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Web localization must account for global SEO variations

Web localization efforts that overlook how regional factors can alter search engine optimization ranking run the risk of diminished returns.

Web localization can help global enterprises bridge cultural and language barriers, but failure to recognize how local factors can affect search optimization can undermine overall efforts.

Search engine optimization (SEO) strives for better placement of content in search results through use of keywords and other measures. Strong SEO helps companies connect with consumers -- but the equation often requires fine-tuning -- to match regional search terms and expectations.   

Jim Yu is co-founder of the content marketing platform BrightEdge, based in San Mateo, Calif., and recently discussed the importance of taking a global view on SEO in the book, The Definitive Guide to Website Translation.

Enterprise SEO marketers developing a global footprint see tremendous value in global SEO. Targeting greater performance from global search engines is a top priority for enterprise search marketers, since it is a gateway to increase leads, conversions and revenue.

Global SEO involves targeting customers internationally via the many global search engines. Depending on which countries you're targeting, you may need to create copy in multiple languages, and take into account regional dialects and colloquialisms when performing keyword research.

Ranking in global search engines is becoming a greater priority for marketers because it enables them to deliver the most relevant and seamless experience to each user, regardless of location, languages and search engine.

Web localization is not translation

Localization is often mistaken for translated content; i.e., taking content written for a particular geography and directly translating it into the language of another geography. This practice can not only derail your immediate campaign goals, but can also hurt brand equity in the long run. Literal word-for-word translations don't account for idioms or specific phrases, which can lead to strange results.

Localization involves more data-driven analysis and culturally aware adaptation. It includes a number of steps that apply the scientific rigor of research and analysis deployed to rank in your primary market. Localization employs the core activity of translation supported by an awareness of what is appropriate in the language, geography and culture of your target audiences -- in addition to the topics that really matter in their context.

Thorough research, data-driven analysis and testing should be the core of every SEO project. Keyword research for each geography and language should follow this approach. First, select the topics that matter to your audiences and determine how these can be expressed in the form of phrases or keywords. Next, determine how these translate into search demand.

During the localization process a competitive analysis is necessary. By doing this, you will be able to see who your competition is for each combination of language, geography and search engine. Additionally, you'll see what keywords they are focusing on and whether those terms matter to your target audience.

Developing a content plan is also an essential component of localization. When developing a content plan, ask yourself whether your target keywords can be incorporated into existing content that you intend to reuse. If the fit is natural, great -- but if not, plan on creating new content. You should also find out how the audience for each combination consumes information. What formats do they prefer -- for example, text versus visual?

Culturally sound adaptation

Done hand-in-hand with the analysis above, it is imperative to apply the following filters to every step of your analysis:

  1. What emotions and values matter most to each target audience?
  2. What emotions and values are taboo to your audiences?
  3. Is the content culturally sensitive?
  4. Will the tone and emotions expressed in original content translate well in the destination language?
  5. Is the adapted content as compelling as it is in the original language?

The list is endless, but the goal is the same -- the message should be delivered in a compelling and appropriate manner that will deliver the most relevant and seamless experience to the user.


Global SEO requires a creative and collaborative effort across keyword, competitive, cultural and local initiatives. Effective global SEO ensures that your organization maintains brand consistency worldwide and extends SEO success while accommodating local nuances.

About the author:

Jim Yu is the founder and CEO of BrightEdge. His areas of expertise include developing and marketing on-demand software platforms, advanced SEO, and content performance marketing. Yu's perspectives on SEO and localization are also featured on the Lionbridge blog.

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