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A guest post by Liz Elting, co-founder and co-CEO of

Retail companies are harnessing the power of the Internet to globalize their businesses and tap revenue streams from across the world.  In this age of global business, engaging only one nation’s consumer base is a sure way to plateau your company’s revenue and growth. 

In the past, only the big players could afford to invest the time and strategic resources needed to localize their websites---and even they didn’t always invest enough resources to do it well.  In countries with less competitive Internet markets and less refined search engines, it used to be enough to simply translate the English copy into the local language and start doing business.  With so few companies doing it, there was limited competition, and ranking highly in the results pages of search engines used worldwide wasn’t difficult.  This is no longer the case.

As companies look outside the United States for more business, many are at a loss as to what to do to improve the rankings, traffic, and conversion rates of their foreign language websites.  They understand that customizing their content to suit the needs of each foreign market site can result in significantly increased web traffic, as well as increased revenue per order and improved international brand recognition.  They just don’t know where to begin.

Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Learn about international SEO.
Whether your company already offers its website in multiple languages or is simply in the planning stages, it is vital to understand how investing in ISEO can result in greater online visibility in the short term and faster return on investment (ROI) in the long term.  Optimizing a source language website does not mean that the same website will remain fully optimized when you translate it into foreign languages.  Additionally, there’s far more to ISEO than just keywords. It is important to pay close attention to page load times, your top-level domain, the code used on your website, where that site is hosted, and how you design your sites. Learning a small amount about international SEO will pay significant dividends in the long run.

2.  When it comes to ISEO, it’s important to understand the search habits of local visitors.
In many places, that means understanding Google.  However, that is not the case in all markets. As an example, if mainland China is your target market, you need to know how  the search engine Baidu operates, as it is quite different from Google. Google uses sophisticated algorithms to rank links in and out of a site and penalizes those who overstuff keywords.  Baidu, on the other hand, gives full credit to sites that stack 15 to 20 percent of their copy with keywords and do not differentiate between the influences of one link over another.  While selecting the proper keywords for your international sites is crucial, you must also pay close attention to factors beyond keywords that have a significant impact on your rankings in the search engine results pages.

3. Pay attention to Google's changes.
And speaking of Google … Google is constantly changing, but it pre-announces updates.  Pay attention in order to avoid inadvertently lowering your site ranking.

4.  Optimize your copy.
It is essential to research and validate keyword choices before going live in other languages.  Failure to do so would be equal to hanging an antique store’s sign on a sandwich shop: You might attract customers, but they won’t be the ones you want, and they won’t be likely to buy your products.  To optimize your copy: 1.) Find the keywords that people are using to find your company, 2.) Adapt them into the appropriate keywords for your foreign website, and 3.) Change the language around those phrases, so they are more targeted toward your international audience.

5.  Concentrate on carefully crafting your content because proper keywords alone will not achieve corporate goals.
This is an area in which machine translation shows its flaws.  Organizations that rely on such solutions can put themselves at a greater disadvantage than those that don’t translate at all.  For example, “refreshing” might sound like a great keyword for a drink in English, but in another language, the direct translation might connote something quite negative.  Machine translation is not adept at catching these kinds of nuances, which can make or break a campaign.

Localizing communications for other cultures must be handled carefully by people who understand the nuances of word choice and connotation in any given language.  So, step one is to make sure the linguist tasked with the job is a native speaker in the area you are targeting.  Then, ask them to put themselves in the position of the user.  What would they search for to find what they’re looking for?  For example: If you are trying to sell sneakers in China, the linguist should imagine that they are a person looking to buy sneakers.  What would they search on to do this?

6.  Give customers a choice of language.
Just as a company should avoid auto-translations, automatic redirection to particular language sites may also put you at a disadvantage. With automatic redirects, customers often have the website language chosen for them, which can present some frustrations and decrease your site’s effectiveness.  For instance, just because someone lives in Quebec, that doesn’t mean that they prefer French over English.  The same is true throughout the United States, where many non-native English speakers might appreciate the option of selecting content in alternate languages. Offering a global gateway on your site where your customers land and can select their region and preferred language enriches their experience and helps you increase your conversion rates.

7.  Piecemeal work doesn’t pay off in ISEO.
Building multilingual websites is not a task to be done in staggered attempts; there is little value, for example, in going live with a website that is not optimized for SEO.  Some companies are tempted to start by translating their websites and optimizing them later to phase in resource investments.  However, this phased approach actually costs more money in the long term.  ISEO is not a strategy one should employ after the fact.  Rather, it should guide one’s overall search marketing efforts and site architecture strategy.  Otherwise, you’re building a website based solely on what looks good, rather than what conveys the most accurate information.  Only when SEO and design are done in conjunction can a company clearly answer the question: “Have we launched a website that will bring us customers?”

8.  Pay close attention to images when you’re drafting your translation plans.
Failure to do so can result in severe consequences.  For example, the financial services firm that peppers its site with pictures of impressive buildings around the world might run into a problem it does not recognize or understand when one of its random photo selections carries a local connotation of waste, corruption, or failure.  Just like it’s recommended to use a native speaker to localize text, it is recommended to use a native speaker to make sure the images captured are relevant in the culture they are targeting.  Furthermore, make sure they add appropriate text in the alternate image tags.  Be as specific as possible to be as effective as possible.  For example: “Black leather running shoes with gray laces.”

While organizations might view localization of corporate websites as a complicated venture, there is a simple, familiar tenet they can follow from the beginning of such projects: Anything worth doing is worth doing right.  Automated, machine-driven translation might be quick.  It might be easy.  It might be cheap.  However, it fails to accomplish the critical goals any business rightly sets for itself as it establishes a presence abroad.  Professional translation services set a strong foundation for companies that want truly localized communications that reach the right audiences with the right messages and lead to sales.  And that bottom-line result is easy to understand in any language.

Liz Elting is co-founder and co-CEO of

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