Want to target a non-English speaking market?

Why simply translating your website may not be enough…

Taking that extra leap and expanding your business into a new market can be a daunting task, especially when that new market doesn’t speak English. Optimising your website by direct translation alone may not get the results you hoped for, in fact it may even have an adverse effect and cause your audience to bounce away.

The content of your website is so much more important than Google Translate or a barrage of expensive banner ads and email marketing campaigns. If done correctly unpaid search traffic can outperform them all.

Admittedly cracking this dilemma isnt a walk in the park, it does take some thorough research. But finding out what your website is doing wrong can generally be spotted very quickly. Investing time into increasing your organic and paid conversions by understanding how your audience uses the web, is the ultimate aim in International Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

Cultural use of Keyphrases

As with optimising websites for English audiences; keyphrases are essential. However it is important to establish exactly how people in your chosen market search for the products you are offering. Search has developed whereby countries are using their own varieties of phrases. These phrases may also be different between genders and ages, depending on the product or service you are marketing.

There are a few different approaches and recognisable patterns that have emerged in the way international phrases are constructed. They can either use the correct words or phrases within their own language, they can often mix their search with the English language or they will misspell an English term.

For instance, in Korea, searches for ‘wimbledon’ in English or in the correctly translated keyword would yield less than 6,000 results over the course of a month, whereas ‘wimbleton’ would produce over 35,000 results. This would be searching by a misspelt English term.

In the UK we might search for ‘childrens nappies’, in Germany they are far more likely to search for ‘kinder diaper’. This would be an example of a mixed language search. It is very important to understand what the search slang of your audience is, and optimise your website to increase organic and paid traffic accordingly.

The fundamental statistics show that nearly 70% of internet search queries are not in English and with the internet penetration in emerging markets such as India, China and Brazil on the continued rise, it would be foolish to ignore the benefits of adjusting your SEO to counter this statistic.

Write good copy

There are two things to consider when writing copy for your website. As mentioned previously you want relevant key phrases to assist your SEO but you also want quality copy written that will
benefit your user. For optimum results, copy should be written from scratch in the target language, being sure not to ignore the search behaviours for that region.

The importance of good quality local content becomes quite evident when you account for how local search engines index websites, this is particularly noticeable in China and Russia.

International search engines

Although it is safe to say Google is king in the majority of the English speaking world, it certainly is not the same case everywhere. Yandex rules search in Russia, Yahoo have a majority share in Japan while Baidu controls more than two thirds of search traffic in China. Both Yandex and Baidu do search differently to Google. There are several different SEO attributes to consider. Where google has now grown to index websites based on the quality of content, Yandex is very much more quantity focused. If your website has lots of relevant content, your local search behaviours are accounted for and you are able to establish a large number inbound links from authorities on your subject then you can do very well.

Russian Search Engine Useage
(Image: Russian search engine usage)

Baidu likes to do things different too. The larger the better, the more pages, sub domains and content your site has, the better its ranking will be. Industry and portal websites get very good exposure in China, and it can help your website enormously to obtain inbound links from media or news portals. Also, it can be very effective to establish your content on other related websites, while making sure to link back to your own.

In essence designing for the Chinese market is very different, where a european user might prefer a lot of white space amongst the web content, Chinese users prefer very link heavy sites, and the more information you display, the more credibility your website can have. These attributes are built into the ethos of the Baidu search engine.

Russian and Asian search engines also tend to favour links from social networking sites such as blogs, forums and platforms where users can express their opinions. Many of these social sites offer advertising opportunities, similar to Facebook. If targeting a Russian social platform, you would use vk.com (200mn users), in China you would use qzone.com (700mn users).

In the western world when we search for content on Google, we are very likely to click on the first three or four results that are displayed within the top left section of the page, this is sometimes referred to as Google’s Golden Triangle. In China, Baidu users tend to be more thorough and trawl throughout the entire page looking for relevant links.

Local domain names

Another attribute Yandex and Baidu will look for includes country specific top level domains or TLDs (for example: .ru or .com.cn) that are hosted on local servers within that country. In 2008 Google introduced Geotargeting for websites. This allows you to specify where your site is based if you have been unable to register a local domain. In this case, obtaining those local inbound links is even more essential.

Online sales and security

With 85% of the world’s internet population now buying goods online, it’s important to note that every country has different habits. As much as 67% of that internet population will only purchase goods from domestic markets. If your going to run an eCommerce store, you will be interested to know that attitudes to online sales can vary hugely across the neighbouring countries borders. Germany loves to buy goods online, nearly 70% of the population do so. Where as Russia and Denmark like to do a lot of research and will very rarely use foreign sites, they need to be convinced, they need security. These habits have to be accounted for when you consider moving into new markets.


Admittedly design may seem an obvious element, but there is a huge difference to how people across the world respond to page layout. Asian markets prefer busier websites with lots of options, European markets get stronger conversion rates if the call to action is localised. The size of the call to action buttons may differ from region to region, product to product.

Hypothetically speaking; an orange ‘buy now’ button may be more effective in the Netherlands than a green button, but the green button may perform better in Italy! The only way to ensure you are giving the users what they want is to run multivariate testing. This is essentially a process of elimination, you trial several variations of landing pages, changing and testing different design elements over a set period of time and then compare the conversion rates. With this information you can be sure that the design you’re working with is going to produce the best results.

To summate there are a lot of areas that need consideration and not necessarily all of them will apply to every international website project, but all of these areas will need to be reviewed before they can be be eliminated.

To target globally you must think locally.

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