Perhaps you’ve made your evaluations and realised that a good portion of the visitors to your site or e-commerce portal come from abroad? Maybe you want to create your own multilingual site aiming to corner a specific international market? But do you know exactly how to make your site multilingual? Or how to become the top result on Google (or the predominant search engine) in that market?
Translating the content alone is not enough to sell your products or services abroad. What is needed is a rather more targeted approach, a 6-step process which can be summarised as follows:
- Target culture analysis
- Preliminary analysis of your website from an SEO perspective
- The keyword strategy
- Analysis of competitor keywords
- Identification of corresponding keywords in the target language
- Adaptation of content based on the search results
1. Target culture analysis: the cultural factor
Let’s imagine a company from Tuscany that sells handmade shoes and wants to adapt its e-commerce portal to open itself up to the German market.The site will need to be translated and adapted on two levels:
- on the content level (text and images)
- on the technical level
As far as content is concerned, the greater part of the work will go into drafting texts that are informative, comprehensive, conclusive. The texts should also take into account the way in which potential customers in the target country and culture search (in this case a German residing in Germany). This process of adaptation largely consists of writing from an SEO-informed perspective and, as we will discuss later, the first step in this direction is searching out the right keywords.
On the technical level however, the company will have to deal with a number of factors that may end up affecting the structure and operation of the site itself, for example:
- varying legislation that obliges the company to provide data that is not necessary in other markets: in Germany for example, there is, among other things, the obligation to include:
- the imprint page with the tax data of the site owner;
- the clear indication (not via links) of the AGB, Allgemeinen Geschäftsbedingungen, the general conditions of sale that the customer must read and accept;
- the acquisition of a tax certificate from the German authorities attesting to tax regularity in accordance with § 22f Abs. 1 Satz 2 UStG.
- varying buying habits or the varying popularity of purchasing methods which may prevent the use of certain payment gateways that are widespread in the company’s country of origin;
- Even on the UX (User Experience) level, we must adapt to customer expectations and to the legislation in force in their country: for example, the “Kauf-Buttons”(the purchase buttons) must comply with the law, be clearly visible to the customer and use specific wording, such as “Kaufen” “Zahlungspflichtig”, “Kostenpflichtig” (transactions relative to payment);
On top of that, our footwear company, which also wants to operate in Germany, will have to be aware that Germans much prefer to see information presented in a direct way, with no frills. Or how according to some studies, they prefer sites with more “neutral and professional” colours, such as light blue and grey.
Culture inevitably has an influence on the way we conceive, search for and interpret words and the world around us: this must be taken into consideration if you want to meet the expectations of foreign customers when your keywords return the results they are looking for.Aspects of their culture are reflected in their search engine queries and, in the same way, can be transcribed into words. Let’s take a look at the cultural factors to be considered depending on the text:
- the varying perception of colour, which is different between Eastern and Western cultures, for example: while red carries a negative meaning and connotations of danger for us, in China it symbolises luck, so much so in fact that positive changes in trends are shown in this colour on the boards of the stock exchange, even when they are displayed in English; or white, which in the East symbolises death, while we in the West associate it with purity and rebirth;
- symbols and images, e.g. the ancient Sanskrit swastika symbol that we associate with the horrors of the Nazi era, is used in Japan to indicate the location of Buddhist temples on maps, generating confusion among Western tourists;
- date formats and units of measurement; e.g. in Italy, dates are separated with a forward slash (23/06/2019) while the Germans opt for a full stop (23.06.2019);
- the linguistic style , with its unique constructions or choice of verbs: Keep in mind the regional or dialectal varieties often present in just one country: for example, shoes are not only Schuhe in German: there are dialectal variants such as Botten in Berlin or Schlabbe in Baden;
- the language: for example, while in European languages we use specific vocabulary depending on the formality of the context, in Japanese, grammar rules differ entirely depending on the recipient and context of the message: The syntax changes regardless of whether you are talking to an elderly person or a child, a family member or a stranger, a manager or a subordinate!
and technical factors:
- the preferred payment method; while PayPal is widespread in Italy, in Germany it is common to see Sofort Banking, the direct, pre-filled bank transfer that rules out human error and does not require creating an account;
- the choice of search engine on which to index your site: when looking at foreign markets, remember that Google is not the only search engine. In Russia, for example, the optimization strategy must also be adjusted to Yandex, as well as Baidu in China or Naver in South Korea.
This cultural study will then be cross-referenced with the profile of your potential client, the buyer persona that you should already have in mind given your actual visitors and past buyers.
Since creating a buyer persona is a fairly complex process, it will not be discussed here. We recommend Hubspot’s excellent article on the subject.
2. Preliminary analysis of your website from an SEO perspective
In light of the analysis carried out in the first phase, it is time to move on to the preliminary analysis of your website through the lens of SEO.
International SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the strategic and intelligent tool to adopt if you want to optimize your site and make sure that search engines can identify which countries you are addressing and in which language. SEO is closely linked, but not limited, to the search for, analysis of and organization of keywords. The position of your site in the search results is influenced by a number of factors, which we will look at in greater detail in a future article.
Before moving onto to talk about keywords, however, it is important to adopt a mindful approach:
- Are you fully conscious of what your ideal customer is like, and of the overall experience you want them to have on your site?
- Do you want to reach specific parts of the population or specific geographical areas?
- What are your budget and time constraints?
- How many human resources will this take up?
- Have you done a thorough analysis of your competitors? Who are they? What keywords do they use? How are they indexed? How much content do they offer?
- What condition is your site in?
This last point, the activity labelled site clinic, looks at the SEO analysis of some internal and external factors of the site:
- internal factors
- on-page, like HTML code, meta tags, keyword location and density;
- on-site, like site age, <title> and <meta> tags, the structure of internal links, duplicated content;
- external factors, such as backlinks that lead to your site and which partly demonstrate your authority in the industry.
3. The keyword strategy
Once you have defined your operating range, you can get on with the search.
From an SEO perspective, keywords have 2 main functions:
- to reveal the relevance of the content that your potential (or target) customer searches for on Google in relation to a given topic;
- to constitute the gateway to your website, to ensure that any action you want your potential customer to take on your site is taken: an increase in traffic, navigation between your pages and/or the conversion rate, i.e. the sales rate.
Keywords can be:
- groups of words
- entire sentences.
We recommend keeping only the specific and relevant keywords, discarding those that are too generic.
The search for keywords is closely linked to the so-called customer journey, the user’s path, which includes all stages of the shopping experience from when the user searches for information about your service/product, right up until to after the purchase is made.
The types of search vary according to which of the three phases the customer is in, and in which they will use the appropriate words and/or forms of interrogation for their intended purpose:
Step 1) Search for information: the query that leads to the purchase and that searches, specifically, for information to solve a problem or satisfy a need;
Step 2) Search for transaction: here, the customer deliberately tries to resolve or satisfy a need by making a transaction, that is, an actual purchase;
Step 3) Navigational search: queries made after the purchase and that therefore include keywords that lead to a specific brand or solution that the customer is already aware of.
For example, to buy a pair of moccasins, the user could search for information on "men’s leather moccasins for spring" and then for where or how to buy them, so you’ll have to take account of words related to payment methods or, in this case, how to calculate foot sizes or German colour preferences, popular patterns, seasonal habits that must necessarily be reflected in the keywords that will appear in the description of the products of your e-commerce portal or on the relevant pages on your site.
It is therefore quite obvious that, in order to find the right keywords used by your target audience, you must also take account of regional words or spelling variants and adjectives that the user may employ based on their geographical location and language. This research should be commissioned by a professional team on location, with the appropriate linguistic and technical skills.
4. Analysis of competitor keywords
Now let’s suppose that our shoe manufacturer wants to stand out among Made in Italy manufacturing companies, for its tradition of craftsmanship combined with technological innovation: we will have to find out which keywords your competitors use in order to find synonyms and circumlocutions that will help us beat them in the race for first place in the results.
Being aware of these can be a very useful way of getting to know the market and of becoming the site that offers more comprehensive content on the subject, and one that generates more value.
First of all, identify your competitors yourself by searching keywords that represent you or similar services/products to yours.
Check their HTML sitemap over, i.e. the map of their site with all the links and descriptions organised.
There are also other tools for this purpose:
- Website Content, a free feature of the Google AdWords Keyword Tool which generates a series of related kewyword suggestions with the inclusion of your competitor’s URL and other commercial tools such as KeywordSpy and SpyFu.
5. Search for relevant keywords in the target language
Bear in mind that the keyword search is a multi-stage process which must be repeated over time and constantly monitored.
If you already have an active site, it is essential to draw up a document regarding the site’s condition with an in-depth analysis of the keywords used up to that time, assessing their effectiveness and return.
To this end, a very useful tool is the Google Search Console. This is a free tool that can be installed instantly, analyses the positioning of your site on Google in detail and finds out which keywords appear in the SERP (the results that appear on Google pages).
Go to Performance>Query and see how many clicks the site receives for a given keyword, the average position of that keyword and a lot more interesting data.
After this essential phase, let’s take a look at the first steps to be taken:
- a free brainstorming session
- a search for fresh ideas with the help of SEO tools
When evaluating keywords, you will need to pay attention to the search volume of your words: Are they common or “long tail” keywords?
Common keywords are extremely competitive and won’t always get you the results you’re after, let alone a high position in search engine results, simply because they are over-used. The best advice is to always check the SEO Difficulty of these words before dismissing them out of hand.
Common words must be accompanied by long tail words: these are more niche terms, generally made up of multiple words. These features make them less competitive and so statistically they have a higher conversion rate. This is what you are interested in.
The defining feature of keywords is generally how they are formed, which, generally,expresses a purpose-driven search attempt. If your site page contains the same words in the same order, your placement and conversion possibilities increase exponentially. What’s more, your conversion rate is already a good indicator of the content quality of your pages and the choice of words you have. Start there.
To help you find more words, there are a number of tools available, both free and at a price.
Note: not all tools use the same definitions, metrics, algorithms and formats. Try using different combinations of these tools to gain a more realistic insight. And last but not least: good old common sense.
- Google Suggest We use it every day. And it’s free.
This tool allows you to take a look at query related searches both in the drop-down menu and at the bottom of the page, providing you with the search intent of your query.
We recommend browsing in an incognito window so as not to contaminate your search history.
- SERP (Search Engine Results Page), generates results pages from one or more words entered into the search field. This tool is also often taken for granted, but its results can actually turn out to be a real gold mine for extrapolating synonyms and circumlocutions with fewer SEO problems .
Similarly, you can also look at the SERP Feature, i.e. images, videos, and reviews related to your search
- Google Trends is free and gives you graphic and numerical representations of geographical and seasonal search trends relative to a keyword, as expressed by Google users.
- Ubersuggest, a free tool recently bought by digital marketing expert Neil Patel. Go to the “Keyword Ideas” section and, using a root keyword in the search box, choose the language and country and find the monthly search volume and competitiveness (SEO difficulty), as well as a list of related keywords. The list can be exported in .csv format.
- Answer the Public is a free SEO tool that, like Ubersuggest, uses pie charts to list keywords related to the one typed in the search field. This one doesn’t tell you any research volume or SEO difficulties, but it can be really helpful in the brainstorming phase. Graphs can be organized in a number of ways, through: questions, prepositions, comparisons and in alphabetical order. using the language search tool is free, but for the country you will have to switch to the Pro version. It is currently set to English (UK).
- Microsoft Word, the tool you didn’t expect to see here. Yet it has a rich dictionary of synonyms integrated into its linguistic tools, where you can find words and synonyms related to the keywords you are evaluating.
- Google Keyword Planner, a free planning tool which you can log into via Gmail. By clicking on “Get traffic estimates for a list of keywords” and entering the keywords, one per line or separated by a comma, you will get the average monthly search for each word and you can also filter by language and country. You can also get useful data for paid ads (competition, cost per click), which is useful if you decide to start a campaign and a good way of knowing the words which your competitors use to try to appear in the top Google search results for a given word.The list can also be exported in .csv format and imported into Excel or Google Sheets.
- Keyword Explorer by Moz, is a paid tool. Moz is one of the top blogs on SEO in English. Starting again from a root word, you can generate a list of ideas that can be grouped automatically using some different indicators. SEO difficulty is simply called Difficulty, and is generated according to its own algorithm.
The monthly search volume is shown in range form.
Creating an account will give you 10 free queries. The list can be exported in .csv format.
PRO TIP: When searching for multilingual keywords, also enter all possible accented variants.
PRO TIP 2: Modern SEO is semantic: Google is increasingly learning to understand the subject of a text, going beyond the mere literal meaning of words. This means that the keywords are inserted by giving priority to the readability of your content and avoiding the technique of keyword stuffing, or the overuse of the same keywords on the same page.
6. Adaptation of content based on the search results
You have identified the keywords that you want your business to be found by. Now what? In order to be able to choose the best ones in order to adapt your content to, we have listed some steps to take:
- themonthly search volume in a given language and country;
- the SEO difficulty, that is the SEO competitiveness of each word. The higher the value, the more difficult it is to get a high position for that word. These criteria are labelled differently depending on the tool used, which have their own internal algorithms:
- in Ubersuggest it is called SEO Difficulty
- in Keyword Explore di Moz it is simply called Difficulty
- Difficulty may also be measured by these two other tools:
- search volume trend, it is important to monitor search trends related to certain words over time. This analysis can be executed through Google Keyword Planner or through your site’s traffic data;
- number of search results, which is visible on the top right, under the search field, after a given keyword is entered into Google. But, if you want to know who is really competing for that keyword (after having inserted it into the <title> tag), use the “allintitle” search command
allintitle: "italienische Schuhe"
- the approximate value of a keyword, in other words, how much you should pay to use a given keyword in order to appear in the top results if you launch an advertising campaign;
- your site’s data history, can be reduced by Google Analytics in order to understand which keywords have so far generated the biggest CTR (Click Through Rate), that is, the percentage of clicks on a message (link/banner) compared to the number of times it has been visualised (impression).
The keywords you choose must now be adapted to your content.
Also take care to eliminate any spelling or grammar errors, as they may have a negative affect on your positioning and will, in any case, present an image of general neglect. For more on this, we recommend reading our report “The Impact of Errors on Online Sales” (coming soon).
For the sake of your international SEO needs, we also recommend that you do not translate keywords from your source language yourself, but turn to a native-language translator to find the keywords that are actually used in your target market.
Your foreign client may even use a completely different term rather than a literal or direct translation. Using a direct translation may mean your site will come up on searches that have nothing to do with what you offer. If you have launched a PPC (Pay Per Click) campaign in which every click has a predetermined cost, this may literally cost you dearly.
Though companies often rely on literal translations of their source-language keyword lists, if you just trust a localization team of native-language translators to the task, you can rest assured that you will be honing in on the perfect keywords for your international audience.
- Opening up to the international market is a bold decision that must be pursued if the facts and figures permit it, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can also prove to be a road paved with pitfalls.
- International SEO has proved to be a fundamental tool both for site internationalisation and in order to be able to guarantee visibility in the vast ocean of the internet.
- Trusting in SEO experts, on a team of professional native speakers and translators remains the key to generating more and more targeted traffic and success.
- John I. Jerkovic, SEO Warrior, O’Reilly, 2009
- Tatiana Schirinzi, La SEO rende felici, Zandegù, 2019
- Visual Color Symbolism Chart by Culture
- Nicholas Read, Web shoppers are site-sensitive
- Peter Sandrini, Website Localization and Translation
- Things Designers Should Know About SEO In 2018
- International SEO
- How cultural differences affect your content marketing strategy
- The International SEO Checklist
- 6 Metrics to Consider When Choosing Your Target Keywords
- EEN, A guide to e-commerce in Europe, 2018 (PDF)
backlink: links from other websites that lead to yours, increasing your presence.
buyer persona: a representation of the ideal customer, who embodies a segment of your target audience.This is the starting point for identifying potential customers, taking not only their needs, problems and desired solutions into account, but also their lifestyle, age demographic and cultural background.
CTR (Click Through Rate): the percentage of clicks on a message (link/banner) compared to the number of times it has been viewed (impression).
SEO difficulty: of a given keyword. Indicator that reports how many other sites have already written content centring on that keyword, what type of content it is, and if it has been optimized. In other words, what are my chances of beating them? The difficulty ranges from 1 to over 50. The lower it is, the more chance I have to climb up in the SERP results.
impression: number of views of a given advertisement or content
long tail keywords: “long tail” keywords, taken from the term coined by Chris Anderson in 2004, describe those highly specific words composed of more words, are less used by competitors and allow you to increase your chances of coming out on top in search engine results.
on-page: those factors whose SEO optimization has an effect on your website or page, such as an HTML code, meta tags, and the location and density of keywords.
PPC (Pay Per Click): the advertiser only pays a fee when a user actually clicks on the advertisement.
search volume: average monthly searches on search engines for keywords in a given language and/or country.
SERP (Search Engine Results Page): the results pages generated by request of the customer/user through the entry of one or more keywords.
SERP Feature: all non-traditional results that appear on the page: images, videos, reviews with stars, featured snippets.