How not to: Knit yourself a scarf in China

We all use the Web regularly and are aware of its importance on a worldwide scale.  It’s a fantastic tool for lead generation, brand building, PR and more, but are company websites set up to effectively reach overseas prospects?  Ceris Burns, international marketing specialist for the cleaning industry looks at using multilingual search engine optimisation to tap into overseas market potential.

More than translation

Have you had your website translated in an attempt to generate more overseas business? That’s a good start but translation alone is not enough. To quote an amusing example, in Chinese the phrase ‘to Tweet’ translates to ‘to knit yourself a scarf’. Unsurprisingly Twitter hasn’t taken off in China. It’s crystal clear that if you don’t want to be the laughing stock and you do want your online presence to be REALLY effective overseas, localised research is a must.

To do the job well, you’ll probably need a Multilingual Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) specialist to work with you.  SEO is ‘the process of using various techniques to improve a website’s ranking with search engines in the hope of attracting targeted visitors.’ Translation plays a key part in multilingual SEO but research needs to be carried out into the complexities of search behaviours, such as popular key words and phrases for each key market you wish to target. 

Research and apply exact key terms

An SEO specialist will employ native speakers of the language(s) relevant to your target country.  They will dig deep and understand exactly which terms internet users are typing in to find the products or services you wish to sell. A direct translation of scrubber drier for example, won’t drive traffic to you if 80% of the local market uses an abbreviated category name instead.  Regional language differences need to be taken into account too. If your target customers are based in Bavaria for example, you’ll need to build Bavarian key terms into your programme as opposed to just sticking to German language. In some countries including Russia, searchers often use plural phrases when searching i.e ‘scrubber driers’ rather than ‘scrubber drier’. This sort of valuable insight must be built into your SEO programme if it is to succeed.

Not just Google

Your web agency may understand Google, but outside of the UK, local search engines are often more popular.  Find out which are the top search engines in your target countries and task your agency to help you climb the rankings.  In Russia the search engine Yandex has over 60% market share.  It is the fastest growing search engine in the world and has its own keyword tool called Wordstat which can be helpful to provide an insight into Russian search behaviour.  It is also important to note that like many local search engines, Yandex prefers websites hosted in Russia or at least with a .ru Russian domain name.  If you are serious about this market, as a minimum you should make sure you buy a Russian domain name.

China largest internet market

With 400 million internet users now (and a projection of 800 million users by 2013), China is the largest internet market in the world.  If China is the top of your list, a well thought out online marketing strategy is essential.  Even before Google squabbled with the Chinese government and moved to Hong Kong, Baidu ranked as China’s top search engine. Still in the top slot, of late it has modified its ranking strategy closer to that of Google in that it no longer automatically ranks above others, websites with high keyword density.

Think local

While Baidu leads in China, it is hardly present in Hong Kong so companies need to take a local approach when optimising their websites.  To complicate things just a little more, there are two main Chinese languages; Mandarin and Cantonese.  Another important point to bear in mind is that social networking sites are extremely popular in China. Top sites are QQ and RenRen and companies would do well to build some element of social networking into their online strategies towards these sites as opposed to those popular in the Western World.

A localised approach and an understanding of online search are essential to the success of websites in other countries. By modifying your website to improve SEO, you can open your business up to new opportunities around the globe.

To discuss your international online strategy email Ceris at ceris@cbimarketing.com

ENDS

As published in C&M magazine October 2010.