An Introduction to Multilingual Search Marketing

An Introduction to Multilingual Search Marketing

So, your UK site is absolutely hammering along: you’ve got traffic, your site is ranking well – you’ve even made an effort to make your blog a success. Now it’s time for world domination. Or is it? You might have your market research in place telling you that your products/services are going to be big in e.g. Germany, but have you thought about what’s really needed to realise this online?

Many UK companies feel completely ready to enter overseas markets purely on the basis that they’ve spent time (and money!) researching the sales potential of their products or services abroad. Unfortunately, the same level of consideration isn’t always given to developing a market-specific search marketing strategy. All too often, companies will simply arrange for their UK site to be translated and launched in their chosen market, assuming that, as it’s just another website, the strategies applied to their UK site will also apply to their overseas site.

While it is true that on a technical level, search marketing principles are broadly similar in most markets (particularly where Google dominates – and no, Google doesn’t dominate in all markets!), it’s a question of ensuring that you apply market specific cultural and linguistic knowledge. Just because your site is in another language doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it just as much attention as your UK site.

Localisation starts with SEO

The key is comprehensive localisation, which requires research and native-level knowledge of the relevant culture and language, as well as the target search market. Linguistic and cultural accuracy/propriety then are of vital importance, but many overlook the importance of including optimisation on their agenda before translation of their site even begins.

All too often, SEO recommendations are applied to a multilingual site after it has been localised from the English source site. Necessary changes often include keywords in title tags and Meta data, as well as in navigational structures. When the English site is updated, changes are usually rolled out to any multilingual sites via a translation agency, who will make reference to a translation memory. If SEO recommendations aren’t detailed in this translation memory, the changes previously applied manually will be overwritten each time the site is updated, wasting time and jeopardising the multilingual site’s ability to rank.

For example, in German there are several ways of saying ‘high heels’, including ‘Schuhe mit hohen Absätzen’, ‘High Heels’, and ‘Stöckelschuhe’. A translator might pick the more ‘German-sounding’’Schuhe mit hohen Absätzen’ or ‘Stöckelschuhe’, but keyword research reveals a significantly higher search volume behind ‘High Heels’ (despite it being an Anglicism). From an SEO perspective then, we would need to advise the translation agency that we want them to use the latter term for ‘high heels’ (and include this in the translation memory). Keyword research needs to feed directly into the process of translation. We would recommend providing your translation agency with an SEO glossary, detailing keywords you want to be used in the localised version of the site.

An Ideal SEO-Friendly Localisation Workflow

SEO-Friendly Localisation Workflow

For any additional keywords to be added (e.g. for new product or service additions/launches), it’s important to ensure that these too are added to the translation memory for the project to ensure they aren’t lost/overwritten in any future updates. Good old regular communication with the relevant translation agency will ensure this happens.

Of course it’s not only about the highest search volume and the less popular terms may also be worth including in some on-site content to provide variation, but these are of secondary importance and should feature minimally. The point is, just as we have several ways of saying certain words in English, this is likely to be the case in whichever target language you have chosen. It is therefore essential that you work with native speakers who can combine a knowledge of search marketing with their linguistic and cultural knowledge in the relevant market.


Unfortunately, even where companies get as far as the above, they often neglect the all important aspect of geotargeting. Google and other search engines are pretty good at determining the intended target market where a country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) is used. They can also detect the language used on a given site, but language doesn’t always indicate target location. In any case, ccTLDs aren’t always the optimum arrangement – a separate domain can be more costly to maintain and won’t provide the benefits of shared domain authority a subfolder setup can offer. Whatever your setup, it’s always advisable to let the search engines know for which market and language your site is intended. The attribute rel=”alternate” hreflang=“x”, provides a practical means to do this:

Let’s say you were targeting users in Belgium: there are both Flemish (Dutch) and French speakers in Belgium, so a separate language site for each is essential. The correct attribute for each would be as follows:

  • Dutch version of the site: rel=”alternate” hreflang=“nl-be”
  • French version of the site: rel=”alternate” hreflang=“fr-be”

It’s important to note that the first part of the hreflang annotation denotes the language and the second refers to the region. Be sure to remember that if you have several language versions of a URL, each language version should make reference to all alternative language URLs, as well as to itself.

For further information about this attribute and its implementation, please see Google’s content guidelines here.

Local site: Local Content

So you’ve got your nicely localised, optimised and geotargeted site live and kicking, but what about content? This is another facet of multilingual search marketing that so many UK companies get wrong – again, it’s all about a fully localised approach. For example, you’ve got a great idea for a piece of seasonal content around Guy Fawkes Night ready for your UK site – this is excellent news, but will it really be of interest to your e.g. German audience? The answer is likely to be ‘nein’. Of course you could cleverly adapt the content and force it to fit, but wouldn’t just it be easier to pick a German seasonal topic? Think about the end user in your new market as much as you do in your existing market. Not only do they deserve this as potential customers, but this mindset is also more likely to produce creative content which answers the questions and demands of your new target market – something which also happens to be exactly what the search engines want you to do – now isn’t that handy!

Are you serious?

So, what’s next? Your great localised content is up and now you need to promote it. You need to engage your social media channels and begin your outreach, but you’ve only got English language Twitter and Facebook profiles! Only those serious about international expansion will have investigated this before launching their sites. Building your brand in your new market will be much easier with local profiles on major local platforms. Remember that there may be different platforms and social media may have a different degree of importance. You’ll also need people to service these channels – don’t forget to ask your digital agency!

Another common question is which digital channels should be used when going into a new market. Ultimately the answer depends on how serious you are about going international. Conversion data from paid search can help to inform keyword choice for SEO, but any company serious about entering a new market would focus on both paid and organic channels to maximise visibility and rapidly increase brand awareness. Early SEO efforts need to focus on building your brand in the new market through both creative content marketing and online PR. In an ideal world, companies serious about international expansion would seek to establish relationships with relevant organisations and institutions in the target market, thereby creating great stories to help establish their brand.

I’d like to wrap this post up by reemphasising the importance of a holistic and market-specific approach to international expansion and search marketing, which puts the end user in your new market first and avoids half-baked, one-size-fits-all strategies. Ultimately, success in the multilingual arena can only be assured by placing as much importance on your new market as on your existing one.

For more insight into our multilingual SEO services, check out this page.


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