May 2, 2013 / SEM Tools

Before search engine marketing developed, when companies would go global, they would try to understand the target market of the foreign nation and position their service or product to suit their requirements. But in the chaos of excessive information and competition, this very principle seems to be lost in the background, when addressing global search engine marketing.

Anthony Burgess once said, “Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.” However when we look at most companies search engine marketing practices in global terms, they seem to have missed the obvious.

The gap in global search engine marketing is possibly because of two false impressions that most companies have:

1. Google is the search engine.

2. English is a universal language.

This can be because 63% of the searches done on Google are in English. But here are a few facts which explain why the previously stated two impressions are perhaps less than accurate.

1. 70% of the queries generated on search engines across the world are not in English.
2. In foreign nations, especially Asia, Google does not hold the same commanding position as it does in some western countries. In fact, Google’s share in China, South Korea, Russia and Japan is 16%, 10%, 25% and 40% respectively.

Many companies have tried to address this problem by translating their websites in the foreign country language, and choosing keywords which are almost literal translations of the keywords used in the parent country. If dealing with Global search engine marketing was as simple as that, you wouldn’t be reading this.

When translations are concerned, a literal translation can be rendered useless even when the same language is spoken in two different countries. For example let’s see the difference in Spanish words when comparing Spain with Latin America where Spanish is spoken.

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There are many things which need to be taken care of when considering Global search engine marketing, because it’s not just Global but multilingual search engine marketing and translation is not even close to enough.Different words are spoken for the same thing. Similarly in Japan 3 different languages, Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji, are used for the same word. Within US, Soda, Coke and Pop are used to refer to the same product but simply in different parts. Another sample of a miss is the word handy (slang) for mobile phones; this is used widely in the German speaking world and actually has more search volume than the direct (correct) translation of the word.

Using the correct keyword for the foreign country rather than a translation of the correct keyword from the native country

Use local translators and tools to monitor which keywords are most relevant to your product/service in the foreign country where you are planning to expand. The local translator will know which words refer to what; take for example the difference discussed in the above example of Spanish words in Spain and Latin America. Similar will be the case with French in French Canada and France.

Use Google’s free keyword tools to choose keywords by language/country. Google provides you with a list of ideas for the keywords and also displays volumes associated with each keyword.

Optimizing websites to cater to different languages

While there is more than one method available, choosing the best will determine your SEO strength and user friendliness for the foreign users. Among the methods, URL parameters such as or ?country=Indonesia are least recommended. It becomes difficult for the users to associate the URL with geo-targeting as well as for SEO purposes.

Few popular ways to deal with this are:

1. Using ccTLDs. In this case a separate website is created with a local extension. An example of this would be, and similar. The geotargeting becomes very clear and sometimes it even serves the legal requirements of the country.
2. Using gTLDs is another option. It becomes more efficient if you associate subdomains with gTLDs rather than subdirectories. It is easy for the webmasters, creates clear separation of websites and is excellent for geotargeting.
3. Create a domain/directory structure which will offer content in different languages. Small signs on top of the web pages offering different language for the content can make it very user friendly.

Optimizing the website for the search engine most relevant to the target country

While Google takes care of searches in most countries, choosing a more country specific search engine will go a long way, then simply sticking with the global option. For example if your target market is China, then Baidu is your best option. This is where separate domains come in handy; the structure of the domain can now be optimized for the more suitable search engine.

Also the language will not just be a translated copy of content from the main website but rather structured to the relevant local keywords. It will be more focused on meeting the requirements of the target consumers through the products/services offered by the company.

Focusing on the content structure based on the target demographics

Understanding how your target demographics receive content may be more valuable than translated language itself. For example while in most western countries, consumers are more oriented towards rich media text in the form of infographics, images and videos, the eastern consumers such as in Japan are more text oriented. The local websites are a reflection of these differences. In most European and North American countries you find websites trying to reduce text and replace them with graphical representations. However in Japan the websites are rather text heavy.

The culture of the country would have a significant impact on how the language is interpreted. What is considered open and frank discussions in the west will be considered rude in many eastern countries.

In the end, while the basic principles remain the same, their application will be different in different scenarios varying as per target country. If two countries speaking the same language can still differ in the use of language, then countries miles apart will differ in many ways. It is not just language translation but language interpretation that should be the focus of companies today in global search engine marketing.

Kristjan Mar Hauksson
SEMPO Board Member
Director Search/ Owner | Nordic eMarketing


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