A Comprehensive Guide to Content Localization and International SEO - Webnames Blog

A Comprehensive Guide to Content Localization and International SEO

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The internet is a great leveler in many ways. It lets us communicate on an equal level with people from every walk of life. It enables us to distribute content globally in seconds. And, if you use it right, it can build you a huge audience in a very short amount of time.

But it can’t – and shouldn’t! – erase all the differences between us. Cultural and linguistic quirks are part of what makes us who we are. They help to define ourselves and our cultures. They give us our identity.

These quirks and differences also highlight what’s relevant and important to us. You know the old adage that Inuit languages have 50 words for snow? That’s because snow is very relevant to communities in the far north. Similarly, the English have hundreds of dialect words describing different types of rain. 

Relevance is similarly everything for modern content. Making content and products relevant to highly specific audiences is one of the world’s most successful ecommerce marketing strategies.

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With an entire internet full of content to choose from, consumers don’t give their attention to anything that’s not directly relevant to them. 

If you want to get your content in front of the right eyes, you need to make it relevant. This means you need to pay attention to all those cultural and linguistic differences.

Bland, generic content just won’t work on a global scale. To appeal to audiences all over the world, you need to ‘localize’ your content and SEO.

What does this mean? Well, it basically means adapting your content and SEO strategy for different target markets. For example, a social media marketing campaign aimed at potential customers in England should be written in British English, whereas marketing aimed at potential customers in the US should be written in American English. Similarly, a campaign targeting new customers in Germany or Japan can make use of ccTLDs like .de or .jp to localize their landing pages. But in practice, there’s a lot more to it than tip of the iceberg examples like these.

Here, we’ll take you through what content localization is, how it’s done, and how you can use it to boost your SEO internationally.

What is content localization?

Content localization involves making your content relevant and comprehensible for your target market.

In some cases, content localization may involve translation. For example, if you’re expanding into Mexico you might hire a translator to make a version of your website in Spanish. You might also bring in a Spanish-speaking marketing team, and schedule Spanish-language blogs and content into your calendar

However, there’s a lot more to content localization than just switching languages.

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Let’s say that you’re based in Canada and want to expand into the UK. Technically, your new target market speaks the same language as you,  but can you get away with showing Canadian content to your potential British customers?

No. And not just because they use some different words and spellings over there! 

There’s a whole different culture and infrastructure that you need to cater for. For example, you can’t talk about things like going to Walmart or using snow-tires because those experiences just don’t exist in the UK.

Then there are the more intrinsic cultural differences. For example, British people find ‘hard-selling’ very off-putting, and generally tend to be quieter, more understated, and less ‘urgent’ in their communications than Canadians. 

So, even if everything you reference makes sense to a Brit, you’ve spelled everything their way, and you’ve translated the weights, measures, currency etc perfectly, your UK audience will still click out if you pick a loud and forceful tone.

Time is important, as well as location. Language and culture change constantly. To properly localize, you need to keep your content up to date and relevant. Good website maintenance will help with this.

So, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to localization. Getting it right involves a lot of audience research, as well as skilled content production and editing.

This is a whole lot easier if you ‘Internationalize’ your templates.

Localization and Internationalization

We know that ‘Localization’ and ‘Internationalization’ sound like polar opposites. But, in fact, internationalization can be crucial for good localization. Internationalization involves creating things like web pages, templates, campaigns etc with the assumption that they will all be localized.

For example, when coming up with marketing hashtags, an internationalized campaigner would pick something that can easily be adapted for relevance elsewhere. An international jeans manufacturer wouldn’t use a hashtag that’s a pun on ‘pants’, because their UK audience wouldn’t think of jeans as ‘pants’. Vice versa, they wouldn’t use a hashtag that references ‘trousers’.

Similarly, if you have a chatbot for customer service, you would make sure that its dialogue isn’t region-specific. While you may want it to have a friendly and informal tone, it’s important to find universal slang for it to use – not language that either won’t be understood elsewhere, or which can’t be easily swapped for more locally relevant alternatives.

These are complex examples. Most internationalization efforts are simpler. For example, you might make CTA buttons big enough to accommodate longer phrases (in different languages, perhaps, or that work better for a certain audience).

The main point of internationalization is to make your stuff as adaptable as possible. By internationalizing your content, you make it a whole lot easier for translators, marketers, and creators to swing your content towards their target audience.

If you do your internationalization really well, you can even hand the rest over to the bots. With enough dynamic content fields, personalization software can take your content and make it relevant for each of your target audiences.

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What about international SEO?

It doesn’t matter how well localized your content is. You won’t generate any leads if nobody can find your stuff in the first place. That’s why it’s important to internationalize, as well as localize, your SEO.

International SEO can be complicated. For a start, depending on your target market, you might find that you’re not even optimizing for Google.

Sure, Google has 86% of the market share worldwide, but if your target market is part of that 14% that doesn’t use Google, you need to optimize for their preferred option. In Russia, for example, Yandex is many people’s go-to, and in China Google isn’t even an option.

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Once you’ve figured out which search engine you’re optimizing for, you need to work out which of two strategies is right for you:

1. Global SEO

This involves casting a wide net. The idea is to optimize so that your content will be picked up no matter where people are from. Usually, this involves using broad keywords which are familiar to everyone. 

The advantage of global SEO is that it’s not too labor-intensive. The disadvantage is that, when you generalize, you inevitably end up leaving people out.

Global SEO is best when your product is both: 

  1. Universal. 
  2. Universally known by the same name.

Fulfilling both of these conditions is important. For instance, if you sell sneakers in both the US and the UK, global SEO may not be your best strategy. While sneakers are worn universally, UK buyers won’t be searching for ‘sneakers for sale’ on Google. Instead, they’ll be searching ‘trainers for sale’.

2. Local SEO

Local SEO is a lot more specific. Local SEO involves targeting a particular place or group with hyper-specific keywords.

For example, if you want to sell those sneakers in London, you might optimize by using ‘Trainers for sale London’ as a keyphrase. 

To get local SEO right, you have to drill right down into the kinds of things particular people in a particular location are searching. This can be labor-intensive – but if you get it right, it will bring results.

If this sounds daunting, don’t worry. You don’t always have to create an entirely new page or site or whatever for every region. Sometimes, all it takes is changing a few key variables, and giving people the option to toggle to their region. In the below example, Olivia customers can switch to their country in order to purchase shoes in region-specific sizes.

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How to build an international SEO strategy?

To build a truly localized international SEO strategy, you need to think ‘International’ at every level. Here’s how:

Research

All aspects of personalization rely on research. Localization and international SEO are no different. 

Dig deep into your target regions. Learn about the language, search habits, popular keywords, interests, and whatever else works for your product.

You can gather data for each customer segment through things like:

  • Tracking pixels.
  • Recording calls and call tagging.
  • Surveys.
  • Feedback.
  • Monitoring social media engagement.
  • Focus groups.
  • Website behavior.
  • Sales data.

If you have the right data gathering, storing, and analytics capability – a DMP and/or pyspark API, for example – the data tasks will be a lot easier. But do make sure you’ve got explicit permission for gathering data. If you don’t get permission, you could incur massive penalties from data laws all over the world.

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Think about your URLs

This one is important if you’re aiming at multilingual markets. When you translate your site into other languages, you risk penalties for duplicate content. To get around this issue, think about the structure you use for your URLS. Along with your name and domain, include local tags, like .co.uk, .fr, .za and so on.

Region-specific URL styles help search engines to find and present your article for audiences in different regions. So, look into URL styles and structure your URLs appropriately for each regional audience.

You might also wish to consider using a geo-targeted, ccTLD, or place-specific domain name to augment local or internationally focused SEO strategies. Geo-targeted domains typically combine a place name with a purpose, product, or service (e.g. torontotaxi.ca), whereas ccTLDs and place-specific domains reference a geographic place in the actual domain extension, for example, .ca, .cn, .eu, .africa, .barcelona, etc. While they are not nearly as important as your content, audience targeting and keyword strategies, a geographically relevant domain name can confer SEO advantages.

Use hreflang tags

Hreflang tags tell search engines which language a page is in, and which region it’s aimed at. Webmasters can then make a map which shows where users should be directed, based on their own browser language. Hreflang tags are crucial for getting organic traffic from your target region.

The important thing with hreflang tags is to make sure that every page has them. Each and every language version you create should also have its own line of hreflang code.

For example, here’s what the HTML code would look like for a page that has a version in American English, a version in Spain Spanish, and a version in French Canadian:

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Internationalize your app

You need to be consistent with internationalizing. You can’t optimize your site for international markets and not do the same with your product.

If you have an app, make sure that it’s targeted for every market you’re floating it in. Optimizing your app for specific regions and audiences may actually be more important than doing so for your site. After all, apps live or die by reviews.

If you want people to download your app from the store, it needs high reviews. To get those reviews, you need to please the kind of people who review apps. You do that by making your app relevant to their needs, their wants, and their lifestyle. 

Localization and internationalization are a big part of that.

Don’t forget email and domain names!

Email often gets overlooked as a channel. But it’s incredibly important.

When you email a customer, you’re talking directly to them in a way that other channels (with the possible exception of SMS) can’t match. So, you need to talk to them in their own language – literally as well as figuratively!

Subject lines are particularly important. Customers won’t necessarily open your email right away – especially if it goes to the promotions tab. But, if they’re looking for offers or brand news, they might well check their inbox first. Search and email finder tools use subject lines to find relevant content in the inbox. So, SEO your subject lines, too!

Work with the right people

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Nothing beats a little local knowledge! To fully optimize your site and your content for a certain location, hire people from that location.

In this post-pandemic world, hiring brilliant remote workers is easier than ever. If you’ve got your recruitment funnel set up properly, it’s easy to bring the best content creators, researchers, designers, developers, SEO experts, and more on board.

Whether on a permanent, temporary, or freelance basis, regional workers will bring authenticity to your content. They also have valuable insight into what will and will not work for their area.

Use content localization and international SEO to give audiences everywhere, what they want

Ultimately, localization is a form of personalization. If you want to appeal to audiences in different regions, you need to speak their language (in more ways than one).

Internationalization takes things a step further, and makes sure that Google and other search engines send your content to the right people, in the right places.

It can be a lot of detail-work, but if you want to really succeed in international markets, it’s worth it!


Jessica Day - Senior Director, Marketing Strategy, Dialpad

Jessica Day – Senior Director, Marketing Strategy, Dialpad

Jessica Day is the Senior Director for Marketing Strategy at Dialpad, a modern business communications platform that takes every kind of conversation to the next level—turning conversations into opportunities. Jessica is an expert in collaborating with multifunctional teams to execute and optimize marketing efforts and has published articles for domains such as Lucky Orange and Digital Agency Network.

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