaigns will fail:

  1. Don’t use mother-tongue linguists

A large number of businesses employ translation companies to generate their multilingual search terms – some even use Google Translate. By doing this you’re already on the path to failure.

Search term authenticity is crucial – your entire campaign hinges on it. Modern-day automated tools are simply not up to the task of identifying accurate search terms, likewise non-native speaking translators will not be aware of critical local phrases.

Mother-tongue linguists should be your only option for multilingual search term generation. Native speakers, who have grown up within the country that you are attempting to attract custom from, will be able to employ local phrases alongside a variety of alternative terms that a non-native speaker will not be aware of.

Still not convinced that mother-tongue linguists should be used ahead of non-native speaking translators? Imagine a race-to-the-finish crossword competition in the language you are targeting, where a non-mother-tongue translator competed against a native speaker – now consider who you would rather have your money backing…

  1. Translate your keywords

Another certain way to ensure your multilingual search falls flat on its face is to translate your keywords. For example, a UK car rental company is investigating potential keywords ahead of an expansion into France and has identified the following search terms that its existing British customers use:

  • ‘Car hire’

  • ‘Vehicle rental’

  • ‘Automobile lease’

  • ‘Charter motor’

The company has also identified that these search terms could make 16 possible combinations to retrieve similar SERPs results; ‘vehicle lease’, ‘car rental’ etc.

However, when handed to a non-native speaking translator or inputted to an automated translation tool for the French campaign it’s almost certain these 16 combinations would be reduced to leave just one or two phrases: ‘location de voiture’, for example.

This would drastically reduce the number of relevant searches the car hire company would show for in France and therefore minimise the sales potential – or to put it another way, cause the campaign to fail.

Mother-tongue linguists alone have the capability to creatively explore phrases in order to identify foreign search terms and ensure that your website reaches its maximum visibility on the search engine results page.

  1. Ignore cultural nuances

One of the more subtle ways to hamstring a multilingual search campaign is to ignore the targeted country’s cultural nuances.

Did you know, for example, you should never ask a Frenchman ‘did you know?’ At Search Laboratory our mother-tongue French linguists have rejected perfectly translated copy due to it containing the phrase, ‘did you know?’ This is because it’s not culturally appropriate and is deemed patronising to suggest a Frenchman is not in possession of all the facts.

To sell to someone online you must first gain their trust, and you’re far less likely to achieve this if you are inadvertently alienating or even insulting the consumer through basic cultural misdemeanours. It’s not just text where you can cost your company business, images also need to be localised. For example photos that are obviously US-centric are likely to put off customers in more reserved European markets, so have your mother tongue linguists help out with the on-site design as well.

  1. Direct foreign search results to English landing pages

We are often asked by companies to test an international market by directing foreign language PPC ads at an English language landing page. This simply does not work.

Companies competing for cold inbound leads on foreign soil via PPC ads that direct to a landing page not of that country’s language are going to experience extremely low conversion rates, regardless of how attractive a company’s proposition is. The initial process of a customer investigating a new website is highly linguistically sensitive.

Imagine you are searching for running shoes and one of the results returned to you from the search engine is a PPC ad that catches your eye. However after clicking through you are directed to a landing page with German text – would you continue with the shopping process or would you return to the SERPs?

It’s critical to localise your business’ landing page to the target market. If your company is already running PPC campaigns in foreign languages make sure to ask your agency or in-house team if they are doing this. At Search Laboratory we manage dozens of campaigns in international markets and the process of localising landing pages is relatively straight forward, providing you use mother tongue linguists.

Data gathered on the online behaviour of foreign traffic to a company’s site during these campaigns can also be used to evaluate whether or not an entire site translation is required.

  1. Neglect your URLS

Even if you’ve managed to avoid the above pitfalls your multilingual campaign can still be compromised should you not translate your URLs. This is a problem that usually occurs when businesses are using separate partners for translation and web development.

We often see companies whose web development team have created English SEO friendly URLs, which include strategic keywords in the directory, structure or filename. However, when placed in the hands of the translation agency they are often overlooked causing two problems: the customer in the targeted country notices the language discrepancy, while because the keyword friendly URLs remain in English they are not optimised to that market’s search engine, thus harming the site’s SEO.

SEO friendly URLs will not necessarily translate clearly between English and the targeted language. In cases such as these we advise our clients to stick with non-friendly URLs because the detrimental effect of a customer noticing an English URL is likely to be greater than the benefit SEO friendly URLs will bring to the site’s search ranking.

Category SEO
Ian Harris Search Laboratory

Ian Harris is the CEO and founder of leading multlingual search marketing agency, Search Laboratory. He is a specialist in ...

Five Ways To Fail In Your Multilingual Search Engine Marketing

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