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SEO success in any language

Forget the bad news -- the R word -- for now. A recession may slow, but it won't halt the inexorable march of the global economy. By the end of 2009, 1 billion-plus people will have internet connections, according to an IDC report. Those mostly non-English speaking consumers already drive nearly 70 percent of the world's economy. Companies that want to not only survive, but thrive had better take a closer look at reaching that massive audience through strong translation and multilingual search strategies.

SEO and translation performed together drive a substantially larger return in search visibility than when either is done alone. Combining translations that have been localized for specific audiences with effective SEO gets your website the kind of visibility and acceptance you need in this or any economy. Since most traffic on the web comes through search engines such as Google or Yahoo, the trick is doing SEO successfully for your target culture(s).

This entails more than simply translating your website from say, English, into one or more other language. A top quality translation is the first step, though. But companies that take global communication seriously regularly do the following:

  • Translation: converting written text or spoken words to another language.

  • Localization: adapting translated documents, campaigns, or products to a specific region or language by adding locale-specific wording, idioms, and slang.

  • Internationalization: designing documents, campaigns, or products so they can be adapted to various languages and regions without engineering changes on the website.

  • Globalization: integrating localization throughout a company -- into marketing, sales, and support -- in addition to proper product design and internationalization.

To save time and money, multilingual SEO is best done at the translation/localization phase, preferably with style guides and glossaries in place -- or at least in the works. The more coordination (and communication) done between translators/proofers and project managers, the cleaner, quicker, and more accurate the final product -- and the more keywords that can be correctly employed in the website.

Here are some tips for making multilingual SEO quick and correct:

  • Localize for your target audience. Localization goes beyond translation. However, for either to really work in the target culture, it must to take into account those nuances of culture and language that are at the heart of true communication. So while a translation may be accurate linguistically, extra attention still needs to be paid to the broader context in which it will be used. Chose translators that understanding the current cultural nuances of the target audience.

  • Location-specific terms and keywords. Collect search terms and keywords popular with your potential audience and relevant for searches conducted in the target language.

  • Host natively. Host your website on a server in your targeted country. It helps with credibility and increases organic search engine benefits.

  • Regional domains. If you are focusing primarily on UK search engines, for example, register a .co.uk domain.

  • Regional links. Include links from websites in the same region, as this will help increase search results.

  • PageRank transfer. Make sure to link to your regional websites from your main site.

So-called machine translation programs are great for gisting (getting the basic meaning of a text), but use them with caution. Translations via such programs are flawed because the word-for-word substitution can't take into account grammatical differences between source and target languages. Here's how the Spanish question ¿Cómo se llama? (What is your name?) came out in the following translation programs:

BabelFish: How is it called?
InTrans: How do you call you?
FreeTranslation.com: How yourself call-up?

In short, if you want to be taken seriously, work with a good translator or translation agency and make sure the final product is proofed by a native speaker of the target language.

If you opt to work with a translator or translation agency, here are some points to keep in mind to make your project go smoothly:

  • Build enough translation and proofing time into your project deadlines.

  • Avoid tight turnaround times. (Rush fees are expensive!)

  • Ensure that the translator understands both the context and the intended audience.

  • Provide reference materials and samples of previously translated texts. If possible, provide a company website and/or contact person who can verify translation questions on the fly.

  • Agree on a glossary and style guide before starting the project.

  • Be sure that acronyms are spelled out just so everything's clear. Don't assume your translator knows them.

  • Verify facts specific to your company before the document even gets to the translator. Some information may not be public knowledge and hence proofers won't be able to check it for you.

  • Provide complete documents, not bits and pieces, for translation.

  • Make sure everyone agrees on translations, so you avoid last minute changes (see point 2).

Good SEO combined with top quality translations gives smart companies a double reward: credibility with your target audience that won't tolerate seriously poorly written text -- online or otherwise -- and the greater visibility from effect keyword usage. In any economy, that is just good sense.

Chanin Ballance is CEO of viaLanguage.

Ms. Ballance co-founded viaLanguage in 2000 and served as Chief Operating Officer and head of marketing before becoming CEO in 2003. She has multiple years of technology, language, business management and marketing experience. Under her leadership...

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