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A Multilingual Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Primer

Internet World Stats reveals that there are currently approximately 4.6 billion Internet users worldwide. This rapidly growing Internet population uses a wide array of different search queries looking for products, services or information. The majority of Internet users do not speak English, and often search in their own language with favorite local (non-English) search engines. Due to the wide variety of languages and locales being used on the Internet, creating a successful global e-marketing strategy is more challenging than ever. Although English is still regarded as the “international language of business,” the English language is only used by 29.4% of Internet users.

If you keep your website in English-only, you may be missing up to half of your potential worldwide revenues. Although the saying “build it and they will come” may apply to Hollywood’s Fields of Dreams, don’t expect such an easy solution for global websites. As part of a website translation project, you need to perform some initial and ongoing Search Engine Marketing (SEM). This should include both organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Advertising (SEA) such as Pay-Per-Click (PPC), paid inclusions or contextual advertising. Whether you have an SEM Agency or an in-house team provide English SEM services, don’t forget about Global SEM Services which will help you achieve better visibility in country-specific search engines, and lead to increased traffic and ROI with your target-language version websites

Search Engine Definitions

Search Engine Marketing Services may include:
  • Comprehensive website translation and localization
  • Multilingual keyword phrase research, refinement and localization
  • Multilingual Search Engine Optimization and copywriting of main site content
  • Multilingual Search Engine Optimization of meta-tags, titles, alt-tags, heading tags, HTML, etc.
  • Submissions to major locale (in-country) and international Search Engines
  • Website traffic and keywords ranking reporting
  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaign content localization
  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC) country-specific campaign management
Multilingual SEO: More than just keywords and translated content

Performing effective SEO for specific locales (country + language + geography) goes beyond simply translating keywords. For a good example of specific challenges for one language and locale, review our blog on Arabic SEO and Localization. Many countries or regions may use the same language, but with words and phrases that have different meanings or usage based on specific locales. For instance, there is a considerable difference in meaning for some phrases in the Spanish language used in various South American Spanish-speaking countries.

  • Your translated keywords for SEO need to be adapted for the corresponding locale. A good keyword translation project includes at least two rounds of keyword research: one in the source language and one in the target language. This will ensure that the target language keywords are those most frequently used by consumers searching in their target locale and language.
  • Content and metadata translation/copywriting/research needs to be performed by in-country translators. This is essential to ensure that original content is adapted to the target locale.
  • Your website needs to be professionally localized. Strong website quality assurance (QA), performed by in-country translators, will ensure that your website works properly in all target languages. The QA process will detect and eliminate broken links, missing information, and uncover any other cultural issues that would prevent a successful globalized website launch.
Technical considerations for multilingual SEO

There are also some behind-the-scenes factors that will affect successful multilingual search engine optimization:

  • Domain name: some search engines only refer to your top level domain to show results. That means if you have different folders (, for your target-language content, search engines will prioritize the top level domain first to show local results. The best option is to have different domains for the different languages. It is critical to determine this before updating website content or managing your globalized website. Sub-domains, or folders in the URL, are the most cost-effective option at the moment.
  • Links to the localized version: the link building process needs to be performed for your translated website, just as it was for your source English website. Local links from local domains in the target-language are very important. Links are one of the most important factors for successful SEO, for both your English website and for your globalized websites.
  • Hosting: search engines look at the IP of the request and score locally (non-English) hosted domains higher than non-local domains. For example, is better to have the Spanish version of the website hosted in Spain, but this is expensive and very hard to maintain. Of course, this is not essential because there are several combinations of things that will help you to obtain better results.
  • Search engines: Google, Yahoo! and Bing may be popular with English speaking Internet users, but they are not the only search engines. In China, for example, the most widely used search engine is Baidu. You need to know which search engines are the most popular for your target locale and be prepared to optimize your content to obtain maximum results for all target language search engines.

Multilingual SEO Services

By addressing these top factors in multilingual SEO over time you will achieve measurable success in attracting visitors to your site and converting them to customers. With the world as your market, you want to ensure that your website content is attracting all potential customers in the language they can best understand.